I Can’t Fix Your Teen!

Written by Mark Gregston. Posted in Communications, consequences, conversation, encouragement, Finding purpose, God's Will

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Have you seen the marketing from publishers promising parents of troubled teens that they have something that will fix their kid?

You know – the commercials that say things can be miraculously transformed, or nearly perfect? A quick fix by the end of the week? Try mood therapy – it can fix it an angry teen. Try addiction therapy, because it can fix an addict. Buy nutrition therapy, it will fix a brain, and start playing Sudoku, because it will fix your memory, and then life will be perfect!

Expert as I might be in dealing with troubled teens, you will never, ever, hear me promise that I can fix your kid. You will never hear me promise that treatment of any kind is the way to fix another human being, or that life will ever be nearly perfect.   The truth is, I can’t fix your kid, and as a parent, neither can you. Living to fix a child will cause you to miss their heart with every time you try.

Just to be clear, I’m not knocking therapy, or therapists. I’m not dissing good nutrition, or taking medication if you need it, or playing Sudoku if it helps. These are effective ways to treat symptoms. That’s not the point I’m making. Instead I’m addressing the mindset that as sinful, messed up people, we can apply a simple fix-it mentality to human beings. Frankly, I think it’s stupid to even consider it. And, I just don’t see our attempts to fix a human being or live perfectly as a principle found in scripture either.

Let me give you some examples: Despite all he tried to do for him, Abraham couldn’t fix Lot. Despite all God promised her, Sarah couldn’t fix Hagar. In every attempt to sooth and befriend him, the effect was temporary, and David couldn’t fix Saul.  Perhaps the greatest example is God himself. Look at what he did for Adam and Eve in giving them the perfect life, perfect marriage, perfect environment, and perfect relationship with him, and it still didn’t fix things for them. And even though they had perfection, they still chose to rebel.

Scripture teaches that man is fearfully and wonderfully made, and that human beings are created in the image and likeness of God. Those are truths packed with layer upon layer of meaning – and not the least of which is that God made man with some of his own qualities. Like God, human beings have free will, creative energy, and the power of choice. But we are not perfect.   We are saints because we are sinners, redeemed by a Savior.

So when a teen exercises his humanity, and the power to choose the wrong thing, you cannot fix it. As much as you’d like to, parents cannot make a teen’s choices for him. A dad cannot choose for his daughter when it comes to whether or not to have sex with a boy. A mom cannot choose for her son about whether or not to view porn. Parents cannot choose for their teen never to drink, or smoke, or try drugs. Does that mean parents are powerless, and shouldn’t try? Of course not!

God imbued parents with the authority to train a child in the way he should go, so that when he is old he will not depart from the goodness of life with God. But when a parent’s plans for their child go awry, when a child steps over every boundary line drawn, and when every attempt to fix a kid doesn’t work – change your mind. Realize – you cannot fix them.   I teach parents to set boundaries, create rules, and enforce the consequences. Doing so will teach a teen in making better choices. But when they blow it completely, and have damage in their life, fixing it becomes less important than redeeming it.

You can’t fix it, but you can be part of redeeming it. Just as God put a plan in place to redeem mankind through sending us a Savior, parents can be part of a redemptive process, and put a plan in place that allows for redemption in the life of their troubled teen.

Redeeming looks, acts, and thinks differently than fixing. Redemption means coming alongside, and carrying the burden together in a new way. Redemption puts anger aside, and speaks with gentleness and humility. Redemption looks at the heart with compassion. Redemption understands that there are always consequences to bad choices – always. But it doesn’t mean all is lost.

Since perfection is not possible in anyone’s life, failure is guaranteed for everyone, and we all make choices whose outcomes cannot be changed, isn’t it better to live as though the goal in parenting is redemption, instead of perfection?

God Hasn’t Abandoned Your Teen!

Written by Mark Gregston. Posted in boundaries, Communications, God's Will, maturity, parenting, parenting communications, parenting style, struggling teens

God at Work Here

Road construction can be frustrating. What was once a four-lane highway becomes a one-lane pit stop, as maintenance crews tear up the asphalt. With jack-hammers, dump trucks, back-hoes, cranes, and sometimes shovels and picks, groups of men in hardhats slash and hack and break apart the familiar and comfortable road you’re used to traveling on. While the construction is happening, you’re involuntarily resigned to idling in your car, seething.

But it’s not like this break in your commute came out of nowhere. For miles back, the road crews had placed a sequence of orange cones, gigantic markers, and bright flashing signs that declared “Men at Work!”

Mom and Dad, can I suggest that God puts up those same signs in the life of your teen? I know that sometimes we feel stuck watching our teenage son or daughter make mistakes, wander off the path, and cause delays and distractions that make coming and going incredibly difficult. All we can see is the chaos and destruction in our kid’s lives. And we may have missed all the signs reading “God at Work here!”

Demolition Can Bring About Transformation

Maybe your daughter came home high after an all-night party. Perhaps your eighteen-year-old calls you to come bail him out from the county jail. When our teens blow it badly, often as parents we focus on the devastation that bad decisions bring. But many times demolition brings transformation.  I know that this is true in my own life.  And I believe it can be true in yours. See, God cannot build something new into someone’s life without starting from the ground up. And this may mean He is going to allow some events that will bring us right down to our very foundation.

I had one student who, as a result of a party lifestyle and rebellion, got pregnant when she was sixteen.  Caught in her mistakes, she was forced to have a difficult conversation with her parents, and reevaluate her decisions.  With the support of her family, the young lady did the right thing; gave up her beautiful child for adoption, got serious counseling, and is now a growing and mature adult.  I asked her thoughts on that tough time in her life some years later, and she said, “Mark, getting pregnant was the best thing that could have happened to me.  It 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.

I could tell many more stories about former students who have written me letters and e-mails to say that their DUI was the best thing that happened to them, or that running away from home changed their lives.  It was not because these events were good things at the time, but looking back, they gained a new perspective about the struggles they faced, and how their choices shaped their futures.  Those trials and troubles gave them a reason to find help, and served as a reminder of the consequences of their actions.  What seemed devastating at the time, actually cleared the way for a new life.

Look for the Big Picture

Understand that what is happening in the life of your child right now is not the whole story.  God is forming a “bigger picture” which includes many more people than just you or your child.  And the scope of that picture goes far beyond the pain of the here and now. I know that it’s hard to look at the bigger perspective when you hurt for your child now.  But there’s a lot more going on than you can see from your current vantage point of concern for your child.  It doesn’t mean your struggle is any less difficult, but remembering the big picture can give you hope for the future.  Use this difficult time as an opportunity to deepen your relationship with your child, and you’ll shorten the amount of time that your child remains in a state of disarray. Galatians 6:9 encourages us “not [to] become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”

When we see our teen make a mistake, engage in reckless behavior, and start walking down a dangerous road, we normally panic and try desperately to “fix” our kid.  But that is just not possible. You can fix the boundaries, fix the consequences, and maybe even change the environment, but you’ll never fix your child.  Only God can change your child’s heart.  Instead, focus on what you can fix in your parenting, and get out of God’s way as He does what He needs to do in the life of your teen.

God’s plan for your child isn’t going to change just because you do not see it.  The best thing you can do is try to understand what He’s doing as he works in the life of your teen. That understanding comes through prayer; prayer to understand His will and prayers of submission accepting whatever God needs to do both in your life, and the life of your child. The older I get, the more I understand that prayer is meant to help us get in line with and understand God’s perfect will, versus trying to influence or change it.

Hopefully you can already see how God has worked in your own past, and maybe you have even seen glimpses of God’s plan for your future. But often, it’s most difficult to believe that God is involved in what is happening today.

So, pray.  And keep a daily diary; it will help you maintain perspective.  Look for ways that God is working in your teen’s life, and record those; being sure to thank Him as you see His hand at work. Trust God to finish the work He has begun in your teen. Depend on His promises to remain true.  God, the Creator, is fully capable of fashioning a new life and a new relationship between you and your child out of the wreckage we see.  He’ll amaze you, as he does me, as He creates abundant life and perfection out of dust and confusion.

Don’t Give Up Hope

I remember a particular father who brought his daughter into the residential program here at Heartlight.  His eyes filled with tears as he spoke to me about the struggles and the problems that his daughter was experiencing.  Frankly, it was one of the worst stories of a troubled teenager that I had heard in quite awhile.  My heart ached for this hurting father as he looked for a bit of encouragement.

Just tell me that there is hope in this,” he told me.

I remember distinctly looking him in the eye and saying with complete confidence, “There’s always hope.”  This wasn’t a worn-out cliché I was dragging out.  The reason I could tell this dad there is hope even in the mess he sees is based on the character of our Heavenly Father who promises to finish what He starts. God is not going to leave the job half-done. What God starts, He completes. And that includes your teen! “I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living,” says Psalm 27:13.

Even though they’re a lot older now, I can remember the first kids I counseled when I started this ministry.  There were times when I thought, These kids are hopeless! There’s absolutely no way they can turn it around!  But these same kids are now healthy, happy adults with strong marriages and good families.  The time that their parents, the Heartlight team, and most importantly, God, worked and invested into their lives brought about a healthy and improved future.  After countless examples, I’ve learned that though the outlook might seem bleak and hopeless, there is always hope, because God is still at work!

Helping Your Child Own Their Spiritual Journey

Written by Mark Gregston. Posted in encouragement, Finding purpose, God's Will

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Statistics show that 85% of kids today are leaving the church upon graduation from high school.  When I was a teen, I wasn’t brave enough to say: “I don’t wanna to go to church today.”  For today’s teen, leaving the church is normal – but not necessarily helpful.  Teens today are exposed to more opportunities and options in the kind of church they want to go to.  And when they begin to put into practice their developing desire for independence, you might need to be prepared.

Building Independence

Every parent wants their child to grow up and become a successful adult; I know these parents.  They’re great parents.  But as our kids grow up, they begin to exercise more independence.  How we respond to them, especially in this area of going to church, will affect their decisions.  As we raise our kids, there are different signs and little signals that show us that our goal of helping our children become independent, is working – this is one of them.  Even if you don’t like the idea of your child not going to church with you, it’s a good sign.  It shows us that they are starting to think on their own instead of just following us.

Parents, I understand that we’re dealing with an issue that’s very important to you.  The real issue is faith in God, not going to church.  I so often hear parents say “as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord,” and then in the next breath say to their kids “as long as you live under my roof, you will live by my rules.”  Does this sound familiar?  To tell you the truth, it unnerves me a bit.  You need to sit back and evaluate your values, beliefs and goals for your child.  If what you are telling them is contradictory, then you are going to be making your uphill battle even harder.

The Bigger Picture

Ultimately, you are helping your child form a belief system – not just a habit of going to church.  So, if your child can choose the church that he wants to go to, then you can help him achieve your own goals for your children.  Your goals may be for his spiritual training; if he can reach those goals on his own, it may be better to have him go to a different church that meets his interests, while keeping him connected to the church.

Let’s keep the kids involved in something.  I may lose the opportunity to sit in church with them, but I may gain something far greater in having them part of something that will help them throughout their life.  The bigger issue is their spiritual health.

Responding When Your Child Chooses Something Else

I would encourage you to pre-meditate your response when your teen tells you that he doesn’t want to go to church.  Are you going to allow your child to make choices in his life?  Even if you know they won’t make the choice that you want?  Just because you like the idea of your family doing things together, doesn’t mean it’s wrong for your teen to desire something different.  This is a season of independence you need to embrace in order to hold onto the bigger picture – faith in God.

As a parent, I want to help my child make good choices.  If they make choices that you don’t agree with, you may need to reign in the choice they are allowed to make.  Allow them the opportunity to make a choice, but provide for their training as well.  This way, instead of choosing not to go to church at the age of 13 or 14, you give your child the option to go to one of two or three churches.  They keep the ability to make a choice and have control over their lives, and you still help guide them toward faith.

At some point, your teen may reject any choice you give them.  But teens send out signals in advance of coming to this point, so you need to pick up on these clues.  If they’re falling asleep, writing notes during church services, or are more interested in eating after church than being part of church, you may need to address their actions.  If you see these things coming up, pull your teen aside and talk to him about it.  The issue could be something other than the church itself.  By talking to your child, you can help determine the motivation behind the behavior.

Make sure that your plan gives some opportunity and flexibility that reaches your goals for them.  As they get older, if your child chooses not to go to any church at all, keep your relationship with them.  Don’t shame them in the process or make sarcastic remarks.  These things will show your child that you are disappointed in them; instead, let God work it out and bring them back in His time.

You can hear us talk on this subject by listening to our radio program.  It’s called, Parenting Today’s Teens.  Next time, expert Chap Clark shares what he has seen in the lives of families that are facing this issue.  He’ll also share strategies he has found helpful for maintaining that relationship and allowing your teen to define his relationship with Christ.  Chap has been with Young Life for years and is now the Vice Provost at Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, California.  We will also talk, as always, with a teen who has experienced this issue in his life.

Releasing Your Teen into the World

Written by Mark Gregston. Posted in Finding purpose, God's Will, parenting, parenting older teens, troubled teens

Releasing Your TeenVery few comments made by high school seniors and college students can scare parents more than when they announce they have plans to go on a medical mission and travel to Guatemala, spend a few weeks in Rwanda with orphan kids, or go to Indonesia to minister to girls involved in the tragic and pathetic sex trade.  As they share their excitement and enthusiasm for their hopeful venture, parents shudder with nervousness about all the potential hazards of travel as their child’s first campaign to “fly the coop” and “make a difference” silently fade to the background as all the reasons they shouldn’t go come to a parent’s mind, shouting, “We can’t let this happen!”

Moms and Dads, when your child comes to you with plans to launch out and change the world, I would encourage you to consider what your child is actually asking, and reflect on this potential opportunity that is set before your family to affirm those character traits and values that you have spent years building into the moral fabric of your son or daughter.  This may be the opportunity that you have practiced for all your life, so be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger.  Instead of thinking about all the reasons your child shouldn’t go, think of all that might be accomplished by giving your stamp of approval on what was first thought to be a bad idea. Realize that this may be a wonderful opportunity.  Consider these things.

They want to make a make an impact.  They want to fly and use the tools that you have given them.  They see a mission trip to a foreign country as a new adventure, an excursion of excitement and intrigue, and an opportunity to travel and see the world.   They have a sense of compassion because you have built it into their life.  They want to “go and make disciples” because you have shared with them the truth of scripture.  They want to help, because they have seen you help others.  Their longing is one that has been instilled in their life, because of your influence on their life.  And, because “their” world is more global than the world of teens ten years ago, distance or travel is no longer a barrier that limits their dreams or passion.

I always encourage parents to trust a couple of sure things as they release their kids to the world.  First, trust what you have taught them.  All the seeds that you have sown into their life will come to completion.  Scripture reminds us that God will “bring to completion” that which He has started.  And scripture reminds us (and encourages us) to not grow weary in doing good, for in due time you (a parent) will reap if you surely sow. Your “sowing” is not in vain.  A parent must trust what they have done, in hopes that a harvest will come later in the life of their child.

Second, parents must trust that God, who brought their child into this life, will continue to be involved in the life of their child.  The promise in scripture that tells us that He will never leave or forsake one of His own is a promise that applies to our children.

Now, I’m not saying that we should allow our twelve-year-old daughter to travel to western Africa to dig water wells.  Nor am I encouraging any parent to throw caution to the wind.  But I am saying that perhaps because our twelve year old will become that eighteen or nineteen year old young lady that might, one day, want to travel and “change the world” that we, as parents, not only teach, but train our kids to have the tools to accomplish their dreams when they come of age to be able to do so.

For all parents of tweens and teens, are you training your child to fulfill the great commission as it applies to their life?  Are you working on them becoming independent?  Are you helping them make good decisions, and training them to be able to do so, when the consequences of making poor decisions becomes more and more potentially life changing as the years pass?  Are you training your child about finances?  How to handle stress?  How to deal with disappointment?  How to not be influenced by people who have no interest in the wellbeing of your child?  How to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow anger?  How to take the scripture they know and apply it to the life they will be required to live?  These are all parenting goals to make sure your child is ready to fulfill the call of God on their life when He decides to call them to the task He has set before them.

And what if you haven’t trained them for a trip or adventure?  Then this “trip” they’re wanting to take might just be the opportunity for them to have a crash course on some pretty valuable character traits that need to be developed in their life.  I would rather have a young person learn these valuable lessons on the mission field under the guidance of a mission director and an organization that can teach some principles that were missed during their younger years, than have them learn these lessons on their own without someone speaking truth into their life when they need it the most.

If you’re like me, you receive plenty of requests from folks wanting to experience the mission field; and wanting me to financially help them change the world.  Well, this is what I’ve found.  The lives changed on these mission trips are not always the ones touched by the child who goes to change the world.  The lives who are truly changed are the ones who “go” and have their lives touched by the hand of God who uses a mission trip to affirm those qualities parents have been building into their child’s life.  They learn about the needs of others.  Their heart is moved with compassion, instilled by a Mom and a Dad, and fueled by interactions with people in another country, in another culture, living a life far different than the way they were raised.  And there is a change.  It’s a change that will one day change the world.

They learn to embrace the blessings of their life and the plenty that their family has provided while developing a thankfulness for their possessions and circumstances, countering the effects of a selfish and entitled culture in which they live.   I believe they make a connection with the very heart of God and capture His vision for all people.  They find the significance they desire, the impact they long for, and the feeling that their life does indeed matter, thus motivating them to further His Kingdom.  All because of a trip abroad, a trip to see another culture, and a trip dedicated to change the world of your child.  These trips are profitable for all involved and help your child…your young adult…find the significance for life that only a God of love can provide.

Moms and Dads, don’t miss out on the opportunity set before your child.  In Moses’ words to the Pharaoh, God would beckon you as a parent to “let my people go!”

Trust what you have taught.  And, trust that the God of this world holds your child in the palm of His hand, and wants to use your child to further His Kingdom.  It will change your family.  It will change your child.  It might just change you.

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.

Dear Mom and Dad…

Written by Mark Gregston. Posted in counseling, family conflict, Finding purpose, future, God's Will, meaining of life, parenting, parenting communications, teen communications, teen culture, troubled teens

Have you ever drafted a note to somebody when you were really miffed?  Not that you would send it, of course, but the exercise of writing out your thoughts often helps us process through our anger.

Your teen probably has a note like this waiting for you.  Oh, it’s not likely on paper yet.  But I can guarantee you, there’s something in your teen’s life that he or she is just waiting for the right time, the perfect occasion, to share with you.

In today’s culture, kids are flexing their communications muscles by using text and tweets, and it’s much harder for them to communicate eye-to-eye.  They talk to each other on Facebook and sometimes in emails (although even email is becoming a relic of the past).  They share their deepest thoughts on blogs and never think about the person on the other side of the computer who might be reading it.  And yet, when confronted with a face-to-face conversation, our kids often struggle to naturally communicate their emotions.

One of my favorite things to do is take time to meet and talk with kids.  I enjoy learning about their culture and trying to get a better sense of who they are and what they are going through (this is one reason why I enjoy having teens on the Parenting Today’s Teens radio program).  Teens rarely reveal their heart until I ask them questions that require more than “yes” and “no” answers.  But as I move closer toward them in a trusted relationship, they move closer to me and are willing to drop their guard and tell me what’s really on their heart.

Most kids have this hidden desire:  “I wish I could tell my mom and dad what’s really on my mind.”

I remember meeting with one teen who was frustrated with his parents.  His mom and dad had been talking with him, but they seemed to be more interested in managing his behavior than diving into real issues.  After I spent an hour asking this teen questions, the truth finally spilled out.  He had entered into a sexual relationship with his teacher.  His parents were devastated.  When his mom asked why he hadn’t shared this before, his answer was telling:

“You never asked.”

As parents, we have to mine for the nugget of truth that our teens are longing to share with us.  If we don’t give our kids the opportunity, you can be certain they will never volunteer their most personal thoughts.

The trouble is, when you attempt to communicate with your teen, sometimes he will push you away.  If he hasn’t heard this kind of talk from you before, he might brush you off at first.  It won’t be easy to start this kind of communication if you haven’t had it with your teen before.  So, let your teen know that it’s okay to share the things that are truly in his or her heart.  Try not to over react.  That only serves to shut them down.  We need to give our kids a trusted place where they feel safe to open up their heart and be vulnerable.  It’s a scary moment for most kids, and we need to create an environment where they know it’s okay to be real.

If your teen isn’t as open with you as you’d like, you may need to find creative ways to draw them out.  Whenever I meet with a teen, I let them know that I will pursue them no matter what.  Even if they push me away, I will try to connect with them.  This establishes an expectation in their mind that you don’t plan on giving up on them or retreating on them even when they act belligerent or indifferent.

One way to show your teen that you care is by taking part in what he enjoys.  If your teen likes animals, go horseback riding together.  If your teen is into music, find some music that you can listen to together.  It’s not the activity that matters, it’s that we convince our kids that we truly want to engage with them on their terms.

Wendy Mattner is a guidance counselor at Harvest Christian Academy near Chicago.  Wendy will join us on this weekend’s broadcast of Parenting Today’s Teens to talk about her work with teens and the things they share when in the counselor’s office.

Every teen has something they want to communicate.  They are harboring thoughts about things they’ve done, things that define them, problems they’re struggling to solve, and situations that cause them frustration with their parents.  By building a relationship that allows for a balance between guidance and accountability, we can cultivate an environment of trust that convinces our kids that we love them … no matter what.

 

If you are in the Houston area or know of someone in the Houston area then make plans to attend the upcoming Turbulence Ahead seminar on Saturday, May 5th. The seminar takes place at Windwood Presbyterian Church. Go to www.turbulenceahead.org or call 1-866-700-3264 for more information.

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.


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