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.

Has Your Child “Boomeranged”?

Written by Mark Gregston. Posted in anger management, consequences, counseling, disrespect, family conflict, God's Will, household rules, marriage, parenting, parenting communications, parenting older teens, Single Parenting, troubled teens

Most of us think adolescence ends at the age 18, but the American Medical Association has defined adolescence as going all the way to age 23.  What used to be a period of seven years is now fourteen years!  And for many parents reading this article, this means that your kids may come back home to live with you after college.

We set our kids in motion to live as independent adults, and like a boomerang they just come right back to where they started.  Sometimes it happens for good reasons because of issues outside their control.  But when a child wants to disengage from a normal growth opportunity and fails to establish their own independence, it’s a sign that emotional problems are in play.

It’s been great for Jan and me to be empty nesters.  We love it.  Oh, sure, I like it when the grandkids pop in with their parents, but it’s good when they leave, too.  Gratefully both our son and daughter have established independent lives of their own.

But maybe you’re in a different place.  Maybe you’re dealing with the boomerang effect.  So let me offer some helpful perspective and a couple suggestions.

Welcome Home?

Some kids come home after college until they get a job.  That’s one thing.  And in this economy, finding a job takes much longer than ever before.  So it’s understandable when they need a place to stay while aggressively pursue the next phase in their life.  But when kids get too comfortable in your home and can’t launch from that spot, they’re in trouble.  They can’t get to the next place, and they show their inability to function at a higher level.

Mom and dad, when you take these kids back in, you aren’t doing them a favor.  Parents want to be helpful, but they’re just postponing the inevitable.  I’m talking about when a child wants to avoid growth.  Moving back home becomes a way to avoid the challenge of becoming independent.  A child can try to live like they’re in high school, or have everything provided, or take an “extended vacation.”  We all have a plan for our lives.  When your child comes back home, it’s kind of outside of the plan.

When Coming Home is Healthy

Sometimes, it is healthy for kids to come home.  But just because the reason they come is appropriate doesn’t mean that your transition will be easy.  To help, you need to line out your expectations for your son or daughter and set up some new rules.

To help you get along with your adult children, spend necessary time with them.  But not out of obligation.  Your child doesn’t want to spend time with you if they think it’s a burden.  Love your child in a way they can receive it.  Sit down and talk.  Be a servant to them.  I want to be a servant to anyone who walks in my door.  But being a servant doesn’t mean being a doormat.

You need to build an understanding of how you’re going to live together.  Your child is the new person to the house, even if they’ve lived there before.  So he should fit into your household’s current agenda.  Parents, you need to openly say to your children, “You’re welcome here, but you’ve gotta follow the current game plan.”  Talk to your child before he comes home.  Determine whether they will pay rent or not, whether or not they will be required to work.  There are a lot of times in my life that I haven’t liked what I was doing for work, but I did it because I knew it would strengthen my work habits and would help me financially.

If your child is not following the plan you talked about, and it’s becoming disruptive to the house, you may need to kick your child out.  Sounds harsh, but if you don’t take action, if you allow your child to keep the same attitude, they will find it easy to stay like a child longer.  Not to mention that they may influence the habits and attitudes of your other children.

Adults are adults.  You need to treat them that way.  And if your child isn’t acting like an adult, you may need to push them out.  Every adult’s goal is to live an independent life.  This means moving on to another place.  You need to respect this goal in your child’s life.  If your child doesn’t see the need for this movement, and you don’t act, you are enabling your child’s foolishness.

Parents:  Plan, Act, and Let Go!

If the presence of your boomerang child has become a negative situation, and they’re still enjoying the benefits of living under your roof, then you are probably kidding yourself about their maturity.  You could be justifying their childish behavior.  You’re allowing it to happen.  Kids are hampered by their parents’ inability to act.  I have seen some of these kids at Heartlight, and I think, “You can’t be serious!”  By letting your kids stay at home, you are allowing them to rely on you when the Scripture says we are to train up a child in the way he should go.  Hear that?  Go.  If they stay because of excuses, these kids won’t grow up to be good husbands, good wives, good fathers, or good mothers.  They’ll repeat the cycle with their own kids.

If you are the problem, you need to let go!  Parents, remember that your child is more important than you.  If you aren’t releasing your child to move onto the next step, it’s your issue not theirs.  When you finally let go, let me tell you this;  you’re going to love it!  Where they are going is more exciting than where they have been.  You need to trust God to take care of your kids.

The moment when the prodigal son came back to his senses was right after everybody quit giving him everything.  You need to consider what this means for your family.  Come up with a plan of transitioning your child into the real world.  Move them to a point where they are either in school, working, or waiting for a move to the next step in life.

You can hear us talk on this subject by listening to our radio program.  It’s called, Parenting Today’s Teens.  Next time, we talk with Family Coach Tim Smith.  Tim, whose philosophy of parenting is “don’t do anything for your children that they can do for themselves,” will share his personal experience and perspective on having children return home.

You can hear Parenting Today’s Teens online, as a podcast, or find a radio station near you.  All the information is found at www.ParentingTodaysTeens.org.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a therapeutic boarding school located in East Texas. Call 903-668-2173.  Visit http://www.heartlightministries.org, or to read other articles by Mark, visit http://www.markgregston.com.

When Christmas Joy is Overshadowed by Struggle and Pain

Written by Mark Gregston. Posted in counseling, dads, family conflict, Finding purpose, God's Will, meaining of life, parenting communications, Parenting Tweens, Single Parenting, struggling teens, troubled teens

prodigalWith Christmas just around the corner, you’re probably thinking about last-minute shopping or getting your final preparations done.

And then, maybe once those pressing to-do’s are complete, and Christmas is in the rear view mirror, you’ll have a few quiet moments to yourself when you can reflect.  How was the year?  What went well at home?  What didn’t?  What conversations, or conflicts, do I wish I could erase from the year?  And what’s ahead in the new year?

There’s something about the Christmas season that puts us in a nostalgic reflective mood.  It reminds us that God is with us.  It gives us a sense of hope.  But for many people, the holidays stir up all kinds of raw emotions that remind them of their weakness and loneliness.

Reflection Can Bring Pain

At Heartlight, Christmas is a time when we often see a new batch of kids arrive at our residential program.  These kids are in pain.  They have been dropped off by their parents and we often find these kids feeling a mix of anger and failure.  Every family that we see at Heartlight is going through some kind of difficulty.  Christmas is anything but merry to these people.  They are in pain and don’t know where to turn.  And so they have come to Heartlight for help.

When teens begin to act out and express their issues in rebellion and destructive behavior, it places incredible pressure on mom and dad.  It’s a confusing and painful time for the entire family.  Especially when we feel like we’ve done everything right.  We’ve read all the books, followed all the guidelines for happy homes, and yet our kids are struggling and we can’t figure out why.  And we say, Wait a minute!  I’ve checked every box and done what I’m supposed to do.  Why am I not happy?  Why are my kids messed up?  

Owning the Struggle

Allow yourself to struggle with these issues.  Struggle isn’t a bad thing!  It’s important for your kids (and for you) to live with the struggle for a while.  Just because you’ve checked the boxes doesn’t make you a perfect parent.  And you’re not going to be one despite your good intentions.  All of us have fallen short in our parenting skills in some way.  But you can learn to struggle well.

The struggle gives us the answers we need.  Answers will eventually emerge from our confusion if we allow ourselves time to wrestle through the difficult issues.  Instead of filling the holes in our lives with the latest fad on parenting, an oversimplified four-point outline, or shallow advice from well-meaning friends, we need to be okay with the void in our life until we realize that it can only be filled by a relationship with God.

Life is hard.  It is a struggle.  That’s the point.  If we think that we filled the hole with something we did, like a clever parenting strategy or a one-size-fits-all program, then when it fails, we’ll think that we have failed.

The jigsaw pieces of your life will not always fit together like a scenic puzzle picture.  If it does, and we think it does, then we’re on the wrong track.  If there is something in your life that feels okay and perfect, then chances are you are filling the void with something that only God is supposed to fill.

Being With Our Teens in Their Struggle

Depression runs rampant this time of year.  It’s odd that it’s the most joyful time of the year for us as Christians, but for many teens, it’s among the most painful.  When the culture tells us it’s time to be joyful, we can disengage from sons and daughters who are in pain.  When we disengage from our kids, we tell them that they aren’t worthy.  They aren’t worthy of entering into the pain they’re feeling.  They aren’t worthy of working through the problem with them.  They aren’t worthy of the time it will take to engage with them.  If we walk away from their struggle, we tell our teens that they are only good if they are being and feeling good.  There’s something desperately wrong with that notion.

When we telegraph to our kids that they aren’t worthy of our attention, we’re setting ourselves up for failure.  Parents feels like they’re doing something wrong because their kids aren’t okay; the kids feel like they’re alone in the time when they need you the most.  It’s not okay to tell people that everything is okay.  Somewhere we’ve lost the perspective that it’s okay to not be okay.

Christmas:  God’s Response to Our Struggle

When things aren’t okay, we are forced to look to God.  That’s what Christmas is about.  Parents, God sent His Son to fill that empty place inside of us.  In the middle of the struggle, there are a lot of families who are having a wonderful time because of the hope of Christ.  They know that God has given us something to bring these broken pieces together.  Things aren’t always fixed this side of heaven, but we can have hope that the pieces will eventually come together.

Don’t let the sadness and frustrations of the year rob you of the celebration of what God is doing.  Through the first Christmas, God offered His Son to be involved in our life.  When the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, God told us that He is with us, and He will always be with us.  God is calling us to do the same with our kids.

The Bible helps us enter into the suffering of our family.  There is a path, a way to find joy in the midst of our pain.  That path is not what you might expect.  That path is lament.  Popular recording artist and Bible teacher Michael Card has done a lot of deep thinking about lament and what it’s like to sense this feeling of isolation and loneliness.  You can hear my conversation with Michael on our radio program.  Listen to Parenting Today’s Teens online, as a podcast, or find a radio station near you.  All the information is found at www.ParentingTodaysTeens.org.

In the meantime, Merry Christmas, my friend.  In the midst of our struggles this season, let’s keep our eyes on the One who was willing to walk among us.  Through Christ, we can have hope because He controls our future!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a therapeutic boarding school located in East Texas. Call 903-668-2173. Visit http://www.heartlightministries.org, or to read other articles by Mark, visit http://www.markgregston.com.

Helping Your Child Own Their Spiritual Journey

Written by Mark Gregston. Posted in boundaries, consequences, counseling, disrespect, family conflict, Finding purpose, fitting in, future, God's Will, household rules, Mark Gregston, meaining of life, meaning of life, parenting, parenting communications, parenting older teens, Parenting Tweens, Prayer, respect, struggling teens, teen communications, teen conflict, teen counseling, teen culture

teens and churchStatistics 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.

You can hear Parenting Today’s Teens online, as a podcast, or find a radio station near you.  All the information is found at www.ParentingTodaysTeens.org.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a therapeutic boarding school located in East Texas. Call 903-668-2173. Visit http://www.heartlightministries.org, or to read other articles by Mark, visit http://www.markgregston.com.