If your family could be described by a television program, would it be the older than dirt Leave It To Beaver series, or more like the can’t wait till it’s over The Kardashians? Despite every parent’s earnest hopes that their family will look something like the perfect sitcom, I can guarantee there’s going to be some reality TV thrown in there, too.
Maybe you’re living some of that reality right now. Your children have hit the teen years and you feel like your home has been thrown into tail-spin. Your teens are seeking increased independence while, as parents, you are trying to let the reigns out slowly. Or perhaps raising your child has always been a battle, causing you to think about waving the white flag and giving up. I get it—the teen years are a challenge!
Conflict is a pre-cursor for change. Don’t ignore what is before you as it might just be the greatest opportunity to influence your child… in the midst of some of the hardest parenting times.
Mom and Dad, let me offer you some encouragement. While these years are challenging, they also present critical opportunities to guide your teen through the real issues of life. Don’t shy away from these opportunities that appear as headaches and heartaches. Keep engaged with your teen no matter the level of stress on either side. This is where the battle is won for your teen. And this is when you need to be your teen’s best ally not his or her worst nightmare. Here’s some guidelines for dealing with a few challenging examples.
Example #1: The Angry Teen
Maybe the situation you’re facing today is constant conflict with your teen. Let’s first normalize this. Conflict will occur as your teen’s self-interests clash with your desire to look after his or her best interests. Remember, anger is a secondary emotion, so when your teen is angry, look to understand what is the root cause. Be genuinely curious to learn what he or she is feeling and thinking, wanting or needing. Talk to you teen!
Don’t match their anger, but ask them to share with you why they are angry. Your calm approach will bring stability to them and their emotions. You may not always be able to meet their unmet needs or wants, but you can listen to them and learn about them. Most important, you can help them process their deep feelings and frustrations. Sometimes that is enough. You may even be able to relate to them on many levels, remembering when you were a teen. In this way, your teen’s anger can be a doorway for developing an honest and healthy relationship based on mutual love and respect.
You may be thinking, “This is impossible!” You may be saying, “You don’t know my kid. He’s unapproachable!” Resist reliving the past or feeling intimidated in the present. Yes, it may start out bumpy, but let you teen know you are going to keep trying, you are going to keep engaging, and you are going to keep loving. It’s been said that “no one cares how much you know until you show how much you care.”
And keep the big picture in mind. I once heard Chuck Swindoll say something about trials that has stuck with me through my many years of dealing with troubled teens. He said, “Everything that comes to you has first come through the hands of God.” God knows about your family issues, and more than that, He has placed those teenagers under your roof for a purpose—often for their refinement and yours.
Example #2: The Withdrawn Teen
The withdraw teen is an apathetic teen. Anger indicates they are still passionate and engaged, but apathy indicates they are in the danger zone of disengagement—checked out from everyone and everything. Signs of the withdrawn teen are that the things she used to care about no longer excite her. He has no motivation, no ambition, and lacks any strong emotion. This is the teen who can take parents to the end of their ropes because they seem unreachable.
The withdrawn teen can pose a heart-wrenching challenge–sometimes calling for the urgent action. First, keep engaging and keep reaching out to your teen in ways that are caring and loving. Again, it’s all about communication. Rather than criticizing them for their apathy, invite them into a dialogue to learn about what is troubling them inside. Let them know that nothing they can tell you will stop you from loving them. Let them know that you are genuinely there to listen and help. Take time out to show you really care. That might mean scheduling a night on the sofa to talk, a walk, a dinner out, or a road trip—whatever will create a real opportunity for real communication.
But if your teen won’t talk to you, don’t throw up your hands. You still have options. Suggest that they talk with a trusted Christian therapist or pastor. Many times teens are afraid to share with their parents the truth about their overwhelming feelings and even dark struggles, but they will talk to someone else if given the opportunity. Don’t feel rejected or hurt. Be grateful they want to deal with their issues. If they aren’t talking to you, they need to talk to someone. In addition, a professional can assess whether your teen is dealing with something more than temporary apathy. They can evaluate if serious depression or suicidal thoughts are preventing recovery.
Example #3: The Acting-Out Teen
These are the teens who wake you up in the middle of the night asking you to bail them out of jail. These are the teens who are sexually active, using drugs, drinking alcohol, bullying others, self-harming, have an eating disorder, or are exhibiting some other self-destructive behavior. This is the time for you to resist only focusing on the external issue to look deeper to the motivational driver.
Jesus did this all the time when he approached people in sin and we can learn from Him. He didn’t just address the behavior, but he dealt with the issues of the heart. When you are tempted to berate your teen for external behaviors, stop to talk about the “why” of what they are doing. This can be illuminating to you and your teen. Often times, your teen hasn’t stop to look at the “why” or where it is taking them. Your teen may be acting out of depression, insecurity, faulty thinking, fear, loss, and peer pressure. While setting healthy boundaries and addressing the behavior, you can also offer your teen desperately needed support, love, and a place to process their pain. Let them know that there is way out and a way up.
And remind them that God is with them. Give them the big picture and remind yourself, too. “Being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you [or your teen] will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” God is still at work, even when your teen is acting out in pain. God loves your teen and wants to bring emotional healing, health and hope.
I could share story after story of teens who have come to Heartlight with a record of mistakes miles long. These kids were struggling in pain and anger, and their parents were almost hopeless. But one, two, or three years down the road, these teens learned to use the mistakes of their past to teach them to make wiser decisions in the future. Many are leading healthy and productive lives today. So when a bad situation starts to bring you down, look up. Get a glimpse of the future and know that years from now, you’ll look back and say, “Yes, God was working in my kid, and in that circumstance, the whole time.”
Turning Bad Into Good
Trust me, the Gregston’s are far from the perfect sitcom family. The truth is that every family has its share of trials. But when you trust God, every bad situation can be turned into a good opportunity for change, growth and even joy.
So, don’t give up or give in. Your teen needs you! This is the assignment God has called you to and He’s also provided resources for you so you don’t have to do it alone. Check the resources we offer online, consult your church pastor, join a parent support group, or seek professional counseling. Your teen is worth it!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a residential counseling center for struggling teens located in Longview, Texas. He has been married to his wife, Jan, for 40 years, has two kids, and four grandkids. He lives in Longview, Texas, with the Heartlight staff, 60 high school kids, 25 horses, his dog, Stitch, two llamas, and a prized donkey named Toy.
His past involvement as a youth pastor, Young Life area director, and living with more than 2,800 teens has prepared Mark to share his insights and wisdom about parenting pre-teens and adolescents. You can find out more about Heartlight at HeartlightMinistries.org. You can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.
Mark is also the host of the radio program Parenting Today’s Teen; heard on over 1,600 radio outlets nationwide. Visit ParentingTodaysTeens.org where you’ll find more parenting resources and find a station near you that carries the daily 60-second features or the 30-minute weekend program. Download the Parenting Today’s Teens App for Apple or Android, it’s a great way to listen on your schedule.