Maybe It’s Time to Shut-Up

Written by Mark Gregston. Posted in Anger, anger management, boundaries, disrespect, family conflict, parenting communications, parenting style, teen discipline

Maybe It’s Time to Shut-UpThere is nothing so demeaning as assuming your child can’t think for himself. There is nothing so disrespectful as throwing your child’s mistakes back in his face and condemning him. Keep in mind that I am referring to teenagers here, not your 2-year-old.

So, here is my advice…until you have a better understanding of how to handle it – JUST SHUT UP!  I say that with a smile on my face but with the intent of getting across a message that is rolling around in your teen’s head when the discussion stops and the lecture begins.

Growing up, I was told I was never to say, “Shut Up” all the while hearing that I needed to “shut your pie hole” and “put a sock in it.”  I understand this method of asking someone to “tone it down” may be a little brash, but I don’t want anyone to mistake the intent of the message.  Sometimes its very difficult for parents to learn to “nip it” and “stop!”, but all so necessary if you want to maintain a great relationship with your teen who is now in more need of someone who will listen, than someone just to throw more information his or her way.

“Even a fool when he keeps silent is considered wise.” Proverbs 17:28

If you invited your teenager to come hear your lecture about his life’s mistakes, how do you think he would respond?  Do you think he’d show up?  If he did show up, would he feel great about it when you’re finished?

“Sure Mom, I’d love to hear you drone on and on…I like being lectured, warned, and criticized about absolutely everything.”

OF COURSE NOT!

Yet, that is exactly what your child may be feeling about the way you communicate with him or her.

So, I encourage you to take the “Shut-up Challenge”…

I’m not trying to be rude in saying “shut up” (it is a no-no in some households) but I am dead-serious. Just shut up for 24 hours and see if it makes a difference in your home! In case I haven’t made myself clear enough, that means, be quiet, stay silent, zip it, don’t speak.

Try it for a day, and watch what happens. When your teenager drops a “jewel” on you and says something you feel needs “correcting,” just be quiet. Don’t flip out, argue, or try make it right. Just let it go. Stop lecturing, start listening.

You may be surprised to find that:

1. You can’t do it! You just can’t keep quiet. You are not a good listener, and that listening to your child is an area you need to grow in.

2. Your child has a mind of his own, and is fully able to use it without constantly pointing him in the direction you think he needs to go.

3. Your child wants to talk to you more when you don’t verbally beat him down every opportunity you get.

4. Your child has ideas of his own that are different from yours, perhaps he doesn’t want what you want, and you need to change your mind about some things.

5. Your child may learn the important lessons in one teachable moment, and you don’t need all that other verbal garbage to make your point.

“But Mark,” you say, “I can’t teach my child what he needs to know by being quiet!”

Yes you can – you can, and most of the time you should, because most of the time, your teen isn’t saying anything earth-shattering or profound….he is just processing what’s happening in his world.  Not every teachable moment needs to be one.  Because of the way that kids receive information today, and by the mere numbers of sources of their information, they are told when they’re wrong, how they’re wrong, why they’re wrong, how they can do it better, and ways to get from getting it wrong in the future. So when they come home and are corrected, told how to do something better, or encouraged to do something different, they shut Mom and Dad down.

Now I’m not saying that you shouldn’t correct your child.  I am asking that you become aware of what too much correction does to you child.  I pushes him away.  It causes your daughter to “shut down”.  So be wise and quick to listen, and slow to speak.

For those times you need to address an “issue” I recommend trying a different approach. Instead of making your point, try asking a question. Not a rhetorical question either – that’s just back-alley lecturing. Asking the right question may help him arrive at the right answer in a way that engages his thinking process and system of beliefs. You may be surprised to find he comes to the right conclusion all on his own.

For example:

I never thought of it that way, what makes you think so?

What do you think will happen if…?

Success in the “Shut-up Challenge” means you create a space in your relationship with your child by taking a verbal step backwards. This will allow your child to move toward you. Give your child room to ask some questions of his own and come to his own conclusions.

Instead of always pushing to lead the discussion, or to turn it into a one-way lecture, you might just be invited by your teen to participate in the best two-way discussion you’ve ever had.

Try it out.  I’d love to hear how your teen responds.

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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Know Pain Know Gain

Written by Mark Gregston. Posted in counseling, family conflict, pain, parenting communications, troubled teens

Know Pain Know GainIf pain were knocking on your door, you wouldn’t welcome him, invite him in, or help him in any way. You would send him to the next neighborhood, reassuring him that he was at the wrong address.

Parents in trouble with their teen call me when they are in pain and need help, but I’ve learned that many are just looking for an affirmation or justification of their own plan or ideas. Sadly, most people only accept advice when they agree with it, when it fits into their own time schedule, and when the outcome is what they predicted.

To illustrate that point, I once worked with a daughter whose father paid for an apartment after she graduated high school. I urged against placing her outside of his home, on her own, for a number of reasons. I did all in my power to convince him against his unwise decision of letting her go before she was ready. Tragically, our worst fear came true, and through a deadly set of circumstances, Kristen lost her life, and the man lost a daughter.

He who trusts himself is a fool…” Proverbs 28:26a

Another father called asking for my help unraveling his teenager’s rotten behavior. His description of the situation was confusing, his plan of action was weird, and his intent was just a little off. After I listened to him ramble on for 30 minutes, I stopped him and said, “Are you asking for my blessing on your plan, or my counsel? Your best thinking has gotten you into the situation that you’re currently in. So let’s stop following the way you’re thinking and come up with some new ways of handling it.” He then broke down saying, “I think I was at first asking for a blessing, but now I’d like for you to tell me what I need to do.” It was a picture of a foolish man becoming wise.

Parenting a struggling teen will bring you face to face with your worst fears. Fear for the safety and well being of your child. Fear for their future. Fear of how others will respond to your having a problem to begin with. You may not realize it, but another description of fear is emotional pain.

Parents never expect pain when raising a child. In fact, they do everything in their power to avoid it in their life and the life of their child. Even so, when a problem is ignored because they don’t know how to deal with it, or they hide it for fear of being exposed, or they fail to listen to wise counsel — pain can come to rule in their lives.

To lessen the pain, the tendency is to look for a “quick fix” for the troubled teenager, when in reality, God may be using this painful situation expressly for the purpose of bringing about a change in the parent. Most of the parents I work with say they had to change before any real progress could be made with their teen. When a parent changes, it creates a wonderful model for a child to also recognize his own foolish thinking.

It’s difficult to learn that we don’t always have all the answers. But it is a good lesson to learn. Parents in the midst of pain are in the worst position to correct their own situation, but in the best position to be changed by it. Openly admitting that problems exist, and finding good counsel to work through those issues on the parenting side of the equation, will go a long way toward solving the teen’s issues as well.

I like what CS Lewis said about pain. He said, “I know God wants the best for us. I just wonder how painful it’s going to be.” It reminds me that God’s intention is not to allow us to be in pain for pain’s sake, but that He uses pain for our ultimate good. I know you would never choose the pain of the troubles you are experiencing with your teenager, but believing God has a higher purpose in allowing you to experience it may help you embrace and learn from it.

About the Author

Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a residential counseling center for struggling teens located in Longview, Texas.  He has been married to his wife, Jan, for 39 years, has two kids, and 4 grandkids.  He lives in Longview, Texas with the Heartlight staff, 60 high school kids, 25 horses, his dog, Stitch, 2 llamas, and a prized donkey named Toy.  His past involvement as a youth pastor, Young Life area director, and living with over 2,500 teens, has prepared Mark to share his insights and wisdom about parenting pre-teens and adolescents.

Visit www.HeartlightMinistries.org to find out more about the residential counseling center for teens, or call Heartlight directly at 903. 668.2173.  For more information and helpful other resources for moms and dads, visit www.ParentingTodaysTeens.org, It’s filled with ideas and tools to help you become a more effective parent. Here you will also find a station near you where you can listen to the Parenting Today’s Teens radio broadcast, or download the podcast of the most recent programs.

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Could You Be the Prodigal?

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

Could You Be the Prodigal?In a world where parents indulge their kids with everything they want, it would seem that these kids would be especially grateful.  Instead, a generation has become selfish, self-centered, and unprepared for real life.

A dictionary definition of a “prodigal” is “one who spends or gives lavishly and foolishly.”  You may think your teenager is acting like a prodigal these days, but have you considered that according to this definition, you may be the prodigal yourself?

Many parents lavishly and foolishly give material things to their kids. Some say it is their “right” to spoil their kids — and there is truth to that.  The truth is not as much regarding the parent’s rights, but that, yes, it will spoil their kids.  Unbridled spending on kids can lead to selfish attitudes and feelings of entitlement on the part of the teen.  And such kids are in for a rude awakening when real life comes calling.

Sometimes a parent is being extra generous out of an “I’m giving my child what I lacked as a child” attitude. Or, perhaps the gifts are being used as leverage to improve the attitudes and cooperation of the teenager.  In either case, the kids on the receiving end can become pretty comfortable with such generosity.  It can lead to immaturity, irresponsibility, selfishness and a hard time understanding finances and the obligations of real life when they become adults. In other words, spoiled kids later become spoiled adults.

I know it’s tough for loving parents to limit their giving of material things to their children, especially when they have it to give.  But they may want to keep it in check to prevent the kind of damage that I see every day in some of the teens who are sent to our Heartlight residential program.  For them it can take months of therapy and doing without material things to bring them back down to earth.

The biblical story of the Prodigal in Luke 15 wonderfully illustrates such a turnabout in thinking for a pampered, selfish child who suddenly faced the realities of life.

In Luke 15:12 the son in the story says, ”Father, give me my share of the estate.”  For whatever reason, this young man had a “give me” sense of entitlement that was pretty demanding. It was probably because he never had a need for anything for as long as he had lived. The family was obviously wealthy.

So, as was the custom in those days, the father went ahead and gave him his portion of the estate. The son gleefully took it all and moved away.  But he had soon spent his entire inheritance, all of it, on riotous living.  What a great lesson in finance!  Though he was given so much, he lost it all in a very short period of time.

Then, half-starved and thinking that his gold-digger friends would help him out in his time of need, he found out differently.  In Luke 15:16 it says, ”…but no one gave him anything.” Whether they were acting as selfish as he was, or just fed up with him, their denials told him that he needed to do something different from now on, or else he wouldn’t survive. The very next verse brings it all home.

In Luke 15:17 it says, “…he came to his senses…”  He saw the light.  When the money ran out and everyone stopped feeding this young man’s foolishness, he faced some pretty important decisions in his life.  It helped him realize his predicament and he quickly discovered what life is all about, perhaps for the very first time.

The point is…it took a very traumatic experience for him to come to his senses.  Before he could get past his prodigal mindset, he had to hit rock bottom.  Then he finally began thinking more clearly about finances and about the basic necessities of life.

Could you be the one responsible for your own teen becoming a prodigal?  Moreover, could you be the one acting like a prodigal yourself?  You are if you are catering to your teen’s every financial want or need without teaching them the value of work and how to wisely manage their own money.  Perhaps it’s time to take a look at your finances and begin to limit your giving to your teen, before it contributes to them becoming a prodigal.

By the way, a good way to counteract selfishness and financial foolishness in a teen is to teach them to give of themselves and a portion of their finances to others who are in need.  Take them down to the local mission to volunteer in the food line.  Require that they help an elderly friend or a shut-in neighbor once a week.  Take them on a short-term mission trip to a place in the world where kids have nothing.  When they interact with others who are helpless and in desperate need, they soon realize (without having to hit rock bottom themselves), how important it is to manage their own life and their money.

If you’re an adult prodigal, you may want to shift gears to lavish upon your kids every good thing they need in life, not everything they want.  One good thing they desperately need is to learn how to make money and manage finances on their own.  They’ll have to go without all the goodies you’ve financed in the past, but it’s a lesson they’ll thank you for one day.

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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Connecting with Your Teen

Written by Mark Gregston. Posted in encouragement, family conflict, parenting communications, parenting style, teen communications, troubled teens

Connecting with Your TeenEvery parent of a teenager wants to build a strong line of communication with his or her teen. But sadly, the opposite is most often true. I’d like to share with you some simple tips to improve your communications with your teen.

You may wonder what the best timing is for building good lines of communication with your teen or pre-teen. That’s simple.  Do it NOW, before problems, struggles and difficulties begin. And never stop working at it, even when there is conflict.

As your children move from the elementary years into early adolescence, it’s essential that you adapt your style of communication to the changes taking place with your child. What was non-hormonal now becomes laced with hormones. Total dependence moves closer to independence, and that affects how your teen interacts with you.  Unless you change with them, there will be conflict and broken communications.

There is a scripture that I believe accurately reflects the condition of most teens, and the “should-be” role of most parents. It’s when Jesus says, “Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden (the condition of the teens part), and I will give you rest for your soul” (the parent’s part).

The hope is that we, as parents, become that place of rest for our kids a place where they might be restored.

Too many times parents become a place of added burden or hardship, or an extra “measure” of correction, when correcting, and a life of training, has already been done. Moms have the tendency to do the “Energizer bunny” communication that just keeps on going. And dads have that tendency to tune out when communication is most needed.

Moms, your over-correcting does not provide the rest your child needs. And dad, your refusal to speak up does not restore. What is crucial for your child is the balance of the mom and dad mix, which will result in that place of rest.

But to achieve this balance, it is important for us as parents to transition with our children, to change our style of communication. If we can successfully make this transition, then the day when our children begin to struggle or have difficulties and desperately need someone to talk to we are the ones they will turn to.

Now, let me give you some advice on how to build that bridge–how to make that transition…

1.  Start by laying down some new rules, not ones that dictate, but those that invite. In fact, these are rules for yourself, not as much for your child, including making it a priority to have one-on-one time with your child. For example, you might state that a new rule for your house is to go on a mother-daughter, or father-son special vacation each year. Another might be a Joke Night that gets everyone laughing, just laughing, no spiritual lesson attached, just pure fun time together.

2. Ask Thoughtful Questions…create a sense of wonder. Instead of always telling your child the answers, offer them thoughtful questions. And remember, not every question has to be answered immediately, or at all. They will learn to think on their own, and begin to ask you questions as you model one who asks questions. The questions themselves can lead to the right answers, without preaching.

3. PAUSE…and wait to be invited. Hold off on the tendency to always drive the conversation and share your own opinions (Scripture says that “a fool delights in airing his own opinion”). Don’t break genuine interest, but poignant moments of silence (especially when they are not accustomed to silence from you) will move a child to ask, “What do you think?” Try not to force your opinion unless it is invited.

4. The statement “I Was Wrong” (when said by the parent) diffuses difficult discussions and might just bring you amazing results in your communication with your teen.  If you handled a situation poorly, admit where you are wrong.  You will take the fuse out of the firecracker when you do that. Once you admit you blew it, the issue can no longer be held against you.  Anger puts up barriers and must always be diffused before communications will open up.

5. Give Them Respect…consider others to be more important. Easy to say, and sometimes tough to do.  It’s basically putting your child first and showing them respect, even as you demand that of them. This should affect the way you speak to them (you wouldn’t yell at, belittle, or talk down to someone you respect), the way you discipline, the way you show grace and the way you respond when you are disappointed and upset.

I want to challenge you today to commit to building a relationship with your child, and that starts with good communications. Make time to communicate and really get to know your teen. And no matter how strained or difficult your relationship might be, there is always HOPE.  It may take time and persistence, but keep at it in a loving and natural way and they will eventually open up.

Remember, don’t give up — for God promises to turn your ashes to beauty, your sorrow into joy, and your mourning into dancing. The God that has put His thumbprint on the life of your child still holds him (and you) in His palm.

Recently, someone sent me this e-mail that captures precisely what I’m talking about in this article.

Dear Mark…Our son is on a terrible life path, he is extremely difficult to talk with because he simply will not say more than a few words about anything. We can’t get him to explain what’s going on at school, what he’s thinking, why he does things. His mother and I have tried everything from screaming (I know this was not the right thing and it’s only happened once) to being loving, gentle. Our son is the quiet one in the middle of a family of very verbal people. Even in counseling our son refuses to speak with us much at all. He is secretive and hangs out with the wrong crowd.  He has been caught with pot. He spends most of his time holed up in his room like a hermit either sleeping or watching TV, or out with his crowd. Can you give us some advice?

My Answer: The clue to your question is that your child is the quiet one “of a family of verbal people.” Everyone else’s verbal power might be causing your son to shut down. If he can’t get a word in edgewise, then he just quits talking. I think he probably talks quite a bit when he is out with his crowd.

There are some important checks you should make when trying to figure this out. It’s always a good response to first look at where you might be wrong before jumping to the conclusion that your child is in the wrong. So start by asking yourself some difficult questions:

Do I allow my child to express himself, or do I constantly lecture, criticize, warn, and instruct him?

Does everyone in the family react negatively to him when he speaks?

Is he always challenged, argued with, told he’s “stupid” in so many words, or ignored?

Sometimes teens don’t talk because everyone else is talking for them. Maybe no one really listens or he is shamed by what he is feeling and shamed by what he is saying about it.

Your son is not talking for a reason. Questions we need to ask include: Has he been abused? Has he been ridiculed? Has he been emotionally hampered by some event in his life? Has he experienced something that you don’t know about? And before you answer that question ask yourself, “Do my parents know everything that happened to me?” So, what makes you think you know everything about your son?

Behavior is always there for a reason. If you can’t get to that reason, it would be good to have him spend some one-on-one time with someone who can “connect” with him….a counselor, youth minister, teacher, coach, or a close relative.  Chances are he has a lot to say, and either doesn’t feel comfortable sharing with you or feels shamed by something and chooses to keep quiet. It’s only after searching all areas of his life that you may determine the next steps.

My impression is that your son is involved in more than you think (It’s never what you could imagine, but always more than what you think). Smoking dope, not talking, sleeping all the time, secretive, not so good friends…..sounds like the makings of a disaster. And if your attempts to “reach” him haven’t worked, you speak the truth when you say that it might be time for him to be away from you and from his friends.

Right now, you are dealing with the unknown. As you begin to understand exactly what you’re dealing with, then you can more readily determine what to do. BUT whatever you do, I would encourage you to act quickly. When teens spin out of control, they spiral at an increasing rate. Things may get worse before they get better. But knowing what he’s into and dealing with it is better than not knowing and letting the situation get totally out of hand.

It’s a long answer to a rather short question, but filled with many important lessons for all parents to acknowledge.

So, Moms, Dads…do this for me today.  Be diligent in asking your teen these questions today.  First, “Do you think we have good communication within our family?”  And second, “How could I be a better communicator?”

Ask them to be honest and don’t discount their answers or tell them how they have it all wrong (a first step in changing the way you engage with your teen).  Just listen, acknowledge your appreciation for their honesty, and spend some time thinking how to engage differently.  And if they tell you that the communication is fine, and that you’re a great communicator, ask them to sleep on it and answer tomorrow after they’ve had some time to think about it.  We can all improve on the way we engage with all our kids.  Hopefully they’ll come back to you with some great feedback.

“Monkey see, monkey do,” Moms and Dads. The way you communicate with them will be the way that they learn to communicate with you.

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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What’s this Teen “Cutting” Thing?

Written by Mark Gregston. Posted in cutting, depression, teen anger, teen conflict, teen suicide

What’s this Teen “Cutting” Thing?Some young people today live in a world that goes “over the edge.” The “edge” of pain doesn’t stop them in their pursuit of eliminating boredom and creating excitement. Piercing, branding, cutting, tattoos, cosmetic surgery, reality shows, and expressive and permissive movies are now a part of the culture. Some say that kids are more “daring” and “extreme.”  I say they’re numb and dissatisfied…and pain is a way for some to remind themselves that they’re still alive, a comment I hear from a number of cutters.  Sadly, finding a kid who “cuts” (a form of self harm) is pretty common today.  A topic that 20 years was unheard of on the radio or in Christian social circles is the focus of many discussions among parents and commonplace among teens.

I used to think that cutting was always a symptom of a greater problem like mental illness, sexual abuse, or other crazy behaviors that sometimes fall into that category of “different” and only understood with an explanation of psychiatric jargon. Some cutting behaviors can be symptomatic of psychiatric or mental illness (e.g. borderline personality disorders, bi-polar or manic depressiveness, and anxiety disorders) but not all are.

Not just “crazy people do crazy things.” Kids that cut themselves come from all walks of life, from all backgrounds, and from every type of family you can think of. What was once confined to mental hospitals has for teens become a new way of coping and has entered the mainstream of discussion among our teens. It’s here, and it doesn’t look like it will disappear any time soon any more than any other inappropriate behavior.

What is Cutting?

Simply put, it’s a cut or many cuts that are self-inflicted. The actual behavior is just the symptom of something else going on in your child’s life. The fact that they “chose” cutting as the behavior to get somewhere else is because it is “available,” “acceptable” (in their world), and it is “achievable.”

All behavior is goal-oriented. Your child’s goal with cutting is coping with whatever is causing stress in his or her life. Cutting is chosen because it has been talked about at school, internet, networking sites or something that others are doing.  Cutting distracts a teen from whatever causes the negative feelings she’s had, and she gets some temporary relief.

Now, you and I probably do a similar “dance,” we just dance to some different music. We go run for an hour. We work out. We go to a movie. We do whatever we do in hopes of feeling something different for a short period of time. Young people are no different. Cutting takes their minds off of their cares.

Cutting is a serious issue, however, and it can lead to a lifetime of shame and despair. For a child to go to such lengths to find relief is scary. So, don’t ignore it. I’ve observed that most that “cut” or “scratch” have expended or tried other ways of negative coping with particular issues and are willing to do just about anything short of suicide to get through whatever they’re dealing with.

SEVERAL TYPES OF CUTTERS

1. The Experimental Cutter

These kids may be cutting for no reason at all. They just want to know what it feels like and, more times than not, just scratch or touch themselves with a hot utensil, learning quickly that what all the fuss is about, is not about them. They walk away and never revisit the “cutting thing” again.

2. The Show-Off Cutter

The one who cuts to show off goes a little further than the one who is captivated by experiment and intrigue. This is one who has the tendency to be a drama queen, perhaps thrive on conflict, and displays self-centeredness in sometimes the oddest of ways. They thrive in negative attention for it is better than no attention. Feeling a lack of positives to display to gain attention, they hope to attract through showing off negatives. The more attention they can get from their actions the better. They happen to pick up cutting because it just happens to be the thing that gains attention.

3. The Shock Cutter

Some cut for the shock factor. They look at you and let you know that you don’t have control over them while they express a strong desire for independence and their own control. People wonder why some kids cut, and my response is always, “It’s got your attention doesn’t it?”

4. The Rebellious Cutter

These cutters differ from the shockers. While shockers usually do it as a cry for something, these are doing something to make you cry. They are bent on causing misery for someone else, and are willing to endure the pain to see the person suffer. It is not self-harm in their eyes…it’s done to harm you, to embarrass you. Their anger is so intense that they would sacrifice themselves to make you miserable. Their actions are dominated by a “screw you” mentality that is deep rooted in anger. It may be a type of thought process that includes the following:

- Mom and Dad, look how you guys have messed up my life…now you’ll pay.

- Why did you allow this to happen to me?

- I’ll show everyone….look what they’ve done to me?

- You think I have it all together? I’ll show you!

5. The Self-Punishment Cutter

This is the type of cutter that becomes a little more serious, a whole lot deeper in the issues, and necessitates a recovery process that demands counseling and help with thinking patterns behind the actions of cutting. It’s a longer process, and this type of cutter, along with those listed below (distraction, coping, guilt & shame, and mental issues) may require hospitalization, other professional help, or intense supervision as one must be kept safe (free from cutting) during the process of counseling and therapy.

6. The Distraction Cutter

It’s hard to imagine pain so great that creating more pain would take the focus off the original pain. This is a common answer that I hear to the question of why teens cut.

7. The Coping Skill Cutter

Several times I have been so mad in my life that I’ve just wanted to punch the wall or put my fist through the wall, or hit something. The anger builds up, the intensity increases and bam, it happens. It’s the same thing when some young people cut. It’s that release of intensity. Some call it anger management with the excuse that “it’s better to hurt myself than someone else”.

8. Mental Issues and Cutting

There are times that cutting is a sign of mental issues. Mental problems are rooted in incorrect thinking patterns that are sometimes displayed in bizarre behaviors. Cutting can be one of those “bizarre behaviors.”

Dealing with Cutters

The key to resolution of any issue is to get to the heart of the issue. And the best way to get to the heart of the issue is through a relationship….one that says to them, “I’ll walk with you through anything, and I’ll stand in front of you if you’re moving to a place that you don’t want to be.” That’s the easy part. The hard part is taking apart the puzzle and seeing the logic, progression, thinking, and habits have moved this cutter to where he/she is.

I would encourage you to consider these thoughts when dealing with a child you find to be a cutter.

1. Don’t panic. If medical attention is needed for your child’s cutting, then get that medical attention immediately. A cut is a cut regardless of how it got there. This should be your first concern. You must do whatever you need to do to insure their safety.

2. Don’t neglect the obvious or be afraid to talk about cutting if you think your child is doing so. Keep asking, in hopes of finding an “open door” for discussion. If that door is closed, it is imperative that you try some new techniques to get the door open or immediately find someone for your son/daughter to talk to. And if your child is not willing, you seek counsel to determine ways to force your child to respond to the situation.

3. Seek counsel. Every child is different, and so is every situation. Unless one has been around cutting and had experience dealing with self-harm issues, or has done so themselves and have worked through their issues, I wouldn’t put too much hope in that person being able to “connect” with your child. Finding the right counselor is key, and driving a couple of hundred miles to meet with them is not asking too much in dealing with a behavior and mindset that is going to require wisdom, tenacity, and gentle but firm intervention.

4. In some cases, apply consequences for cutting when determined to be effective. As I’ve said, not all cutters need to be given “discipline” for cutting. Determine that need based upon the counsel, wisdom, and direction from those who have been involved with cutters and know the steps to resolve.

5. Connect with the cutter in other ways that aren’t surrounded by cutting issues. A parent or youth worker is not using wisdom in pursuing the issues of teens with them without having some type of relationship. Most kids want to know that they’ll continued to be loved even when they mess up. It’s easy to love someone when they’re doing well….its harder when they’re not doing so well. They want to know the latter.

6. Don’t be afraid of having your child on medication. If it is going to help them think better, pull out of their depression, or balance their emotions, then I would encourage it. Medicine is medicine, and it’s beneficial whether its in the arena of dentistry or psychiatry.

7. Develop a system of accountability around your child with family and friends. Most people wait to show the desire to develop relationships with their child after the problems arise. Have the relationship intact before the difficult years arrive. And if you think that you’re child is immune from having issues, or that they aren’t capable of struggle through their teen years, I would suggest that you pull your head out of the sand.

8. Get to the root of the issue. Remember, it’s not the behavior that is the issue. Just getting your child to stop cutting will not solve the problems. Ignore the deeper issues and you’ll find that they’ll pop up disguised as other behaviors.

9. Don’t minimize the problem or think that this really isn’t as big as everyone thinks it is. Cutting is not an attempt at suicide. But, there are those that have committed suicide who have been cutters. Moms and Dads, this is serious stuff and its going to demand serious (and immediate) help. Ignoring the obvious could prove catastrophic.

10. Do whatever you have to do to insure your child’s safety. This may mean that they are supervised 24-7. It may mean that they need to be hospitalized.

Remember, all behavior is goal oriented.  You can stop the cutting and never get to the real issue behind the cutting.  So managing the cutting is essential, getting to the root of the behavior is paramount.

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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