If pain were knocking on your door, you wouldn’t welcome him, invite him in, or help him in any way. You would send him to the next neighborhood, reassuring him that he was at the wrong address.
Parents in trouble with their teen call me when they are in pain and need help, but I’ve learned that many are just looking for an affirmation or justification of their own plan or ideas. Sadly, most people only accept advice when they agree with it, when it fits into their own time schedule, and when the outcome is what they predicted.
To illustrate that point, I once worked with a daughter whose father paid for an apartment after she graduated high school. I urged against placing her outside of his home, on her own, for a number of reasons. I did all in my power to convince him against his unwise decision of letting her go before she was ready. Tragically, our worst fear came true, and through a deadly set of circumstances, Kristen lost her life, and the man lost a daughter.
“He who trusts himself is a fool…” Proverbs 28:26a
Another father called asking for my help unraveling his teenager’s rotten behavior. His description of the situation was confusing, his plan of action was weird, and his intent was just a little off. After I listened to him ramble on for 30 minutes, I stopped him and said, “Are you asking for my blessing on your plan, or my counsel? Your best thinking has gotten you into the situation that you’re currently in. So let’s stop following the way you’re thinking and come up with some new ways of handling it.” He then broke down saying, “I think I was at first asking for a blessing, but now I’d like for you to tell me what I need to do.” It was a picture of a foolish man becoming wise.
Parenting a struggling teen will bring you face to face with your worst fears. Fear for the safety and well being of your child. Fear for their future. Fear of how others will respond to your having a problem to begin with. You may not realize it, but another description of fear is emotional pain.
Parents never expect pain when raising a child. In fact, they do everything in their power to avoid it in their life and the life of their child. Even so, when a problem is ignored because they don’t know how to deal with it, or they hide it for fear of being exposed, or they fail to listen to wise counsel — pain can come to rule in their lives.
To lessen the pain, the tendency is to look for a “quick fix” for the troubled teenager, when in reality, God may be using this painful situation expressly for the purpose of bringing about a change in the parent. Most of the parents I work with say they had to change before any real progress could be made with their teen. When a parent changes, it creates a wonderful model for a child to also recognize his own foolish thinking.
It’s difficult to learn that we don’t always have all the answers. But it is a good lesson to learn. Parents in the midst of pain are in the worst position to correct their own situation, but in the best position to be changed by it. Openly admitting that problems exist, and finding good counsel to work through those issues on the parenting side of the equation, will go a long way toward solving the teen’s issues as well.
I like what CS Lewis said about pain. He said, “I know God wants the best for us. I just wonder how painful it’s going to be.” It reminds me that God’s intention is not to allow us to be in pain for pain’s sake, but that He uses pain for our ultimate good. I know you would never choose the pain of the troubles you are experiencing with your teenager, but believing God has a higher purpose in allowing you to experience it may help you embrace and learn from 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 39 years, has two kids, and 4 grandkids. He lives in Longview, Texas with the Heartlight staff, 60 high school kids, 25 horses, his dog, Stitch, 2 llamas, and a prized donkey named Toy. His past involvement as a youth pastor, Young Life area director, and living with over 2,500 teens, has prepared Mark to share his insights and wisdom about parenting pre-teens and adolescents.
Visit www.HeartlightMinistries.org to find out more about the residential counseling center for teens, or call Heartlight directly at 903. 668.2173. For more information and helpful other resources for moms and dads, visit www.ParentingTodaysTeens.org, It’s filled with ideas and tools to help you become a more effective parent. Here you will also find a station near you where you can listen to the Parenting Today’s Teens radio broadcast, or download the podcast of the most recent programs.