I see as many problems surface from the unrealistic expectations of parents of struggling teenagers as I do with the teenagers themselves. In some ways parental issues are tougher to address than a teen’s.
Parents often think that their teen’s problems can be fixed with the right formula, medication, or bandage, just like the cuts and scrapes of childhood. Then, when they’ve tried everything, and nothing works, they become discouraged and reactionary, leading to even more damage in the relationship with their child or their spouse.
The fact is, every child is unique. There are no “cookie cutter” kids and there is no formula for fixing them when they go down the wrong path. To think we can simply “fix” them with a particular method or doctrine is just wrong. While it is a nice marketing mantra for some well-known psychologists to promote quick fixes for serious teen problems, there really is no such simple cure. There are no easy answers and even with the best of help, a parent may not see real progress in their teen for a very long time.
So, what does that mean for you? It means that if you are struggling with your teen, you may need to hang in there for a year, five years, or even twenty years. Do you have the strength to wait for your child to come to terms with serious issues like alcohol or drug abuse, cutting, promiscuity, and other self-destructive choices?
Most parents in the midst of such storms become battered, worn down, devastated, embarrassed, frazzled, and totally unprepared for helping their teen through the struggle. It may not be until they are at a point of desperation, when unraveling the mess their life has become looms impossible, that they consider finding real help for themselves as well. When a teen is spinning out of control, parents are also in need of help, or they at least need a new and improved set of skills for coping, which may be found through counseling or participating in a support group. Your teen isn’t the only one in need. You deserve support as well, so you don’t turn into a useless heap of nerves. It is important to learn how to better cope with and gently respond to your teen’s issues and not stoop to feelings of parental failure.
It is important to prepare yourself for the long haul. Be prepared to spend more time, money, and energy than you ever imagined in this process. Find friends and spiritual advisors to lean on, and be real with them. Take care of your physical body, and pay attention to your walk with God.
Spiritually, parents of troubled teens are eventually forced to their knees to draw upon the Lord’s guidance and help with their teen. This position of utter helplessness is actually the best position to be in. The greatest strength comes from letting go of your child into the arms of a loving God. The Lord becomes the only real help when a teen is out of control or absent from the home anyway.
So, simply give up the idea that for serious teen problems there is a pill to take or a quick fix to be found. Instead, act quickly yourself to build up the support and strength you need, both from the Lord above and from those to which He’s given special knowledge and experience here on Earth.
Tools and Resources to Help You Cope…
If you are having difficulty coping or your teen is too close to the edge of self-destruction, one option is to place your teen in a therapeutic residential program for a time. That’s why we developed the Heartlight Residential Counseling Center in East Texas 25 years ago. Our trained staff helps both the teen and the family work through tough situations, providing a relief for the parents and time for relationships to heal. Our program is full to capacity much of the time, but there are other good programs we can refer you to as well. So, please contact us if things have gotten to a point that placing your teen in a program is recommended by your counselor or if you and your family simply need a break from the stress.
Another option is to participate in one of our weekend Families in Crisis Conference, where parents of struggling teenagers learn new tools for coping, and the proper relational skills for dealing with their teen. Participants learn from individual and group counseling how to address their own unique situation. You will hear from teenagers who are working through their rebellion, or have successfully struggled through their teen years and become fantastic and caring adults. Just call us at 903-668-2173 for the next retreat date and more details or visit
And finally, we’ve developed various books, tapes and video resources to help parents deal with a struggling teenager and learn from our own experience of working with teens for 40 years. To see these resources online, visit www.heartlightresources.com.
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.