Dousing the Flame: Dealing with Teenager Anger

Written by Mark Gregston. Posted in Anger, bullying, counseling, depression, disrespect, punishment, teen anger, teen bullying, teen communications, teen conflict, troubled teens

Dousing the Flame: Dealing with Teenager AngerFor Lucas, it started in high school.  “I guess I have a face and personality that invites bullies,” he told me.  Kids in class would ridicule Lucas’ clothes, mock his behavior, laugh at where he came from, and deride him constantly.  But in teen culture, you can’t show weakness.  Teens know that if you let on to bullies that they’re affecting you, you’re giving them an open invitation to continue the abuse.  So Lucas put on his impervious face each day, and endured the barrage of mistreatment at school.  But that kind of ill-treatment wears you down.  “When I would finally come home,” explained this young man, “the littlest thing would set me off.  I mean, my mom would ask me to take out the trash and I could feel the anger building.  At first I wouldn’t talk, but that made my mom mad, so eventually all this anger would just, kinda, explode.  I would yell, throw things, break things.  My mom didn’t know what to do.

Lucas’ story is not unique.  Many of the teens who walk through the doors of Heartlight have trouble dealing with anger.  And that leaves parents at a loss, as well.  Seeing your teen seethe quietly with rage, or spew anger in violent outbursts can be overwhelming, and perhaps frightening.  Unfortunately, anger perpetuates anger.  If your child is stomping around the house mad, chances are mom and dad will start being a little miffed as well.  Then it becomes a cycle of anger that is difficult to break.

Let me offer some suggestions to deal with an angry teen and bring a level of peace and calm to your family.

Step Back

Engaged in a heated argument with your teen, you may feel that as a parent, your job is to stand up for your authority and take charge.  But when tempers flare and anger starts to rise, the best thing you can do as a mom or dad is to take a step back, either emotionally, or even physically.  There’s nothing wrong with saying, “This conversation is becoming too heated.  Can I respond later?”  It is healthy to excuse yourself from the situation, and invite your teen to do the same.  “I think we’re both pretty angry right now.  Let’s take a break and cool off, and talk about this later.”  Proverbs 15:1 says, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”  It’s very possible your son or daughter will try to draw you back into an angry dialogue and continue the fight.  But don’t let them pull you down into that mess.  Pull them up by instituting breaks, pauses and necessary breathers.  In that way, you’re nipping the anger in the bud before it has a chance to catch fire and do some real damage.

Find the Heart

You’ve probably heard me say this before, but anger is a response to an unmet need.  Whether your child blows up, or clams up, it’s a sign that they are not getting something they want.  We see this happen when a toddler throws a fit in the store because you put the sugary cereal back on the shelf, or stomps his little feet when you don’t buy him the toy he wants.  With teens, the unmet need may be something much more substantial.  They might be longing for a meaningful connection with a friend.  Or maybe they’re looking for acceptance from a parent or a peer.  In Lucas’ case, he would express his anger when he needed to feel safe and valued for a change.  Mom and Dad; there is always a reason behind your teen’s frustration.  So get to the heart of the issue.  Start asking questions to expose the need in your teen’s life.  What’s happening at school?  What’s going on at home?  What’s happening with friends?  Does your daughter feel clumsy and ugly?  Does your son feel untalented or non-gifted?  Is there a habit your teen can’t break, or a relationship they want fixed?  Do a little investigation in your son or daughter’s life, and find the root of the anger.  If you address the need, you’re well on your way to stopping the anger.

Get Active

This is a tool I use extensively with the teens I counsel.  When voices start rising, and fists start clenching, I abruptly interrupt and say, “Let’s go take a walk.”  Standing still, it’s likely that anger will build and build until something gives.  But Joe Shrand, M.D., an instructor at Harvard Medical School, points to studies that have shown activity actually helping to diffuse anger.  It’s an outlet for all those pent up emotions that are quivering for a release.  So go for a run, work on an art project, replace the oil in the car.  Channel those feelings of frustration into a worthwhile activity.  Many times, taking a walk around the neighborhood releases the steam that has been building in your child all day.  Releasing endorphins through physical exercise or switching on a different part of the brain by starting a new activity helps displace those angry feelings.  I find it interesting that some of the most inspirational works of art, including music, poetry and paintings, have been created from a place of anger.  So when frustration starts to take hold, get moving!  Activity is often the best prescription for teen anger.

Get Outside Help

Anger is a volatile emotion, and so it’s difficult to control at times.  Even when you’re doing the best you can, and employing all the tools at your disposal, your teen may still struggle with anger.  When what you’re doing is not working—it’s time to get outside help.  That may mean calling in a counselor or therapist to help you and your teen work through these emotions.  Maybe it means giving me a call, and having your son or daughter spend some time at Heartlight, away from home, working with our caring and compassionate team to help solve the anger issues.

Sometimes when anger turns violent, getting outside help may even mean getting the authorities involved.  I know that’s a drastic step.  But your teen cannot be allowed to hurt someone else, or themselves, because they are angry.  And when your teenage son is not only bigger than you, but has the strength and energy of raging bull, mom and dad can be out of their league when they try to control the situation.  That’s when you need to call in the police, and protect your family and your child.  Look, it’s better for your son to spend a short time in jail now, than to end up in prison later.  The consequences of violent behavior only increase as a child gets older.  If your teen is abusing others, the best thing you can do is call the police.  When the boys in blue come knocking on your door, they may provide the wake-up call your teen needs to cool down and realize that you are serious about the issue.

In case you were wondering, Lucas (the young man struggling with bullies and being angry at home) spent some time at Heartlight, and is making vast improvements in the way he is handling his frustrations.  I think he is special, but Lucas is not that much different than your teen.  If he can learn to get a handle on anger, so can your son or daughter.  All it takes is a mom and dad ready to step in and help.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a counseling facility for struggling teens located in Longview, Texas. Check out our website, www.ParentingTodaysTeens.org. It’s filled with effective parenting ideas, helpful articles, and practical tools and resources for moms and dads. Visit our website, where you can download the Parenting Today’s Teens podcast, or find a radio station near you to listen to our broadcasts. You can also call us directly at 1-866-700-3264 to find out about any upcoming events.

It’s More Than the Birds and the Bees: Talking to Your Teen About Sex

Written by Mark Gregston. Posted in counseling, parenting communications, Sexual promiscuity, teen seduction, troubled teens

Teen RomanceIt’s never a conversation a mom or dad wants to have with their child.  Talking about sex with your teen or pre-teen is uncomfortable for both you and your kid.  There’s a level of embarrassment, a fumbling for the right words, perhaps a hesitancy to share or to ask questions.  I’ll be honest; I’ve been talking to teens about sex for close to three decades, and it never gets any easier.

But here’s the deal; even if you aren’t talking to your kids about sex, you can guarantee someone else is.  That fact alone should prompt you to action.  Your teen is bombarded every day with a mixed bag of information about love, relationships, and intimacy.  She has a sex education class in school.  He has friends who offer their own “wisdom” and advice.  And of course, popular TV shows, movies, and magazines encourage teenagers to express their sexuality early and often.  It’s within this sex-saturated environment that your son or daughter desperately needs mom and dad to step into the gap and deliver the truth about this tantalizing subject.

Let’s take an example from another area of life.  When your teens start itching to get behind the wheel, you don’t put off teaching them about the mechanics or the responsibilities of driving in hopes that they’ll pick up the basics on their own.  Driving a car is a wonderful experience that can provide great freedom and joy in life, but done recklessly, or taken out of bounds, driving can bring unfortunate consequences.  You can’t put an uninformed teen in the driver’s seat and just expect them to know and safely follow all the rules of the road.  Similarly, we can’t expect our teens to navigate this sexualized world without causing damage to themselves and others unless mom and dad sit down with them and share some needed guidelines.  If we avoid these conversations and let peers or the media do the talking for us, we’re setting our teens up for failure.

So what should we be saying to our kids about sex?  It goes beyond the simple biology of the physical act.  Any textbook can teach that.  What teens need to hear from parents are the values and consequences inherent in a sexual relationship.  Unfortunately, many parents inadvertently send the wrong messages to their kids.

Wrong Message #1:  You’re Shameful

A teen once told me about a youth group meeting he attended, where the youth pastor took out a single rose, gave it to the first kid in the group, and asked that teen to pass along the flower to each person there.  After about forty hands and noses had battered the flower, the rose got back to the youth pastor—dirty, broken, and with it’s beautiful scent nearly gone.  Taking the flower in his hand, the pastor said, “This flower is like your body, kids.  See what happens when it gets passed around?  Who would want this flower now?

What this says to kids is that if they lose their virginity, they’re shameful and unlovable.  And that’s the wrong message to be promoting.  The gospel teaches that all of us are equally in need of forgiveness, and Christ accepts us in spite of our flaws!  No amount of sexual experimentation will ever change that.

Make no mistake—engaging in sexual activity before marriage is wrong, and will likely create some difficulties later in life.  But if your teen has made mistakes, or is in an inappropriate relationship, your job is not to shame them.  God offers unconditional love, and we should too.

Wrong Message #2: You’re Useless

Along the same lines as the erroneous rose analogy, I’ve heard some parents compare sex before marriage to chewing gum.  The punch line is, “Who would want a piece of gum that’s already been chewed?”  What that says to teens is that if you’ve engaged in sex before marriage, you’re gross and unwanted, useless and good for nothing.

But this is simply not true.  Just because your teen gave up his or her virginity doesn’t mean they’ve lost God’s purpose for their life.  Parents, it’s crushing to find out that your teen is sexually active.  It can feel like a massive defeat and a failure on your part.  But moms and dads, it is not the end of the world.  Your child’s life has not been destroyed.  God still has a plan and purpose for it.

I had one student who, as a result of a rebellious party lifestyle, got pregnant when she was sixteen.  Caught in her mistakes, she was forced to have a difficult conversation with her parents and evaluate the consequences of her decisions.  With the support of her family, this young lady did the right thing, gave up her beautiful child for adoption, got serious counseling, and is now a wise and productive adult.  Some years later I asked her thoughts on that tough time in her life, and she said, “Mark – getting pregnant was a wake-up call, and for the first time in my life I had to deal with my mistakes and learn responsibility.  And giving up that baby was one of the hardest things I ever had to do.  So now I want my next baby to be the result of a happy marriage.”

Obviously, teen pregnancy is not something we’d wish on any family.  But God can use even a painful mistake like that to grow and mature your teen.  So don’t convey the message that a loss of virginity means a loss of purpose.

Wrong Message #3:  Love is Conditional

Now, we might not come out and directly say to our teens, “Hey, I’ll love ya only when you’re good.”  Yet, we often convey this message with our actions, especially when it comes to our kid’s sexual mistakes.  The underlying message that a parent’s love is conditional can be delivered through the silent treatment, explosive outbursts, walking away, or avoiding our children altogether.  When kids mess up (and they will mess up), it’s time for us moms and dads to invest even more time into our relationships with them.  That doesn’t necessarily mean forgoing punishment or alleviating the consequences of their actions for them.  Loving your child under these circumstances means showing love even in spite of their mistakes.  It’s saying, “I’m disappointed that you’re sleeping with your girlfriend, and this means that there will be restrictions on that relationship, but I DO love you and we can get past this.”  The moment your daughter tearfully confesses her pregnancy is not the best time to blow up and storm out.  Show her that you love her despite her error in judgment, and that you will do what it takes to help her deal with the consequences of her decisions.

When your son or daughter is sorry for their mistakes, don’t keep rehashing the past after it’s been dealt with.  Instead, think of how God deals with us.  In Jeremiah 31:34, God says, “I will forgive their iniquity, and will remember their sin no more.”  Even though we fail quite often, God doesn’t see us as damaged goods.  He sees us as brand-new creations every moment of every day.  And we should treat our kids that way, as well.

Love, Truth, and the Grace of God

Talking about sex with your teen may feel uncomfortable, and addressing your teen’s sexual mistakes can be painful, but in a world where sexual activity outside of marriage is not only permissible, but also praised, your child needs a mom and a dad who are available to answer any questions they have, and who will listen to them and guide them as they struggle through their difficult and hormonal teenage years.  Talking about sex is more than just explaining the birds and the bees.  It’s living out and explaining the love, grace, and truth of God.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a counseling facility for struggling teens located in Longview, Texas. Check out our website, www.ParentingTodaysTeens.org. It’s filled with effective parenting ideas, helpful articles, and practical tools and resources for moms and dads. Visit our website, where you can download the Parenting Today’s Teens podcast, or find a radio station near you to listen to our broadcasts. You can also call us directly at 1-866-700-3264 to find out about any upcoming events.

Growing Up ADD

Written by Mark Gregston. Posted in ADHD, counseling, self-control, teen discipline, teen therapy, troubled teens

ADHDStop fidgeting!  Pay attention!  Calm down!  

I heard these phrases a lot growing up.  That’s because I had (and still have) ADD.  It stands for Attention Deficit Disorder.  While I might quibble about the “disorder” part of the definition, I definitely agree that there’s a deficit in my attention span!  As a kid, it was incredibly hard for me to sit through school, focus on homework, or stay on task for longer than fifteen minutes.  I give my parents credit; raising me was no easy assignment.  I’m sure there were times they wanted to strap me down just so I’d stop being so squirrely!

If you’re the mom or dad of a child with ADD, you can sympathize.  You know the difficulties of living with a teenager whose brain and body are always on the move.  Sometimes you feel like you just can’t keep up with them.  Other times, you wonder if you’ll ever be able to enjoy a deep relationship with someone who always seems distracted.

Let me offer you some encouragement based on my own experiences growing up with ADD and working with thousands of teenagers who are wired this way.

Diagnosing

How do you know if your child has ADD or ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder)?  Before you start self-diagnosing your child, get a final opinion from a licensed and respected medical professional.  There’s a danger in labeling your son or daughter with a term that may not describe them.  Don’t jump too quickly for a diagnosis that will follow your teen around for the rest of his life.

However, if you suspect that your teen is dealing with ADD, here are some signs that mental health experts agree may be symptoms:

  • Lack of attention to detail, or prone to careless mistakes.  Maybe you’ve noticed your child can’t remember to put their name on a test, doesn’t fill in all the answers, or gets bogged down in too many details.  This could be a sign of a student struggling with ADD.
  • Lack of attention to the task at hand.  You son will start to mow the lawn, but halfway through starts riding his bike, watering the flowers, or eating a snack, and completely forgets the original job he had started.  ADD can do that to kids.
  • Lack of focus in conversation.  Ever been talking with your daughter, and you can tell she just isn’t listening?  She might just be showing disrespect, but this could also be a sign of ADD.  With ADD, it can be difficult to concentrate on what people say or to track with conversations.
  • Failure to follow instructions.  You’ve laid out a detailed, step-by-step guide to accomplish a certain task, but your teen veered way off course and didn’t follow your instructions at all!  It could be that ADD had a part to play.
  • Avoidance of activities that take mental effort.  It’s not that kids with ADD are less intelligent than other people.  In fact, many kids with ADD are very smart.  But the wiring in their brain makes it extremely difficult for them to sit down and read a novel, watch an entire movie in one sitting, or study for more than fifteen minutes at a time.  So kids with ADD tend to avoid undertakings that require a lot of mental effort.

Managing

As you read through that list, maybe you were mentally checking off each one, and it described your children perfectly.  Now the question becomes, “Okay, Mark, how do I manage a child with ADD?

While I wouldn’t advise you to rush out and stock up on Ritalin, I do suggest that you go seek medical help.  God can use medicine and doctors to help kids cope with issues.  I know that some parents are very hesitant about turning to prescriptions, but there is nothing wrong with combining medication and parental methods to help an ADD kid function better and enjoy a normal life.  Don’t ignore the role medicine can play in the life of a child struggling with mental problems or disorders.  If medication or therapy is needed, then use these tools to help your teen.

Communication

You can also help your teen deal with ADD by changing your communication habits.  Instead of sitting down to talk with your teens, get up and have conversations with them while engaged in an activity.  On the Heartlight ranch, I routinely take kids on horseback rides, water-skiing, or on hikes around the campus to create opportunities to talk with them.  Confined to an enclosed, silent space, teens with ADD will have a hard time hearing anything you’re saying.  But get their minds and bodies involved in an activity, and they’ll be open to talking with you!

Also, shorten the length of your conversations.  You may have have a lot to tell your child, but realize that kids with ADD can only absorb so much information at a time.  So learn to communicate in sound bites.  Talk for only ten to fifteen minutes, then get up and do something else.  After a while, come back for another round of conversation.  Work around their attention span to speak truth into the life of your teen with ADD.

This may seem counterintuitive, but refrain from repeating yourself in a conversation.  I know that sounds almost impossible to do with an ADD kid.  You may feel like you have to remind them of things over and over again.  But all you’ll get in return is, “I got it! I got it!  Yeah, I heard you the first time!”  Instead, reinforce instructions at intervals.  Say it once, then come back to it again later.  In this way, you’ll highlight the lessons you want to get across in a way that can be grasped and processed.

Pay Attention

As our culture shifts, kids spend less time outside or physically engaged in activities, and more time indoors and looking at screens.  Sometimes we might be suspicious our kids have ADD, but they simply have a normal amount of energy with nowhere to burn it!  Mom and dad, take time out of your day to play with your kids.  Toss a football around.  Go on a jog.  Wrestle in the living room (I don’t recommend this if your teenager is taller or stronger than you).  Help them expend the energy they’ve built up throughout the day.

Also, pay attention to anxiety in your teen, as well.  The pressures on today’s young people are growing exponentially, and as a result, our teenagers deal with a lot of stress.  Compound this with an ADD personality, and you have a teen who is in desperate need of a way to slow down and find some rest.

Many of the teens I know who have been caught up in substance abuse tell me they’re not trying to be bad or rebellious.  “I just want to feel normal”, they say.  Some teens drink mouthwash before bed to help them get to sleep.  Other kids smoke pot to quiet their brains.  And some teenagers engage in these kinds of dangerous and destructive behaviors because they are looking for relief from anxiety and a mind that can’t stop racing.

So keep an eye out to see if your child is self-medicating.  Watch your medicine cabinet.  Look for signs of drug use or alcohol abuse.  In place of these substances, help your child deal with the stress and concerns in their life in a healthy way.  Be a sounding board and listen to what they’re telling you.  Help them discover useful hobbies or pastimes that can help them cope.  Provide healthy outlets for their energy and emotions.

I agree with you; raising an ADD kid should win you a medal or an award of some kind.  It’s a special challenge, with a unique set of obstacles.  It’s exhausting and physically demanding, but the rewards are worth it.  Channeled into the right areas, your child’s boundless energy can propel him towards worthy goals and great success.  People with ADD can be high achievers.  So don’t give up on that teen.  Don’t let their lack of focus derail your focus on them!

 

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.

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.