Fear-Based Parenting

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

No fear concept

When we were young, the world may have seemed like an open playground, full of adventure. Around every corner was a brand new opportunity. There was wisdom to be gained from every experience. Many of us were bright-eyed and bushy-tailed as we took on the world for the first time.

Then we became parents. And the world changed.

We put safety latches on the cabinet doors. We placed plastic covers over empty electrical outlets. We told our precious children not to talk to strangers, not to take candy from people they don’t know, to avoid certain parts of town, to look both ways before they cross the street, and to call when they get there. As parents, we sweat when our daughter gets her license, goes to a dance, hangs out at the mall. We lay awake some nights worrying about whether our son will finish high school, find a job, avoid an accident, stay out of jail, and find a nice girl.

Let’s face it; the world suddenly becomes a much scarier place when children enter the picture. Unfortunately, the fear we feel as parents can trickle down into the way we raise our teens. Our apprehensions can force us to relate to and train our kids in an unhealthy way.

What exactly does fear-based parenting look like?

FEAR #1: Loss of Control

As parents, we tend to think that if we lose control of our kids, they will somehow go off the deep end and wreck their lives for good. This makes sense to some degree.  We know the dangers inherent in the world, so out of love we try to shelter our precious children from harm. But in order to do that, we clamp down on them. We start to dictate every area of their lives—from what they wear, to where they go, to what they do in their free time. Of course, we want to ensure they have the best opportunities as they grow up.  But when we are overzealous in our protection, our high-control techniques keep teens from exercising muscles that will actually strengthen their character in the long run.

It’s like getting a new car.  When you pull your new wheels into the driveway, it looks gorgeous.  It’s clean, sleek, and perfect.  And then you drive it.  After you put a couple thousand miles on it, it gets dings in the door and scratches in the paint.  The shine wears off.  Still, if you take care of it, it will run smoothly for many long years despite a few scratches and bumps. You could try to keep your car in perfect condition by leaving it in the garage and never driving it. But cars are made to be driven. And while hiding your car in the garage may protect the paint for a while, hoses, belts, tires and exposed metal parts will begin to crack, rot and rust. I’d rather drive a car with a few dings in it, than have a flawless paint job on something that doesn’t run!

Now, our kids are the same way. If we try to keep them away from the world, they may look good on the outside, but they will not be able to function when they have to encounter the world on their own. And let’s face it: No matter how long we keep our kids sheltered, sooner or later they are going to have to step out into the larger culture.

Do you really want the first time your kids get hurt or make a mistake to occur after they are out from under your care? At some point, you will lose your power to influence them. Whether your children are out of the area for college, the military, or a job, your ability to speak into their life will decrease.  When this happens, their primary source of guidance will be the character you built into them before they moved out– so it’s wise to make the most of the time you have with them right now.

Begin to give your kids more responsibility.  Encourage them to use every experience in life—good or bad—as an opportunity to apply the lessons you have been teaching them.  With the right balance of responsibility and opportunity, your child can begin to build that sense of independence and character needed to safely transition from adolescence to adulthood.

Fear #2: Exposure to Culture

Our culture bombards us with an ever-increasing number of suggestive and inappropriate media messages, and it’s easy to fear that our kids will be led astray. Unfortunately, short of wrapping our kids in bubble wrap, blindfolding them and plugging their ears, we simply can’t protect them from every negative influence. It may be tempting to make the boundaries so tight that there is no wiggle room, perhaps by keeping them from all technology. In reality, this is both impossible and unhealthy. The Internet and technology are too pervasive. And really, there are many good uses for them. We do not want to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

The desire to protect our children from culture’s negative influence is legitimate. But in the teen years we have the opportunity to move from teaching and policing to coaching and training.  While they are young, children need greater adult supervision on the computer, and this is where Internet filters come in handy.  But teens require guidance on how to deal with the constant stream of information they have access to every day.  It’s not enough to use filters anymore; there’s always a way to get around them.

Instead, let’s have honest conversations with our teens about proper boundaries.  Talk with your son or daughter about cyber-bullying, and ways they can avoid it and help others.  Discuss the dangers of pornography and the reasons they should keep their eyes pure.  Talk about the problems of over-sharing on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter and the hazards associated with revealing too much to strangers.  These conversations will be more effective than harsh rules. Teaching our teens to have discernment is vitally important.  They will inevitably still make mistakes.  But even in those mistakes we can help them see opportunities for growth.  Let your teen experience the consequences of their actions—whether it’s a brief loss of privileges, grounding, or having to make restitution—and continue to slowly delegate more responsibility and freedom for their self-government.  Remember, your goal is to coach your child to navigate culture on their own.

I also suggest parents take one night a week to be completely media free. It was once common for chairs in the living room to face each other; today they face the television set. So turn the chairs back toward each other and have a good talk.  But first, shut off all the electronic devices, including your own cell phone. Take time to listen and ask your kids questions about what is going on in their lives. Get the conversation started by playing a fun board game or go out for the evening to a park, swimming pool, or ballgame. In fact, surprise them with what you will be doing each week. The first couple of times you do this may be a bit of struggle, but your kids will actually begin looking forward to it! It is well worth the effort.

Fear #3: Conflict

I’ve been confronting kids for 40 years and it has not gotten any easier since the first time.  One would think that after living with 60 high school kids at a time for so long, confrontation would come easily.  It doesn’t.  But I have learned this through the years; even though I do not enjoy confronting people, I sure love the results. Conflict is a pre-cursor to change, not only in the life of the people I confront, but in my own life as well.

Conflict happens in every family. But we should not be afraid of it.  Yes, there is always a possibility that something said or insinuated might be hurtful.  You could make a mistake in your approach to conflict (wrong timing or mishandled accusation) or in the content of the discussion (misinterpreted words or comments wrongly made in the “heat of the battle”). But don’t let these fears stop you from engaging in family conflict! When you make a mistake, be quick to apologize. It will be another good lesson for your kids, and an exercise in humility for you. So don’t run from conflict between you and your teen. Use those times to communicate and work through the problems together.

Fear #4: Loss of Appearance

Moms and dads might also worry that their child’s bad behavior will reflect negatively on their parenting, so they micro-manage the house to erect a façade of perfection. But this fear-based attitude can be devastating for both you and your teen. Concerning yourself with your own good image is one of the fastest ways to build resentment in your home. If your teen has to have the haircut you want, listen to the music you approve of, wear the clothes you pick out, work at the job you chose, or have the friends you like, you’re inviting a rebellion. A teen at the Heartlight residential center once told me, “I’d rather do wrong and be in control, than do right and not be in control.”

Of course, I’m not suggesting that you lower the standards for proper behavior in your home. But keep in mind that it doesn’t matter what other people think about you or your child. It’s okay to admit, “We’re struggling right now.” Teens will make bad decisions. Parents will make mistakes. But that doesn’t mean you’re failing. There is not a parent on the planet who has achieved perfection. Let go of your fears about projecting a flawless image, and parent your teen in confidence.

We can be scared as parents. But we cannot parent in fear. If you’ve noticed that your parenting style is founded on anxiety and worry, learn to release all those fears to the Lord. It will free you up as a person, and as a parent.

 

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When Your Teen is Struggling

Written by Mark Gregston. Posted in Communications, parenting style, struggling teens

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Have you ever asked yourself, “What on earth does God have in mind by allowing both me and my teen to struggle so?”

I often see Christians who believe that parenting according to scriptural values, taking their kids to church every time the doors are open, and promoting family togetherness means that all will be well in the teenage years. Like buying an insurance plan, they think that doing the right things will bring about the right result.

Let me tell you, based on years of experience with struggling teens and their parents, that this thinking is just plain wrong. Never assume that applying a continuous moral or religious presence in your child’s life will in itself bring about a perfect transition from childhood to adulthood. It can help and should be encouraged, but it is no guarantee. The often-quoted scripture “train up a child in the way he should go” says nothing about the turbulent teenage years. In fact, you’ll want to remember that some biblical characters with seemingly perfect spiritual upbringings had difficulties themselves in their teenage years.

Stuff happens that is out of our control as parents, and even if we do everything right, stuff still happens. One angelic teenager can lead us to think that we have found the right formula, right up until we see our next child go down a completely different path. Welcome to the real world — where God gives each of our children a free will.

And, welcome to the one thing in life over which you have absolutely no control. It may be the first time in your life that you have to lean on God completely. And that’s not all bad.

Could this Time Be God’s Challenge to You?

In the heart of any parenting struggle there is usually more that we can learn. For instance, could God want us to know Him more fully? Could we benefit from a different perspective and have a better understanding of how to help other kids or parents? Could this difficult time reveal areas of our lives that need to change?

The point is this.  In God’s economy there is always a point to the pain. So allow God to use this time to move you along to a better place or to develop your own character.

Consider Psalm 139:23-24, “Search me oh God, and know my anxious thoughts, and see if there is any hurtful way in me, and lead me in paths of righteousness.”

In addition, think about Matthew 7:4-5, “How can you say, ‘My friend, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you don’t see the log in your own eye? You’re nothing but show-offs! First, take the log out of your own eye. Then you can see how to take the speck out of your friend’s eye.”

Do you have something that needs attention in your own life at the same time as you seek help for your teen? If so, remember this…it could have lasting benefits that go far beyond this difficult period. You will learn to trust God in a very real way.

– You will learn how to become a good listener — one who waits to be invited.

– You will grow spiritually, become more self-controlled, slower to speak, slower to anger.

– You will realize that God is still dependable, even when everything seems out of control.

– You will learn the extent of God’s great love for you.

– You will develop wisdom that is useful for the next generation in your family.

– Other parents will benefit from watching you handle your struggle in the right way.

– Out of desperation, you will stop faking your faith and make your dependence upon God real.

You see, the struggle is always partly about us, how we handle things and how we seek God’s help in the midst of the storm. It will challenge and sharpen our beliefs and help us confront our fear of losing control. Stated in another way, it will help build our faith and dependence on God’s every provision in our lives.

Aim Higher

Isn’t it somewhat comforting to know that God may have a bigger purpose in it all for both you and your teen? If you believe that, then don’t just focus on your teenager’s struggles at this time. Step in front of a mirror and look for areas in your own life that need to grow, and aim to make those changes with God’s help.

Take a moment right now to think about how God might be using your situation to reveal more about His character, and how that knowledge can help you in turn deal with your struggling teen.

The path of parenting a struggling teen isn’t an easy one, but there’s more than one reason for the struggle and I’m sure you don’t want to miss any lesson that God desires to have you learn from your circumstance.  Hang in there; you’ll get through it, and so will your teen.  And when “on the other side” of this bump in the road, you’ll see that God’s plan was much bigger than just eliminating the struggle.

My first book, entitled When Your Teen is Struggling, is a great follow up to this article.  You can purchase this book by going to our website, www.ParentingTodaysTeens.org or call 903.668.2173.

It’s a book that will help all parents understand the process of “struggle” and give insight into the heart of a teen who is.

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Entering Our Teens Cultural Arena

Written by Mark Gregston. Posted in conversation, encouragement, fitting in, teen communications, teen culture

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If you have teens in the house, no doubt you’ve heard mention of The Hunger Games. It’s a trilogy of young adult books that takes place in a future dystopia, where the totalitarian government rules over a beleaguered world with an iron first. In an appalling abuse of authority, the government mandates an annual, national event where young people from 12 to 18 are chosen to represent their respective communities in “The Hunger Games.” The event takes place in an outdoor arena where the young participants are to battle each other to the death, until only one kid remains. The story revolves around one young girl named Katniss, who not only competes in The Hunger Games, but eventually rises up against the sadistic leaders who promote these barbaric rituals. These stories have resonated with kids everywhere, making The Hunger Games into bestselling books and billion-dollar blockbuster movies.

But why do teens relate to these works of fiction so much? Film reviewer Dana Stevens wrote,

Adolescence is not for the faint of heart. The to-do list for the decade between ages 10 and 20 includes separating from your parents, finding your place among your peers at school, beginning to make decisions about your own future, and—oh yes—figuring out how to relate to the world, and yourself. [Stories like The Hunger Games] externalize the turmoil that’s already taking place in adolescent minds, hearts, and bodies.”

I don’t think I exaggerate when I say that our world can resemble a gladiator’s arena at times. Your teens are consistently thrown to the cultural lions; forced to battle the influences and powers that wage war for their hearts and minds. Many parents look around and say, “I’m so glad I don’t have to grow up in this culture.” But Mom and Dad, your teens do! So how can we help our kids navigate this cultural maze and come out the other side in one piece?

Look Around

I know it’s tempting at times to just bury our heads in the sand. Read the latest article about a school shooting and you worry about your teen during the day. Watch an awards show with your kids, and you want to cover their eyes during most of the performances. Hear some of the conversations and issues that are being discussed at your child’s school, and you may want to keep them home instead! Our teens may be the most exposed, most informed and most vulnerable generation that has ever lived. As parents we may seek to shelter out kids from the culture, or run the other way. But we have to realize that this is the only world that our kids have to live in. If we don’t show them how to navigate this jungle, who will?

In order to prevent our teens from becoming casualties of the culture, we have to adjust, adapt and find new ways to speak to our kids over all the noise. That involves taking time to look around and find inroads to real conversations. So hop on Facebook, and see what topics kids are discussing. Scan the latest movies or music and see what is drawing teens today. Review your child’s homework, to discover what they’re learning. Talk to your teen’s friends when they come over, to see what’s on their minds. Like a missionary, assimilate into the culture your kids are living in. You don’t have to like everything your teen likes, but you should know what interests them, what excites them, and what they are being exposed to on a daily basis.

Verbalize Your Findings

Once you have done a little research into teen culture, use what you’ve discovered as a springboard to engage in a conversation. You can start off by saying, “I saw a clip from the recent video music awards, and one performance seemed inappropriate and rather provocative. What do you think?” What you are doing is allowing your teen to think through the issues of their culture, and come to clear and logical conclusions on their own. You’re giving your teen an opportunity to interpret the world around him. Questions, asked without a judgmental attitude or unsolicited opinions, prompt your kids to begin their own thinking process. Instead of letting the culture wash over them (and perhaps drag them into the undertow), by asking questions and verbalizing your observations you can train your child to formulate their beliefs and opinions. Of course, you might not always agree with your child’s conclusion. But that means you need to keep the conversation going. It’s not a “one-and-done” discussion. Keep your eyes peeled for cultural markers that invite conversation, and keep on asking your teen good questions like, “What do you think about this problem?” “Do you think what she did is wrong or right?” “How would you have handled this differently?

Parents might be wondering, “Mark, if I talk about risky behaviors or sensitive subjects, won’t it pique the interest of my kids and make them want to try them?” Mom and Dad, by not talking about drug use, drinking, sexual activity, homosexuality, violence, modesty, cutting, depression, abuse, or a host of other issues in our world—you’ll make your child more interested. By talking about these issues openly and honestly, you’re essentially taking away the mystique. Plus, if you don’t discuss these issues with your son or daughter, I can guarantee that someone else will! Wouldn’t you rather be the one to walk your teen through the labyrinth? I know it can be difficult to bring up some of these subjects, but remember; it’s for the maturity and benefit of your child.

Fewer Lectures, More Conversations

You have every right to rail against our culture. Goodness knows there are plenty of opportunities to do so. But that won’t help your child navigate his world. If your daughter is sixteen, she’s had sixteen years of your instruction. Now it’s time to for her to put that teaching into practice. She doesn’t need more lectures about what is right and wrong. Your daughter knows. What she needs is guidance on applying what she knows into everyday situations. How do I present myself on social media? How do I handle money? What movies and music are worth watching or listening to? Those questions are answered by gentle conversations, not by more speeches and sermons.

Many times, we parents rant about all the problems in the world. Teens know what we’re against, rather than what we’re for. Instead of pointing out the wrongs, focus your time on what’s right. Let your teen hear you applaud acts of kindness, cheer for victories of truth, and highlight areas of good in our culture. It’s not all bad. There are many things that we can get behind in our world. Choose those things to talk about as well, and let your teen know that you are a champion for good and not simply an investigator of what’s bad.

It’s true that our world can seem like a battleground where cultural attacks are aimed at destroying our teens. But that’s why they need mom and dad to walk beside them and help them get through it safely. The world doesn’t need to win; not if mom and dad climb into the arena and fight alongside their teen.

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Would you Consider Bringing us to Your Church for a Seminar?

Written by Mark Gregston. Posted in Communications

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Dear Friend,

If someone would have told me years ago that I’d be writing books, I would have laughed hysterically. If another had told me that I’d be the host of a  national radio program, I would have called them nuts. And if another told me that I would one day accumulate over 5,000,000 miles on American Airlines crisscrossing the country doing seminars, I would have looked at them in disbelief.

No doubt, I’ve been quite surprised by how our work with parents and teens has blossomed. All I really ever wanted to do was to just work with struggling teens. And while I’ve never put together a master plan for my life, I’m convinced the Master had a plan…so I just get to tag along and see what happens.

One of those “things” that I get to do is seminars. I spend 20 weekends a year traveling to various churches across the U.S. and Canada leading a seminar called “Tough Guys & Drama Queens”; a seminar for parents, helping them prepare for and manage through their child’s adolescent years.

I’d like to come to your community. To do so means that someone has to sponsor us to come to your city, either a church or an individual. While I don’t get paid to lead the seminar, the Heartlight Foundation does ask for a fee for my time. That fee goes into a fund to produce more parenting resources.

Would you like to help put on a seminar in your community? It would mean finding funds to cover the fee and traveling expenses, and then helping us coordinate and market the event. Many times, churches have me come in to lead a seminar on a Friday night and Saturday morning, and just have me stay to speak in the Sunday morning services. Other times, I speak at a Sunday service, then lead a seminar on that Sunday afternoon. And then there are times that I come on a weeknight and we have “An Evening with Mark Gregston”; a two and a half hour parenting seminar. However folks want to host, we’re pretty flexible.

If this idea interest you, you can find out more by calling our fellow that coordinates these events. He can tell you all the details, fees, etc. His name is Sam Sheeley and he can be reached at our offices at 903.668.2173 or by email sam.sheeley@HeartlightMinistries.org.

Be creative. Get some churches to go together to make this happen. Have a special fall back to school seminar for parents.  Find a radio station that will help sponsor, or a local company.

This seminar will change the way parents approach their kids, and help them prepare for the oftentimes-turbulent adolescent years.

I hope to see you in your community.  Let us know if you’d like to help make this happen.

 

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Mark Gregston

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Creating Healthy Relationships at Home

Written by Mark Gregston. Posted in Communications, household rules, parenting style, respect

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We were created for relationships. That’s why we’re often the healthiest and happiest when we’re enjoying strong connections with others. On the flip side, we often struggle the most when our relationships are damaged or broken. That’s why I firmly believe that discipline problems in the home are actually connection problems. Disrespect, dishonesty, anger, and other negative actions and attitudes in teens are the result of anemic relationships. So if we invest in creating a healthy environment in our homes, where relationships can grow and blossom, many of the teen issues we struggle with will work themselves out.

So how do we foster nourishing relationships?

  1. By Laughing More

I love how Chuck Swindoll said it … “The most beautiful and beneficial therapy God ever granted humanity is laughter.” When was the last time you laughed with your kids? Some of us are sour, bitter, and stressed all of the time. And who wants to be around people like that? We need to lighten up! Let’s aim to be parents that are fun to be around. When teens spend time with us, they shouldn’t come away feeling angry, resentful, or bitter. Have fun with your kids. The families that laugh together usually stay together.

  1. By Spending Time

A sure fire way to develop a healthy relationship with your child is to spend quality time with him or her. It doesn’t have to take a lot of time or money.  But it should be consistent. Take your child out for breakfast, coffee, or lunch — and turn it into a weekly habit. Even if they resist, you insist. Pushing for time together tells your child, “You are worth spending time with.” The value of quality time with your child cannot be overstated. I’ve said this on the radio, I put it in my books and I mention it almost every time I speak, yet I think this may be the least heeded advice I have ever given. But spending quality time with your child works! Give it a try. Do things with your kids. You will be amazed at the strong relationship that will result over time.

  1. By Being Responsive

Healthy relationships are made when we respond, instead of react, to our teens. If most of our conversations with a child involve correcting, nagging, or criticizing, you can guarantee our teens will disengage. We don’t have to react to everything a teen says or does. It’s far better to simply respond. This will be hard when your son or daughter says:

  • I believe marijuana should be legal
  • I don’t think abortion is such a big deal
  • I hate church
  • I don’t like the people you hang around with

Our first response to these issues may be to snap at them and inform our teens why they are wrong. But before you go down that road, try saying, “That’s interesting. Why do you think that?” By responding with grace and understanding, you’re letting your kids process their thoughts and inviting them into a conversation, rather than subjecting them to a lecture.

  1. By Learning about Your Family

Many parents still carry a photo of their child as a baby in their purse or wallet. There’s likely a photo gallery of your youngster on the wall. These pictures remind us of the joy of bringing our son or daughter home, and who they once were before they turned into hormonal teenagers. And that’s a good thing! But don’t dwell solely on who your child was. Spend time getting to know who they are. Become a student of your child. Learn about her favorite band, his least favorite class, who she looks up too, what he cares about, what she wants to be. Relationships get stuck in neutral if all we know about a person is who they were ten years ago. Discover and appreciate who your teen is now, and your relationship with your child will flourish.

  1. By Playing Together

Play paintball, go ride horses, go fishing or hunting, go camping and gaze at the stars, or pull a stunt together. Get them up at midnight to watch a meteor shower. Live it up and enjoy life with your kids. If you are unable to participate in their favorite activities, then just be there to watch or help them in some way. The key is putting the two of you together on a regular basis.

Which of these tips will you implement into your relationship with your child this week? I recommend starting with number one. And even if you get nothing but grief from your teen at first, keep it up! Make time for them week after week. Eventually they’ll come around.

And remember that a healthy family doesn’t mean a perfect family. There will always be bumps in the road. But if you and your kids are connected, your family will be able to survive and thrive even when things get tough.

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