Boundaries for Your Teen

Written by Mark Gregston. Posted in boundaries, consequences, family conflict, parenting, parenting communications, parenting style, troubled teens

Boundaries for Your TeenIt is never an easy “enlightenment” to find out that your teen has been doing things that are hardly acceptable, and it can be completely devastating when the truth comes out. Most parents are appalled. They just “can’t believe” that their child would “ever do such a thing.”

Consider the letter I received just the other day…

“Saturday night our 15-year old son informed us he felt guilty because he has been smoking pot and lying about it for the last six months. He confessed to our Assistant Pastor, whom he respects, and who encouraged our son to tell us. As you can well imagine, this has been quite a blow. My heart has been broken. I can’t stop crying. I never, ever thought I’d go down this road with him. We agree our son needs discipline, but I fear my husband will be too harsh, and it will cause my son to further rebel. What is the right thing to do here??

Troubled… –California

My Response…

You might be dealing with just an ice cube, or you might have just touched on the tip of the iceberg. Until you dive in, you won’t be able to tell the difference between the two. In the first place, try to remain calm. You have many things working in your favor in dealing with your son, such as:

  • He confessed, so you didn’t have to “find it out” or make any “new discoveries.”
  • He said he feels guilty about what he was doing.
  • He respects someone outside the family and felt comfortable telling them, and then you.
  • He’s been grounded in scriptural principles regarding his character

It is good that you are trying to get a handle on the issue. And you are wise to carefully consider the discipline that you are about to take. But, before you take the plunge, here’s something to think about. Sometimes parents are quick to hand out discipline or punishment — like grounding, extraction from social interaction, or taking away privileges or possessions. Discipline is good, but taking away something won’t always solve the problem entirely. It is only half of the solution for a teenager, who wants to also be treated more like an adult, not a child.

Remember that smoking pot may be an attempt to numb the hurt he feels.  When he is using such drugs, the hurt temporarily goes away.  Don’t add to those hurts by going “overboard” with the disciplines you hand down or by telling him how disappointed you are in him.  Fortifying your household boundaries, adding some new healthy boundaries, and strengthening your relationship will provide better results.

Boundaries are simply limits set around behavior to try to change the direction a child is going. They define what you will and won’t accept, and should come from what you believe is right for your teen at this stage in his life and for your family.

Boundaries include what your son already knows, what you’ve taught him all his life, and they are why he is feeling guilty about smoking pot. But sometimes teens get confused by which boundaries are “childhood” boundaries and which are lifelong boundaries.  For instance, holding mom’s hand as you walk across the street is a childhood boundary.  Avoiding illegal or immoral activity is a lifelong boundary.  The goal, then, is to make it clear to your teen which boundaries are now appropriate for him, according to the values you hold dear and just common sense (you may have noticed that teens don’t always have a lot of common sense).

Some healthy new boundaries could also include requiring your son to meet regularly with your Assistant Pastor, the one that he respects. Call and ask if that person is willing to meet your son for the next six weeks in order to talk through any underlying issues that are fueling his behavior or the feelings that led him to try pot in the first place. Tell your son you expect him to participate fully, and that during this time you will limit his other activities and contact with friends, specifically those that encouraged smoking pot.

Another positive boundary is to tell him that you will be testing him for drug use at home, using simple urine tests that you can buy at your local pharmacy. Tell him that any positive signs of drug use will result in a further plan of action.  Knowing you’ll test him for drugs periodically will help him avoid the pressure of using pot (or worse) when he is with friends or at school. In other words, he’ll be able to say to them, “I can’t, because my parents are testing me and I’ll be in real trouble if the test comes out positive.”

As you develop healthy boundaries, make it a point for both you and your husband to spend time with your son on a regularly scheduled basis. Set up a weekly breakfast or dinner with just him. Be sure to mostly listen, not talk. Begin and end your discussion with making sure he understand that there is nothing he can do to make you love him more, and there’s nothing he can do to make you love him less. Don’t be afraid to ask him the hard questions.

Your goal should be to establish a solid relationship, encourage ongoing discussions, and as a result, other things he is struggling with will be revealed. Often a teen is acting out due to deeper issues. Is he struggling with his sexuality, or are bullies threatening him at school, or does he feel intimidated by his peers into doing the same wrong things they are doing, or could he be struggling with depression or low self-esteem?  Ask him if he needs your help, or the help of anyone else. Seek professional help if needed.

The bottom line is to avoid lecturing and begin listening and observing. Teenagers simply don’t respond to lecturing and it may take awhile for them to open up to you, but keep trying. And don’t let the disappointment you feel cause you to pass judgment or condemn him, because he probably already feels badly enough, even if he doesn’t outwardly show it. Remember, this isn’t about you, your reputation, or your parenting skills. It is about him.

Move from disappointment and judgment to compassion, but make it clear what the boundaries are.

Take advantage of the opportunity before you to keep the relationship open and alive. Stand your ground concerning the boundaries, and add some new boundaries, but strive to get through it all with your relationship intact. Then your son will learn to respect the healthy boundaries you’ve put into place in his life, and in the future will continue to come to you whenever he is struggling.

 

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.

You can find out more about Heartlight at www.HeartlightMinistries.org, or you can call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.

For more information and helpful resources for moms and dads, check out our Parenting Today’s Teens website at 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.  The Parenting Today’s Teens radio program was recently awarded the 2014 Program of the Year by the National Religious Broadcasters.

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Teens and Alcohol: A Dangerous Mixture

Written by Mark Gregston. Posted in boundaries, parenting communications, substance abuse, troubled teens

Eric was not a bad kid.  He didn’t mean to hurt anyone.  For Eric, drinking wasn’t a serious issue.  Sure, he was under age, but he had been drinking alcohol since he was fifteen.  It was simply a way to hang out with friends and socialize.  And at eighteen, Eric felt he was mature enough to handle his alcohol.

After working at a Jimmy Buffett concert, Eric hopped into his car to go home.  He had been drinking all day with his friends; a perk of working a “parrot-head” show.  As he got into the driver’s seat, Eric felt fine.  Invincible.  Indestructible.  But somewhere between the concert venue and his parent’s house, Eric blacked out.  The next thing he knew, Eric was waking up in a hospital bed with his mom and dad standing over him.  From what the investigators could piece together, Eric had passed out from drinking, swerved into the middle of the road, and hit another car head-on.  Eric had broken every bone in his face, and had to undergo a long facial-reconstruction surgery.

When he returned from the O.R., Eric’s mom and a hospital psychologist were waiting for him.  Although Eric’s injuries were painful, they were not the most terrible consequence of his actions that night.  The car he had plowed into contained four people.  One was a little five-year-old boy named C.J., who passed away at the hospital shortly after the accident.  Not only had Eric put his own life in danger by drinking and driving; he had taken a life in the process.  Devastated, Eric spent the next five years in prison, wrestling with his guilt.  But he stepped out of prison a free man; not only physically but spiritually.  He had recommitted his life to the Lord and dedicated himself to making amends by sharing his story with other at-risk teens.

Now, you could brush this lesson off by thinking, “This will never happen to my teen.”  But can we address the giant pink elephant in the room?  Statistically, your teen will drink alcohol in high school.  Some parents know it.  Some don’t want to admit it.  According to recent national studies, 11% of the alcohol consumed in the United States is consumed by underage kids.  The Youth Risk Behavior Survey found that among high school students, 39% admitted to drinking some amount of alcohol within the last thirty days.  8% of those students drove after drinking alcohol, and more than 24% said they rode with a driver who had been drinking alcohol.

With that in mind, are you still willing to believe your child won’t be offered or even start drinking alcohol in their teen years?  With all the kindness and Christian charity this Texan can muster, can I say:  That’s just crazy!

I am a teen advocate.  My career revolves around helping teens and their parents deal with serious issues, and I have seen too many broken hearts and wounded lives as a result of teen alcohol use to take it casually.  A teen’s maturity level is simply not developed enough to make good decisions regarding alcohol. The physical changes they are undergoing in their brains and bodies mean they cannot properly assess the impact drinking is having on them.  Regardless of your position on alcohol use by adults (and I know many good people who draw that line in different places), we all agree that teens and alcohol is a dangerous mixture.

So how can a parent prevent their teen from having a story like Eric’s?  How can we protect our teens and help them say “No!” to alcohol?

KNOW THE STORY

Before we can ever address the problem of teen drinking, it helps to know why a teen drinks.  If you find out your son or daughter is drinking, take a moment to uncover the bigger story.  In my experience, many teens drink to fit in.  It’s the feeling of camaraderie and community that leads even good kids, who have strong beliefs and values otherwise, to pick up a bottle.  In some cases, teens drink to erase painful memories.  My wife was sexually abused for years, without anyone finding out.  Those images are replayed over and over in a child’s mind, and sometimes they are looking for a way to make those agonizing movies stop.  Worried or anxious teens may use alcohol in order to sleep.  Some kids drink because they are frustrated, feel like failures, or are angry.  Of course, I’ve talked to teens who were simply curious about alcohol or enjoyed the feeling of being drunk.  But you’ll never know why your child may be drinking if you don’t ask.

ASK QUESTIONS

Uncovering the reasons behind teen drinking requires moms and dads to ask questions.  But notice I did not say interrogate.  You’re not asking questions to prove your case and bring down the hammer.  You want to ask questions so you can understand your child better.  Ask your child questions like “Do any of your friends drink?” “Have you been pressured to drink?” “What do you think about alcohol?” If they respond by saying they tried it, I encourage you to thank them for being honest and work with them to understand why it isn’t a good idea for teens to drink.

Several of the teens at Heartlight are here primarily because of issues that come from drinking. I asked one of them the other day why she started drinking, and she said, “Because my friends were drinking.” In order to fit in, this sixteen-year-old girl began using alcohol despite what her parents had taught her and the fact that her older brother had died in a drunk driving accident.  She went on to say, “I was scared to say no.  I didn’t want to be the outsider.”

The best strategy for preventing teens from experimenting with alcohol is to have an ongoing conversation with them about drinking.  This isn’t something that can be mentioned once and then left alone.  Keep the dialogue going.  Keep asking questions.  And if you have suspicions, don’t be afraid to ask your child directly, “Are you drinking?

SET BELIEFS AND CONSEQUENCES

Preventing or dealing with teen alcohol use doesn’t end with asking good questions.  The next step is to communicate your beliefs on the subject and set concrete consequences should your child step outside the lines.  Concerned parents need to lay down clear and firm boundaries in this area.  Your child needs to know what the consequences will be before they use alcohol.  For example, you might tell them that they will lose their car if you learn they have been drinking and driving.  And if they get arrested for a DUI, you won’t provide bail for them.  That may sound harsh, but consider the alternatives.  What will happen if they hit and kill someone while driving drunk?  Teens don’t think about those possibilities when they drink.  In their minds, they’re untouchable and invincible.  It’s our job to make them aware that they are not!

You can tell your 16-year-old son, “When you are 21, whether you drink is up to you. Right now, though, it is up to me to make sure you don’t drink. I’m going to draw the line and hold that line to protect you.”  Your teen may not like the boundaries you set (although he’ll probably appreciate it more than he would ever admit), but he needs them, if for no other reason than to tell his peers the dire consequences if he is caught.  And even if your teen doesn’t have a problem with alcohol, set these guidelines and consequences now, so that everyone in the family is on the same page.

Teenage alcohol use is an issue that needs to be addressed head-on.  You may think “my teen will never become an alcoholic, or get arrested for driving under the influence, or get pregnant because she was too drunk to care.”  But it happens, and it may happen to your child.  I don’t say this to scare you.  I say it to prepare you.  When it comes to alcohol use by teens today, passive (“Don’t ask, don’t tell”) parenting certainly won’t protect your teen.  Permissive (“Let’s allow kids to drink at home”) parenting can actually encourage it.  So it is up to you to practice proactive (“No alcohol until age 21″) parenting, and hold the line.

 

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.

You can find out more about Heartlight at www.HeartlightMinistries.org.  You can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.

For more information and helpful resources for moms and dads, check out our Parenting Today’s Teens website at 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.

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How You Could be Missing Your Child’s Heart

Written by Mark Gregston. Posted in family conflict, meaning of life, parenting, parenting communications, parenting style, teen communications

The story goes that Jesus was invited to come over to a friend’s house to sit down, relax, and swap stories.  One of the hostesses of the get-together was a lady by the name of Martha, and she was your typical type A personality.  The morning of the party, Martha frantically cleaned, cooked, and prepared the house for Jesus and the other guests to arrive.  Then she spent the whole time during the party washing used plates, wiping up spills, refreshing everyone’s drink—basically running around like a chicken with her head cut off!

But Martha’s sister Mary was quite different.  She spent the morning excited to see Jesus.  And when He came, she plopped down and listened to everything He had to say.  As Martha scurried about the house, she noticed her sister Mary relaxing and enjoying herself.  And this got under Martha’s skin BIG time.  There was so much to be done that both sisters ought to be busy playing hostess, right?  After awhile, Martha finally had it, and she demanded of Jesus, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me alone to do all the work?  Tell her to help me.” (Luke 10:40)

Let’s be honest for a minute.  We’ve all had our “Martha-moments.”  Our modern life is busier than ever.  Our schedule is so jam-packed with appointments, events, meetings, deadlines, goals, and pressing expectations that finding a quiet, uneventful evening is a rare luxury.  And this lifestyle spills over to our families and our teens.  Sometimes we’re so concerned with being “Parent-of-the-year,” that we don’t take the time to be a parent in the moment.  We’re so busy teaching our teens the necessities of life, that we don’t hear what they are telling us.

To Martha’s flustered demands (and to our modern schedule) Jesus gave some much-needed advice.  “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about so many things … [but] only one thing is important.  Mary has chosen the better thing, and it will never be taken away from her” (Luke 10: 41,42).

Now, there are some significant lessons we learn from this Bible story about how we use our time and energy.  But allow to explore just one, as it applies to our families.  Think about the passage as it relates to your child’s heart.  We so often get so caught up in the ancillary issues of parenting, that we miss out on what truly matters—a loving relationship with a son or daughter.

Walk a Mile in Your Shoes

So how can we avoid missing the heart of our teen?  It starts with putting yourself in their sneakers (or Uggs) and walking around a bit.  At one of my recent parenting conferences, I had every parent pull out their cell phone.  Then I said, “Text your teen and ask them, ‘do you think I expect you to be perfect?’”  95% of the teens texted mom and dad back with the answer, “Yes.”

No wonder doctors and therapists report that clinical anxiety is at an all-time high among teenagers.  We may not say it aloud, but our actions and schedules may shout unreal expectations to our teens.  We push them to work hard at band practice, football practice, church functions, school events, and whatever else we can cram into a 24-hour period.  Our teens are infected by our frenetic pace of life!  Now, there’s nothing wrong with your teen being involved in activities.  I’m not knocking those things.  But Mom and Dad, put yourself in your son’s place.  With everything going on in his life, when does your teen have time to sit down and have a relaxing conversation with you?  Could the perception be that you love him for what he can do, instead of loving him for who he is?

Make a pie chart of your time with your teen.  How many minutes are spent correcting, versus how much time is spent listening?  Is a big slice of your time spent in the car shuttling teens from activity to activity, or is more time spent at the dinner table or in the backyard talking?  Having that visual evidence of your divided time may help you commit more energy to connecting with the heart of your teen.

Many kids are over-committed and under-nurtured.  Their lives are filled with activities, but they’re missing out on valuable time with mom and dad.  If your teen comes home tired and worn out, it’s time to intervene and help them slow down.  Take a family vacation.  Now, I know that many people will say, “Mark, I can’t afford a vacation!”  But it’s possible you can’t afford not to!  Both you and your busy teen need to take a breath, relax, and spend time making memories that last far longer than any trophies or GPA scores.  Beyond the vacation, make your home a place of rest.  Create an environment where kids can find respite, enjoyment, new experiences, and a sense of value for what matters most.

Last Words

Here’s another exercise to try: If the last things you told your child today were the last words you ever spoke to him or her, would it be something your child would treasure?  Or would your last words be a nagging remark, a sharp criticism, a judgmental reproach?  Look, not everything we tell our kids will necessarily be upbeat.  But let’s make sure the positives far outweigh the negatives.  Compliment your child every day.  Let her know she’s valuable to you.  Tell your son he is not an intrusion in your life.  Tell your daughter that talking with her is the best part of your day.  My friend Chelsea has a powerful phrase she tells her children.  She says, “Even on your messiest day, my life wouldn’t be as good without you. 

Affirmations like that speak right to your child’s heart.  Those loving words from a mom or dad are a million times more valuable than expensive gifts or lavish lifestyles.  We can spend so much time working hard to provide “the good life” for our children, that we forget to give them what they truly need; our time and our affection.

Reorganize Our Schedules

What does your busy schedule look like?  Do you plan your calendar around what needs to happen outside your family, and give your kids the leftovers of your time?  Or do you first pencil in your family, and divvy out the rest of your time to other projects?  Make family your priority, and let other activities fall in behind.  I realize that we’re all busy these days, and we carry the weight of a thousand different responsibilities.  But your family needs your time more than they need anything else.  And we’ll miss those good things with our kids if we spend all of our energy pursuing other goals.  So quit serving on seven different school boards.  Miss your Saturday morning golf game a couple times a month.  You’ll have plenty of time for all those hobbies and interests when your kid is out of the house.  Right now, your teen needs you more.

Here’s my challenge: find one block of time on your calendar that you can give to your kids.  Maybe it’s a weekly date where you and your daughter can eat ice cream and watch a movie together.  Or perhaps you can carve out a couple of hours a week to take a bike ride with your son.  It doesn’t matter what it is as long as it’s you and your child, away from the phone, e-mail, and anything else that would try to steal your attention.

You’ll never hear someone at the end of their life say, “I wish I had spent more time at the office” or “if only my child had more clarinet lessons.”  But you might hear, “I wish I had spent more time with my family.”  Don’t live with the regrets of wasted time.  Throw off the need to be busy 24-7, and grab hold of what Jesus said were “the important things.”  And that includes connecting with your teen’s heart.

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.

You can find out more about Heartlight at www.HeartlightMinistries.org.  You can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.

For more information and helpful resources for moms and dads, check out our Parenting Today’s Teens website at 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.

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Your Teen’s Selfishness

Written by Mark Gregston. Posted in boundaries, consequences, parenting style, teen communications, teen discipline, troubled teens

Your Teen’s SelfishnessWhat have you done today to help your teenager grow in maturity?

Some parents feed their teen’s selfishness into adult years by continuing to rotate their life around them.  I tell parents that at age 15 it is time for them to begin aggressively helping their teen get over a selfish mindset.

Instead of always wanting to be “served” by mom and dad, older teens need to do things for themselves and also learn to serve others.  After all, they are potentially only a few short years away from having to live totally unselfishly as parents themselves.

Scripture says, “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought….” (Romans 12:3 – NIV).

This is a good principle to teach to your teens at this stage, since selfishness is just that — thinking more highly of oneself than others (including you).  Should this selfishness be allowed to grow during the teen it years will only accentuate into other problems after they leave home.

So how do you put an end to your teen’s selfishness?

First, you need to put on the brakes!  Stop doing everything for your teen.  Quit jumping every time he says “frog.”  His control over your life and the life of others in your family is to cease, beginning now.  Review the negative habit patterns you established in your home in the early years, and let it be known in a gentle way that you’ll no longer be doing a lot of the things that you had been doing to help them as a younger child.

Break the news to them in this way:

  • I’ll no longer be doing your laundry.
  • I’ll no longer get you out of bed in the morning.
  • I’ll no longer accept childish whining from you.
  • I’ll not be doing what should be your chores, like cleaning your room or bathroom.
  • I’ll no longer nag you about what you need to accomplish.
  • I’ll no longer pay for gas or give you spending money unless you earn it.

Get my point?  You have got to stop doing some things, so that your child can start learning to do some of these things for themselves.  You stop to get out of the way, so he or she can start.

If you don’t do this, your teen is not being required to grow up.  And I see a great number of kids today that remain immature into early adulthood.  That happens not because of forces of nature or culture, but because parents enable it.

So the first step is to just stop.  Can you do that?  And I mean both parents, not just one.

The second step then is to have a discussion with them about why stopping.  It doesn’t have to be a deep philosophical discussion about their need to learn responsibility.  I would leave it as a simple, “Because you now have the ability to do it for yourself and I don’t want to do it anymore!”  Any comments beyond that will only stir up further fruitless discussion.  Let your teen know that you’re not doing “it” (whatever “it” is) because you don’t want to do “it” any more.  You’ll be amazed how it will put him in a position of not being so demanding of you, and will put you in a position of not having to do everything for them.

Sometimes it is best to let teenagers know that they will have to start these new responsibilities “this summer,” or, “when school starts,” or, “when you turn 15,” or, “the first of the year.”   That way you prepare them for the change that is coming. Don’t drop it on them overnight.  Maybe even work with side by side them for couple of weeks as you make the transition, but be clear when your assistance will stop and that you’ll not do it yourself during the transition period.  They have to help.

Again, here’s what to tell them:

  • They’ll be doing their own laundry and if not, they’ll have nothing to wear.
  • The alarm clock you are putting in their room is so they can wake themselves and get to school on time. If not, they’ll get in trouble at school.
  • That you expect respectful talk and no more childish whining.
  • That you’ll help in emergencies, such as typing their homework if their fingers are broken (use a little humor). This is something one adult would do for another if they needed the help.
  • That you’re not going to nag them any more. You’ll ask once and that’s it. Then, they’ll have to suffer the consequences if they don’t do it in a timely fashion.
  • That they’ll have to begin earning some money to pay for their own gas for the car. You may pay for the insurance and some upkeep; but that’s it.
  • That they’ll have to clean their own room. If they want to live in a dump, that’s their choice. If they want a clean bathroom, you’ll purchase the cleaning materials, but that’s all. They’ll have to change burned out light bulbs, wash towels, and scrub their own toilet. Say you can’t do those things for them because you can’t breathe when you’re in their room for the smell of the dirty shoes, socks and shorts.

I’m sure that when you present these things to your son or daughter, you’ll get to see their selfishness in action.  They won’t like it and may even throw a tantrum.  If so, then it only says that you should have started this process sooner.  They’ll drop the ball a few times and have to suffer the consequences as a result, but be sure not to rescue them from their selfishness nor lessen the consequences.  Doing so will only cause selfishness and immaturity to continue.

It’s a common phrase I use with kids.  “I owe you nothing, but want to give you everything”.  This phrase allows me to communicate a “counter” to their selfishness, and promotes a concept of respect.

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.

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Your Teen’s Need to Fit In

Written by Mark Gregston. Posted in boundaries, Finding purpose, fitting in, parenting communications, teen culture, troubled teens

Your Teen’s Need to Fit InDo you recall some stupid things you did as a teenager? I do, and I’m sure you do, too. I guess that’s why many of us parents work overtime to help our teenagers avoid such embarrassment. But unfortunately, these life lessons cannot be learned any other way. Experiencing and becoming embarrassed by our own immaturity can do far more to help us reach maturity than anything else.

For many teenagers, the need to fit in can lead them to do some of the most immature things they’ll ever do in their entire life. They’ll mimic dress, language, musical preferences, attitudes and even the high-risk activities of their peers just to fit in.

It can be highly confusing and shocking for parents because of the sudden changes in their child’s appearance and demeanor. Overnight it may appear that their child is forsaking everything they’ve ever been taught.

It is natural then for parents to seek ways to protect their child from these “bad influences.” They may go about pulling their teen out of that crowd, out of that school or out of that church. Or, they may even consider moving the entire family to a new town.

If your teen is being influenced to head down the wrong path, be sure to seek wise counsel and take care to look for any hidden reasons for the change. Could there be deeper psychological or medical issues, or underlying abuse, bullying, or a loss that could be causing this behavior? Could drugs be involved? Or, could the child not be getting enough acceptance at home, so they seek it elsewhere?

If the odd behavior is simply your teen trying to fit in, then don’t overreact. Most teens are not actually being rebellious and it’s best not to label them that way. They are just in a healthy pursuit of independence and personal validation. Inappropriate dress, talking back, or other disrespectful or unlawful behavior is never acceptable and should be corrected, but don’t think your teen has “gone bad” just because he or she is making efforts to fit in.

As your teen gets older, I have found that it is best to mostly stand on the sidelines of the maturing game and offer wise coaching when the time is right. Stand your ground in regard to your household rules, but let your teen’s own choices, good or bad, be their teacher. Some day they’ll look back and realize that the group they were hanging with were totally immature. They’ll realize that they, too, looked like a dork, sounded like an idiot, and acted like a jerk when they were with that crowd.

We parents need to learn to “let go” when kids get into the upper teens. Don’t worry, their good and bad choices will eventually validate the concepts and values that we’ve taught them all along. It may be hard to watch it happening, but with a little exposure to some hardship resulting from bad decisions, your teen will learn how to apply the moral and ethical principles you’ve taught them, and will mature because they “see a need for it.”

So, if your teen is older and you’ve taught them good principles their entire life, put away your fix-it kit, hide the training wheels, and pray that God will bring about good influences and teach important lessons in your child’s life through every decision they make. Most of all, don’t force your teen to choose between fitting in at home versus only fitting in outside your home. There should never be a question that they fit in at home and are unconditionally loved by their family.

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.

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