Get Into Groups!

Written by Mark Gregston. Posted in counseling, encouragement, parenting, troubled teens

Meeting TogetherThe single, most common question parents ask me is, “What is the most important thing I can do as a parent to help my kids?”  Moms and dads who pose this question might expect me to say something like, “Monitor your teen’s music,” or “Offer more encouragement,” or maybe even “Lock your kids in their room until they’re thirty-five.”  That’s why parents always seem shocked when I tell them that the most important thing they can do to become better parents is join a small group.

Initially, it may be difficult to understand the point of participating in a local support group or community.  I mean, it’s the teenager who needs help, not the parents, right?  Shouldn’t our sons or daughters be the ones who are forced to join?  What good can participating in a small group do for parents?

For Support

Here’s the simple truth; parents need support.  Teaching, training and otherwise taking a child from delivery room to adulthood is a daunting assignment.  As a mom or dad, you’re going to face challenges that will test your patience, endurance, and faith.  There will be days when you’ll feel like stepping down as a parent and looking for another job with less stress and better pay.  That’s why we need support.  We need to have a group around us who can encourage us when we feel low, offer help when we’re struggling, celebrate with us when things are going well and listen to us when life is spiraling out of control.

Also, with parenting groups you have a chance to interact with people who understand what you’re going through.  Sure, we can share our parenting struggles with friends, pastors or family.  But taking part in a circle of relationships linked by the common bond of parenting teenagers ensures that you can share struggles with others who are experiencing the same things you are.  When you join a small group, either in your church or in your community, you have the opportunity to laugh with other parents about the crazy things your teenagers do, or vent the uncomfortable feelings that come with raising kids, all without judgment from other people.  Within the context of a close-knit group, you can aid and receive support from other parents, and grow together as moms and dads.

For Wisdom

When parents try to try raise their kids on their own private island, away from the advice and support of others, there’s a good chance they’re going to be left stranded!  Proverbs 15:22 says, “Plans go wrong for lack of advice; many advisors bring success.” (NLT).  In a room full of parents, there is a lot of wisdom that can be gathered.  A parental support group not only offers encouragement for weary moms and dads, but also a wealth of knowledge you can use in your own home.  You can avoid making mistakes with your own kids by listening to what other parents have tried in their families.  Engaged in conversation with other moms and dads, you have the opportunity to receive feedback about whether you’re over-reacting or under-reacting with your teen.  Bouncing ideas off of parents in similar situations may give valuable perspective on both your teen and your parenting skills.  If you’re a single parent, getting involved in a support group with other single parents is critical.  Together, you can share information about helpful books, websites, articles, or other resources.

Now, many parents tell me, “Mark, my teen is really struggling.  If I join a group or a community, I would have nothing valuable to add.”  But that is just not true.  Many parents don’t even realize the wisdom they possess until they open their mouths and start sharing it with other people.  Your insight is important and needed.  And when you add what you know to what other parents know, the result is enough wisdom to fill a library with parenting books!

For Specific Problems

So maybe now you’re warming up to the idea of joining a small group.  The thought of receiving support and gaining valuable wisdom sounds like an offer too good to pass up.  But let me caution you not to get involved with just any group.  To benefit from a close-knit community, you need to find the one that fits you and your family.  For example, if you’re trying to raise a son or daughter who loves Jesus, it’s not a good idea to join the nearby Wiccan parenting group.  Now this doesn’t mean that everyone in the group needs to share every single belief you have about life, religion, and parenting, but it is important to join a community that shares the basic tenets of your faith.

If your teenager has been diagnosed with Autism or Aspergers, find a support group specifically for parents like you.  If your daughter is battling eating disorders or experimenting with drugs and alcohol, do some research to find a group that addresses those needs.  But maybe your son or daughter is on track, and you don’t see the need to get involved anywhere.  That would be a mistake!  Join a support group anyway, and be a source of comfort or wisdom to other moms and dads.  I guarantee that no matter how perfect your teenager seems, there will come a time where you need the backing of community friends.  You’ll never regret taking some time out of your week to gather with other moms and dads and together become better parents.

How to Find a Parent Support Group

There’s no shortage of groups available that would love to have you.  Sometimes the trick is to find them.  You can do a search online for support groups in your town.  Or get suggestions from professionals who work with teens in your area.  Listings of community support groups are found at many local medical and mental health facilities.  And check local churches for small group meetings.

If you can’t find a group that fits you; make one!  Organize your own collection of moms and dads, and then start inviting people.  You can’t wait around for someone else to put something together.  Be a blessing in the lives of other parents who need a specific support group just as much as you do, and create one.

I would not say it’s impossible to parent without the support of others.  But going it alone definitely makes the job harder.  So don’t let shyness, a busy schedule, fatigue, or anything else stop you from growing as a mom or dad.  If you’re looking for one way to start becoming a better mom or dad right now, join a community devoted to becoming better parents today.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, located in Hallsville, Texas.  For more information and helpful resources for moms and dads, check out our website.  It’s filled with ideas and tools to help you become a more effective parent.  Go to www.heartlightministries.org.  Or read other helpful articles by Mark, at www.markgregston.com.  You can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.  Hear the Parenting Today’s Teens broadcast on a radio station near you, or download the podcast at www.parentingtodaysteens.org.

Teaching Teens to Struggle Well

Written by Mark Gregston. Posted in counseling, meaning of life, parenting communications, struggling teens, troubled teens

Teaching Teens to Struggle WellThink back for a moment.  When in your life, have you gained the most experience and wisdom?  Was it when things were easy?  Or was it when times were tough?  If you’re anything like me, you grow and mature the most during periods of struggle.  The circumstances are usually anything but fun, but the lessons I gain from the storms of life are invaluable.  It’s what author Napoleon Hill meant when he wrote, “Strength and growth come only through continuous effort and struggle.”

Now, if this is true, and growth comes through struggle, the question on the table becomes this: are we teaching our teenagers how to struggle well?  Can your son or daughter look to you as an example of someone who handles trials with endurance, patience, and grace?  Because your teen will face his or her own share of difficult situations.  There will be times where their faith, hope, and strength are tested.  Can they look to mom and dad to give them the tools to handle the tough times and come out better people?  Let me share with you some specific “do’s” and “don’ts” for teaching your teenagers how to struggle well.

DON’T Hold Back

I’ll be honest; some trials that come our way make me wonder, “Why would God allow this to happen?”  Whether it’s the death of a child, a tragic accident, or a devastating disaster, some circumstances simply do not make sense.  In such moments, it’s okay to express your frustration to God.  Let Him know the extent of your grief.  Let Him know what you’re feeling.  Open your heart to Him.  He can handle it all.  Don’t hold back or suppress your emotions.  But don’t let those emotions lead you down the wrong road.  You know your anger has taken you down a dark path when you turn your back on the Lord, stop turning to Him for comfort, or accuse Him of trying to hurt or harm you.

Romans 8:38 says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”  When circumstances are frustrating, and you’re fed up with the way things are going, ask God for patience.  If you’re at the end of your rope and you don’t know what to do, ask God for wisdom, and seek godly counsel from mentors, elders and wise peers.  And if you’re in the midst of one of life’s storms, ask God for peace, and the Bible says that, “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7).  We can trust God to take care of us, and we can also trust God with our emotions, anger, and sadness.  Show your kids that even when the going gets tough, and life doesn’t make sense, they can trust the Lord and have faith in His goodness.

DO Surround Yourself With People

Maybe I’m starting to sound like a broken record, but you need people in your life that can support you during the dark days.  When you’re dealing with difficult circumstances, don’t hide away and bury the problems where no one can see them.  Uncover the issues and look for help.  You don’t have to wrestle with life all by yourself.  Letting others help you will make your stronger.  “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another,” says Proverbs 27:17.

What I saw from my parents was the exact opposite.  I never saw my mom or dad struggle with money issues, with their marriage, or with other people because they hid it behind a façade of silence and smiles.  Perhaps they thought it would help me avoid the problems they encountered, but instead I learned to hide my problems so people couldn’t help me.  Because I never saw how my parents made it through the storms, I had to learn how to navigate my way through life on my own.  For many years it was much more difficult than it would have been if my parents had been able to share their own struggles with me.

But my wife and I don’t want our kids to experience what I did.  My goal is to let my children know that everyone struggles; moms and dads included.  And when those tough times come, they can lean on God and turn to others for help.

DON’T Run Away

We don’t like to experience pain.  That’s why God gave us aspirin right?  Whenever we feel a headache coming on, we can run to the medicine cabinet for relief.  However, most hurts in life aren’t so easily remedied.  So when problems head in our direction, we’re tempted to avoid the pain entirely by running the opposite way.  Don’t do that!  Pain hurts, no doubt.  But the right kind of pain is actually good for us.  It can help identify a problem in our life.  Or it can push us to discover a wealth of strength and faith that we never knew we had.  That’s why James tells us, “consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors.” (James 1:2)

When the fire is on, our faith in God can truly ignite.  So don’t run from the pain.  Face it and deal with it head on.  Accept the difficulty, knowing that it’s refining your character and maturing your faith.  When you face pain with confidence, you model for your teenager how to struggle honestly and with faith.

DO Look Past the Hardship

In the moment, a painful circumstance can feel like it lasts for an eternity.  But in the scope of life, trials and troubles are momentary.  So look beyond the circumstance to see what God is trying to teach you through it.  Sometimes it’s all you can do to simply grab and hold on for dear life.  But focus your gaze, and look not only to survive the storm, but learn the lessons that you can from it.  Set an example for your kids by showing them how to see past the temporary hurts to gain the wisdom that lies on the other side.

DON’T Rush to a Coping Mechanism

We all have our own coping mechanisms, ways of dealing with stress, pressure, and emotions.  And often, when life is the hardest, we run to these crutches to help us deal with our problems.  A dad might throw himself into playing more golf, or spending all his free time in the garage.  Mom may look for relief in working more hours, or spending more time with friends.  These coping mechanisms are not necessarily bad things.  But if they become hindrances that prevent us from ever dealing with the struggles at hand, then it’s time to back away from them.  You’ll never struggle well, or teach your teenager how to weather trials, if all your time is spent avoiding the issues.  Deal with the problems head on, and your kids will learn to do so as well.

DO Take Regular Breaks

Before you say, “Wait Mark, didn’t you just say don’t look to escape the problem?”  Let me explain the difference.  When you try to ignore, avoid, or distract yourself from the troubles you’re facing, that’s running away from the issues.  But taking a break every once-in-a-while is a healthy and necessary tool for struggling well.  When you’re dealing with an out-of-control teenager, sometimes it’s appropriate to put yourself in timeout to cool off for a minute before re-engaging.  When you’re working through grief or disappointment, it’s helpful to get away for the weekend and gain a fresh perspective.  If you’re struggling with financial issues, and money is tight, I’d encourage you to clear away the piles of bills and budgets in front of you, and enjoy a relaxing picnic with the family.

Taking a break from the struggles to recharge your batteries gives you fresh energy for the fight.  Show your teens that in the midst of the storm, we can create moments of peace.

We’ll all face hard times in life.  This includes your son or daughter.  So give them the tools they’ll need to stand tall and struggle well by modeling it for them.  When it comes to getting through trials, actions always speak louder than words.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, located in Hallsville, Texas.  For more information and helpful resources for moms and dads, check out our website.  It’s filled with ideas and tools to help you become a more effective parent.  Go to www.heartlightministries.org.  Or read other helpful articles by Mark, at www.markgregston.com.  You can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.  Hear the Parenting Today’s Teens broadcast on a radio station near you, or download the podcast at www.parentingtodaysteens.org.

Dealing with Tragedy

Written by Mark Gregston. Posted in counseling, Prayer, teen counseling, tragedy, troubled teens

Dealing with TragedyIt was a beautiful day for a run.  Though the Boston Marathon is by invitation only, the runners assembled were not your superstar athletes, but rather your typical moms, dads, accountants, firemen, grandpas, grandmas, students and scholars.  They were average people who, through hard work and dedication, had earned the opportunity to run through the streets of the city.  But before many of them made it to the finish line, the goal that these runners had spent years preparing for, the bombs went off and a senseless and mindless tragedy changed the course of the race forever.

In the aftermath of the attack at the Boston Marathon, people across the country are in a state shock, fear, anger and apprehension.  The horrific images are burned into our memory.  Though we look for answers to Why? How? and Who? most of us are still busy praying for the victims and reeling from the sheer injustice of innocent people being wounded or killed.

As someone who has spent the majority of his life around kids, I know that teens are especially attuned to injustice.  Kids have a hard time realizing that life is not a static experience.  It’s always shifting.  So when the world around them starts to shake and senseless tragedies make national headlines, many teens can become angry and lash out while others isolate themselves and internalize their grief.  We might not think that tragedies in Boston or Newton or Aurora can affect teens living hundreds of miles away, but these terrible events do impact all of us in profound ways.

Let me share some ways you can help your teenager (and maybe yourself, as well) deal with senseless acts of violence like the Boston Marathon bombing.

Acknowledge the Loss

As teenagers begin to face the realization that the world isn’t the happy and carefree place they once thought it was, they might experience a deep sense of sadness and grief.  Coming face-to-face with death and tragedy causes a loss of innocence.  It’s not easy for an adolescent to witness the end of a life at the beginning of their own.

During these times of reflection and sadness, it’s important to allow kids to have time to express their grief.  Don’t ignore the sorrow or look the other way when your teen mourns.  Instead, be attentive to your child and notice those things that will show you what he’s really experiencing.  Have patience and encourage him not only to express his sadness, anger, and frustration, but also to let go of those feelings a little at a time.

A friend who worked with me at Kanakuk Kamp in the ‘80s made a statement that has stayed with me through the years.  He said, “The moods of a lifetime are often set in the all-but-forgotten events of childhood.”  If your teen holds onto his grief instead of processing it and moving past it, that grief may become the “mood of a lifetime.”  Lashing out or isolating herself may be your daughter’s way of trying to navigate these difficult feelings, and she needs your help to process it all!  Help your teens identify feelings of grief and anger and allow them to express these emotions in a safe and respectable way.  This doesn’t mean you will know what your children are feeling all the time, but you have the capability to help them put words to difficult emotions.

As you watch, listen, or read about the events of the Boston Marathon, keep the lines of dialogue open with your child.  Your teen will use the relationship that you established before the loss to determine how much he will rely on you during a time of grieving.  Work to build your relationship with your teen now so that she will be willing to come to you when future tragedies of life become a reality.

Release the Anger

There is nothing wrong with being angry.  In fact scripture says, “Be angry,” but it also says, “…but don’t sin” (Ephesians 4:26).  When we see acts of cruelty, scenes of chaos, or loss of life, it’s natural to feel anger and rage over a fallen world where bad things happen to good people.  But in the same way that adults need to channel their anger into appropriate outlets, teen anger must be dealt with or it will grow into a sinful attitude.  Bottled up inside, feelings of frustration or resentment can one day explode in a white-hot shower of hurtful words and broken relationships.

So direct your teens to acceptable ways of expressing anger.  Show them appropriate methods to deal with their emotions, and give them ways to let off steam.  We had a young man at Heartlight many years ago who had serious anger issues revolving around his broken impressions about the world and the people in it.  So I gave him an old golf club and told him to go out and beat on a tree when he felt like he couldn’t handle things any more.  It gave him a way to dissipate his anger without hurting himself or anyone else while we worked with him to understand and process the truly awful things that had happened to him.

It’s not always easy to see when our children are upset.  Teenage rage can be expressed in many different ways.  It can be hot, physical and vengeful, or it can be cold, isolating and calculating.  Whatever form anger takes, dealing with it begins with understanding what anger is and what causes it.

There was a young lady at Heartlight named Sarah who came to us because of her anger issues.  You see, the day she turned six, her father, a state trooper, was working an extra shift.  Running late for her birthday party, he was hurrying home when he had a fatal car accident.  Her mother later remarried and life went on, but when Sarah became a teenager she began resenting her step-father and became a very angry young woman.

On the outside, her parents witnessed her hostile words and rebellion and concluded that her step-father was the cause.  But Sarah didn’t think her mom’s husband was a bad guy.  In fact, she cared for him a great deal.  Rather, it was the absence of her real dad and the grief she was experiencing which made her angry.  As she talked with the Heartlight counselors and began to process her anger she learned how to appropriately deal with her dad’s passing.  Sadly, she blamed herself for her father’s death, since he was rushing home to attend her birthday party when it happened.  The loss of her dad will always be with her, but Sarah has learned how to properly deal with the emotions she feels because of it.

Look, it’s never productive to simply put a lid on anger—if you do, it will manifest itself somewhere else.  Wise parents or counselors will spend time talking through these issues with teens.  Asking questions like “What are you thinking about when you have these angry feelings?” is better than asking “Why are you so angry all the time?”  It changes the statement from one of blame to one of interest. The goal should be to create an environment that looks for solutions, while ensuring that teens aren’t afraid to express their true emotions in an acceptable manner.

As parents, we know that this world can be a difficult place to grow up in.  The events in Boston only reinforce that notion.  As our teens witness tragic events around the world, we have the opportunity not only to help them deal with feelings of grief and anger at evil, but we also have the chance to point them in the direction of the Savior who said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33).

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, located in Hallsville, Texas.  For more information and helpful resources for moms and dads, check out our website.  It’s filled with ideas and tools to help you become a more effective parent.  Go to www.heartlightministries.org.  Or read other helpful articles by Mark, at www.markgregston.com.  You can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.  Hear the Parenting Today’s Teens broadcast on a radio station near you, or download the podcast at www.parentingtodaysteens.org.

Updating Our Parenting Styles

Written by Mark Gregston. Posted in counseling, household rules, Mark Gregston, parenting, parenting communications, parenting style, troubled teens

Parenting StyleMy fashion style hasn’t changed in over thirty years.  I have twenty pairs of identical jeans in my closet.  I have a drawer full of plain t-shirts.  I have suits dating back to the Ford Administration.  For the most part, I’m comfortable with what I wear.

Or at least I was, until a twenty-something staff worker at Heartlight dug up an old photo of me with my first batch of staff workers.  Lo and behold, I was wearing the very same shirt I had on in that picture from twenty-four years ago!  At that moment I realized, maybe it’s time to update my wardrobe.

We’re creatures of habit, aren’t we?  As parents we get going into a parenting groove, raising our kids like our parents raised us or just plodding along in our comfort zone of parenting styles and habits.  But all of a sudden, we realize it isn’t working anymore.  While we were stuck in our parenting rut, our kids grew and changed.  It’s as if we’ve been wearing the same shirt for 10, 12, 15 years, and haven’t bothered to update our wardrobe.

This rude awakening happens to a lot of parents.  But if we’re still breathing, that means we still have the opportunity to change and parent differently.  And we need to.  I cannot engage with my kids the same way I did when they were three years old.  I have to adapt as a parent so I can connect with my kids whether they’re 5 or 55!  So how do we update our parenting styles?

Take Inventory

Like going into your closet and pulling out the velour suit from 1974, we need to go into our parenting closet and take an inventory of everything outdated.  This requires an honest examination of the actions, beliefs, styles and habits in our home and a willingness to toss out everything that doesn’t belong.  Of course, this doesn’t mean that you change your values, principles or morals.  There are clear boundaries between what is wrong and what is right, and those should never change.  But aside from the non-negotiable, what are some areas that you can change and adapt as a parent?  How can you accommodate the new needs of your teenager?  How can you grow alongside them as they learn to navigate the world?  Like reaching back into the closet and taking out those jeans you haven’t fit into since high school, take regular time to evaluate your parenting styles.  See what is out of style, what needs to change or what keeps you stuck in the past.

Be Humble

Once you take inventory and identify those areas where adjustment is needed, the next step is to be humble enough change.  It can be uncomfortable, maybe even a bit painful, to realize that your parenting habits need work.  But remember that parenting is not about you!  It’s about what is best for your child.  As a mom or dad, our job is to coach our kids and allow them to flourish.  As difficult as it can be, making an effort to change can re-energize your relationship with your child and spur them on to more growth and responsibility.

Create the Proper Environment

Ever step into someone’s house and feel like you are stepping back into time?  You see orange shag carpeting, green velvet couches, pictures of Elvis on the wall and it smells like a combination of High Karate aftershave and powdered lemonade.  It’s an environment that screams, “We’re stuck in a different decade!

Don’t let your home be emotionally stuck in the past.  Create an environment that welcomes and invites change.  If you feel like it’s time to make some positive shifts in your family, sit everyone down and tell them, “We need to make some changes around here, me included.  It’s not going to be the same-old, same-old.  Let’s work together as a family to move forward.

I’ve spoken on this topic at seminars a few times.  And afterwards, I have had parents and teens come up to me later and say, “Thank You!  We decided as a family that we needed to change, and it was one of the best decisions we made.  Our kids are happier, and we feel happier as parents!

Act On It

Once you decide to make some changes for you and your family, it’s time to act on it!  If you feel like your teen needs to correct the way they handle finances, get them a checkbook, put some money in their account for gas, clothes and lunches, and let them learn how to balance a budget.  They need to learn, so don’t wait.  Maybe you have always said that your pre-teen daughter won’t get a cell-phone until she is fifteen.  But consider whether it may be time to take a second look at that rule.  Buy her a pre-paid cell-phone and set up the ground rules and expectations for its use.  Or perhaps you realize that as a mom and dad you have been too over-protective in certain areas.  Apologize to your kids and show them that you are working on changing and releasing some control.

Even the best intentions aren’t worth anything if we don’t act on them.  So once you see where your family can move forward, start working towards that goal.

Stay With the Plan

I’ll be the first to admit, change is not easy.  We don’t wake up one day with the perfect marriage, perfect kids, perfect home.  Those relationships take time and effort.  So if you are working towards making positive changes in your family, don’t give up!  Stay with the plan.  In difficult transitions, your teen may push back.  They may dig in their heels as you try to change your home and family.  But keep the mindset and attitude that says, “We’re not going backward, only forward.”

Finally, enlist some help and encouragement.  Call in some allies and let them know about the changes you are trying to make and ask them to hold you accountable.  If they see you sliding backwards, give them permission to call you on it.  Seek those who would encourage you, as well.  Celebrate the victories, as you make steps forward.

Staying in our parental comfort zone and sticking to the status quo is like hanging onto that polyester pantsuit in the back of the closet.  It’s outdated and only taking up space for more valuable items.  We need to take inventory of our habits and conventions as moms and dads and make the necessary changes to ensure that we are growing alongside our kids.  And that’s a style that looks good in every generation.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, located in Hallsville, Texas.  For more information and helpful resources for moms and dads, check out our website.  It’s filled with ideas and tools to help you become a more effective parent.  Go to www.heartlightministries.org.  Or read other helpful articles by Mark, at www.markgregston.com.  You can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.  Hear the Parenting Today’s Teens broadcast on a radio station near you, or download the podcast at www.parentingtodaysteens.org.

Faith at Home

Written by Mark Gregston. Posted in counseling, family conflict, meaning of life, struggling teens, troubled teens

Take to heart all the words I have solemnly declared to you this day, so that you may command your children to obey carefully all the words of this law.”

~ Deuteronomy 32:46

I met Rebecca for the first time when she came to our Heartlight campus.  As we talked, I saw a bright, funny teenage girl, with a lot of mixed feelings about her parents, faith, and God.  She told me:

I grew up in a Christian home.  We were typical Southern Baptists, and I was taught from an early age what I could, and could not do.  I accepted Christ at a very young age, but I really didn’t know what I was doing.  Asking Jesus into my heart was something I felt I had to do to please my parents.  And I tried to live, what I thought, was a “good” Christian life.  I brought my Bible to school with every day, wore a cross around my neck, and preached to all my friends. I was pretty ridiculous about it.

It wasn’t until I was at a Christian camp, that I was able to clear away the fog and some of the cultural brainwashing.  There was a boy at camp who asked me a lot of probing questions, and really got me thinking about the existence of God, and whether the Bible was accurate and true.  Those had been nagging questions in my head for a long time.  You see, many of the Christians I knew were extremely rude.  If someone believed differently, those Christians treated them like garbage.  

My parents act this way a lot.  There was a lot of judgment at my house.  They would say stuff like, “Don’t do that, or you’ll burn in hell.”  They’d also use the Bible against me, to make me feel horrible about what I did or said.  My dad wasn’t around that much, and when he was, he was really confrontational.  My mother, on the other hand, would just make snide comments all the time about me.  I finally had enough and admitted what I already knew; God didn’t exist, and Christianity was bogus.  Hey, I respect people’s right to have a faith in any god they choose, but personally, I think the whole thing is a fraud.

If I could tell parents one thing about their kids, it would be this: Accept us.  You don’t have to condone or support everything we do.  I know I have made choices my parents don’t approve of.  But be sensitive, and not judgmental.  I would probably have a better outlook on Christianity if I had a better experience at home.

Rebecca’s story is common among teens today.  85% of teenagers leave the church after high school.  They’re not finding another church.  They’re not switching youth groups.  They’re leaving church altogether.  That is a sobering thought.  But it doesn’t have to continue this way.  While the spiritual lives of our teens are ultimately in God’s hand, as parents we can prepare the soil so that God can plant the seeds of a lasting faith.

Inherit Faith

It is tough to imagine that in a strong, Christian home, kids would question our faith.  In the back of our minds, it’s tempting to think that faith can be passed down the generational line.  Of course we know that our teens have to make a personal choice, but don’t sons and daughters get an extra lift from having Christian parents?

Though we may secretly hope so, it doesn’t work that way.  We have to remember that faith cannot be inherited.  Our relationship with God doesn’t transfer over to our kids.  They have to want and develop it themselves.  So there’s nothing wrong with telling your son or daughter, “Don’t take my faith.  Discover it for yourself.”  You might think a phrase like that would push kids away from the faith, instead of toward it.  However, when it comes to teenagers, telling them to investigate the issues of faith for themselves is liberating.  Kids instinctively want to please their parents and, like Rebecca, that may be the reason they accept Christ in the first place.  But following Jesus to please mom or dad makes for a pretty shallow faith.  Instead, tell your teen that you want them to make a personal decision.  You’ll be disappointed if they choose not to follow God, but you will love them no matter what!  Attitudes like that open the door for kids to pursue God for themselves, rather than to fulfill our expectations.

Question Faith

Part of the struggle parents have in leading their teens towards faith is maneuvering the questions.  What do you do when your teen asks, “Why does a good God allow people to suffer?” or “Why should we believe what the Bible says?”  Many times, parents believe that asking questions is a sign their child is slipping from grace.  But that’s not always the case.  We all have questions, especially when we’re young and navigating complex issues.  God doesn’t mind honest questions, and neither should we.  And if we can’t answer our teen’s problems, it’s the perfect opportunity to be honest!  Admit it, and make sure they look it up on their own.  Say, “Hey, that’s a really good question.  Honestly, I would like to know myself.  Why don’t you look for the answer in the Bible and let me know what you find?”  Kids will have questions about God, Jesus, the Bible, morality, and other faith-related topics.  Instead of evading or scolding teens for their inquiries, use it as an opportunity to push them towards a God who has the solutions to every problem.

Live Faith

The most important aspect of infusing your parenting with faith is to live it out in front of your kids.  Do you know the number one response that non-believers give when asked why they don’t follow God? “To many hypocrites!”  We all know that nobody is perfect, and we all fall short in many ways.  But if we’re not consistently trying to live our faith authentically, then we are in danger of becoming the hypocrites that turn people (including our kids) away from the Lord.

Our kids are watching us all the time.  They can see when we react in anger, fudge on our taxes, lie to family members, or treat other people with disrespect.  But they also notice when we show love, pursue peace, develop self-control, and walk in integrity.  Our lives often speak louder than our words ever could.

If you’ve messed up in the past, admit that to your children, and let them know God is still working on you.  George MacDonald once wrote, “Do not judge this path by how I walk it.”  Let’s remind our kids the same thing.  Don’t judge Christianity by how others practice it, but by the merits of truth itself.

Lastly, don’t forget to allow God to work.  The Lord has a different timetable then we do.  If you’ve been praying for with a prodigal son or daughter, don’t give up!  Know that God has not given up on you or your child.  Though Rebecca might have turned her back on God for the time being, her story is far from over.  God is still writing her biography.  And He is still working in the life of your struggling teen.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, located in Hallsville, Texas.  For more information and helpful resources for moms and dads, check out our website.  It’s filled with ideas and tools to help you become a more effective parent.  Go to www.heartlightministries.org.  Or read other helpful articles by Mark, at www.markgregston.com.  You can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.  Hear the Parenting Today’s Teens broadcast on a radio station near you, or download the podcast at www.parentingtodaysteens.org.