Helping Our Kids Spread Their Wings

Written by Mark Gregston.


“There are two lasting bequests we can give our children. One is roots. The other is wings.”

 ~ Hodding Carter, Jr.

When a kid hasn’t studied or prepared for a test, it’s pretty obvious.  One science teacher humorously recalls a student’s response to the essay question, “What is a vacuum?”  They wrote down, “Something my mom says I should use more often.”  A math teacher once asked her class how to convert “centimeters” into “meters,” and an unprepared student responded, “Take out centi-.

Fortunately, a failed science test every now and then probably won’t make or break our kid’s future.  But there’s another kind of test that every young adult will have to face, and it’s our job as parents to see that they succeed!  Eighty percent of your son or daughter’s life will be spent outside the home and away from you.  Are you training your child to handle the difficult questions, issues, and responsibilities that come with adulthood?

If you have a pre-teen or a full-blown teenager in your home, the main goal right now is equipping that young person to be independent.  This is more than teaching them how to handle the finances, cook a healthy meal, or drive responsibly.  Preparing them for life includes training them to be godly men and women of strong character.  It can be scary to watch our child spread their wings to fly, but it will make all the difference in their life.

Independence, But With Limits!

Before we give our kids every freedom imaginable, we need to think carefully about the limits.  Some parents have a tendency to go far, too fast.  This can happen when divorced moms and dads feel guilty and try to compensate by being lax in discipline.  Other parents want to be friends with their children, so they toss their parental role to the side, along with the rules.  But children raised without boundaries don’t usually become responsible and mature adults.  More often they become selfish, demanding, and controlling.

Proper boundaries are like lanes on the freeway.  They keep your child from veering off the road and running headlong into dangerous situations!  If you don’t provide appropriate limits, teens will feel unprepared for their new freedom and grow confused or frustrated.  But this doesn’t mean the boundaries have to be narrowly rigid.  Once your teen demonstrates that he or she can handle the first baby steps of freedom, expand his or her responsibilities.  Reward trustworthy behavior with increasing freedom.  You can be sure that teenagers will become impatient with the step-by-step process, but remind them that earning their wings takes time.

Teach Self-Control

Your teenager is often pulled in many different ways by many different forces—hormones, peers, and authority figures, to name a few.  In today’s culture, it’s tough being a teen!  In order to help kids mature into healthy, independent adults, parents need to teach them self-control.  Teenagers need practical instruction on resisting negative influences and embracing good decisions.  And like most disciplines, self-control is a learned trait.  It comes with trial and error, and a lot of preparation.  Here are some ways to begin the process:

  • Start by asking a lot of questions.  Ask your teen about the moral, cultural, or current issues of the day, and wait for their answer.  Questions like, “ what do you think would be the best thing to do in this situation? or, “what would you do if you were asked to have sex, steal or take drugs?”  or even statements like, “Tell me what you think about…” are great ways to stimulate clear thinking and wise decisions.  Allow your teen to come up with their own answer without injecting yours.  Let them realize the fullness of their response by hearing their words.  A teen’s reply may be immature, irresponsible, or just plain wrong, but their response will echo in their mind and start them on a path to exercising self-control.
  • As you give them more freedom, allow your teen to make their own choices in that area of liberty, whether good or bad.  For example, if you give your son or daughter gas money and they choose to spend that money on something other than fuel, then they will have to figure out another way to get around.  Don’t give in and provide more money to fill up the tank!  Let your teen walk, if necessary, in order to impress the importance self-restraint.  Believe me, once a licensed teenager has to walk instead of drive they’ll never make that same decision again!
  • Encourage your child in their good decisions.  Highlight their successes, not their failures.  Don’t say, “I told you so,” when they make a mistake.  That simply clips their wings.  Instead, patiently allow them the opportunity to make the right choice.  When you see your child respond with maturity and responsibility, congratulate them right then and there.  Instant feedback is always best.  Let them know you’re proud of them and that you’re going to give them even more freedom in the future.
  • Offer your teen specific examples of good decisions you have made.  While it’s possible your teenager will make a crack about your life in the dark ages, revealing the decisions you made in complex situations provides a solid role model.  When they find themselves in the same situation that you once faced, they will have a framework from which to work and a concrete illustration for decision-making.  Develop a portfolio of good decisions you and other people your teen admires have made, and randomly inject them into conversations (not to make a point when the teen does something wrong).  It’s a great way to put a spotlight on the benefits of self- control.

Someday soon your teen will face a very important test.  My advice for parents is to begin preparing your children right now to embrace their independence and face the world equipped with all the tools they need.  Give them the opportunity to practice maturity, and don’t bail them out or condemn them if they fail.  When we provide our teenagers with increasing levels of independence, coupled with proper limits and parental guidance, it’s likely we’ll have the thrilling opportunity to watch them spread their wings and fly!

Parent – Teen Relationship Destroyers

Written by Mark Gregston.

parent teen

I have never had a mom tell me, “I want my daughter to be perfect,” or had a dad say, “I want to have absolute authority over my son.”  Certainly, no parents have ever announced, “We want to be judgmental.” But I have heard hundreds of girls say, “My mom wants me to be perfect,” and hundreds of young men have said to me, “My dad rules our home with an iron fist.”  And, thousands of teens have told me, “My parents are the most judgmental people I know.”

As parents, we want a strong relational bond with our teens. But sometimes, despite our good intentions, we can be doing the very things that destroy these relationships. So what are the primary culprits that break our connection with our kids? Here are the four “most wanted” relationship destroyers.


At a recent parenting seminar, I asked each mom and dad to pull out their cell phone and text this question to their teen, “Do you think I expect you to be perfect?” After about five minutes, every phone in the auditorium started beeping with replies. About 95% of the teens said they did believe their parents wanted them to be perfect.

As parents, we want great things for our kids. That’s why we try so hard to push them towards excellence. But there’s a line between encouraging excellence and creating unreasonable expectations. When we place unattainable standards before our kids, we always risk raising expectations so high that our kids just give up. Your teenager might show that he has given up in a few different ways. Some kids will begin to rebel to prove they are in control of their own lives. Others will become hyper-aware of the high standards and turn to drastic measures in order to achieve them (like the ballerina who becomes anorexic to increase her chances of being cast in the leading role). We need to balance between wanting the best for our teens, and setting up expectations that are impossible to reach.

We know that perfect people don’t exist. But if you have never shared your personal flaws with your kids, they haven’t had an opportunity to see what it’s like to live with imperfection. Instead, they think that faultlessness is normal. The first time they sprout a pimple they’re ready to freak out! By admitting your flaws, you give your kid permission to make mistakes and be imperfect, and you allow your teen to connect with you in a deeper way. Plus, as your kids see your own successes and failures, they’ll understand that it’s possible to have a good life even when they’ve messed up and fallen short.


This relationship destroyer is sneaky. I’ve witnessed parents using voice inflection, body language, and even Bible verses to make a valid point to their son or daughter—but the child only hears a harsh judgment being given. When you take a stand on issues like marijuana, homosexuality, religion, or even movies, your child may interpret your words as unfair criticism. Now, it might sound like your teen is putting words in your mouth. I mean, you’re not a judgmental person, right?

But let me ask you; have you rolled your eyes when your daughter came out wearing certain outfits? Do you use Scripture as a way to enforce rules and requirements in the house? Have you withheld hugs or signs of affection when your son disappointed you? We’ve all been there at one time or another. The problem is, these actions can be seen as coming from a judgmental spirit, and teens pick up on that quickly. It’s okay to voice your concern or disappointment, but be careful that you don’t belittle your kids or look down on their friends when you do so. Display grace in your actions and attitudes. And take time to listen to your son or daughter with a caring heart. You don’t have to offer your opinion to every conversation. But if your teen does ask you to speak into a topic, preface your thoughts with, “I don’t want you to think I’m being judgmental, but these are my feelings.”


As parents, we want to protect our kids. It’s part of the job description. But our desire to protect can morph into an unconscious habit of control. And that habit crushes relationships!

Do you want to control your son when he’s twenty? Of course not! How about eighteen? I would guess “no.” So what about when he’s fifteen? You can see where I’m going. When do you start to let go of those reins? If you don’t want to be controlling your children when they’re adults, the teenage years are the best training grounds for slowly and carefully making that handoff. When teens feel like mom and dad control every aspect of their life, that’s when they start to act out.  Rebellion is an effort to take back decision-making power, even if the resulting decisions are very poor ones. There was a sweet girl who was staying with us at our Heartlight campus and she was fond of piercings, but her parents were not. For this teen, piercing her body was a way to take control back from her parents who (with good intentions) maintained tight control over her life. Once the parents started to let their daughter make more decisions on her own, guess what? Somehow, those piercings started to disappear.

If you’re still trying to train your teens for life by controlling their lives, now is the time to make the transition and get rid of this relationship destroyer.


Try this little exercise this week—start counting the times you say, “You need to…” What you should’ve done…” (or phrases like these) to your teen.  You may be surprised how many times those types of comments come out of your mouth. A foolproof method to get your kid to shut down is to speak more negative than positive words into their lives. If you spend more time criticizing than encouraging, judging than training, condemning than approving, you’re slowly eating away at a relationship with your child. Be intentional about finding positive behaviors, actions, and attitudes for which you can praise your child.

No one wants to spend time with people who are consistently negative, let alone listen to what they have to say. Don’t get me wrong—kids need constructive guidance. But they also need consistent love and support. Stress the positive about your child, and watch your relationship grow.

I realize that these words are tough to take. It’s not easy to hear that something we may be doing as parents is destroying our relationship with our kids. We can all readily admit that we don’t have parenting down perfectly. We can always work a little harder to grow as moms and dads. To build great relationships with our kids, we have to be willing to evaluate our attitudes and actions, and continue building strong and healthy ties with our teens.

Marriage Turmoil Affects Your Teen

Written by Mark Gregston.

Wedding rings on old wood

Marriage is sometimes hard. Anyone who says differently either hasn’t been married, or is selling you something. It doesn’t take long before the shiny dreams of wedded bliss start to fade away, and the reality of married life begins to settle in: Two people from very different families are now merging their diverse backgrounds and histories into one, and conflict is a very normal and healthy part of this process. Like anything worth building, a strong, enjoyable marriage takes hard work. What I want to remind parents of today is that marriage turmoil doesn’t stay contained between mom and dad. Each member of a family is connected to every other member. That means your conflict with your spouse almost always spills over into the relationship with your teen. Now, I don’t say this to lay a guilt trip on parents who are struggling in their marriage. Nor is this article designed to settle spousal disagreements. But some of the problems your teen is facing now could be the byproduct of the tension, anxiety and worry he feels as mom and dad work on their own relationship. I’d like to show you how to handle marriage conflict well, so that in turn, your teen will learn how to handle turmoil in a healthy way.

Emotional Isolation

When mom and dad start to drift apart, the family as a whole starts to fragment. As relationships in the house continue to shift and separate, pretty soon everyone becomes their own private island. It’s like having disconnected strangers living under one roof. No one is working as a team. No one is manning the walls and looking out for the family, and so feelings, events, and important moments begin to slip through the cracks.

I asked one young girl in our counseling program how she was doing. It was a simple question and I expected a simple “doing okay” answer. Instead, the young lady proceeded to tell me everything about herself; everything she ever did, everything she ever accomplished, everywhere she had ever traveled and every talent she had. She reported how she could play the guitar, the cello, the violin, the piano, the harp, the drums, the trumpet, the bass guitar, the flute, the clarinet, and the tuba. She talked about how she is a swimmer, a gymnast, a dancer, an equestrian, a pianist, and a volleyball queen. She told me what she wanted to be, and what she did not want to be. She told me all her hopes and dreams, and all her disappointments and failures in one breathless dissertation. She wanted me to know she is worth something and she pled her case based on her accomplishments. When she took a breath, I finally got a chance to wedge in a better question that might open a real dialogue. Her demeanor completely changed when I asked, “What’s the most difficult thing that has happened in your life?” Her chattering stopped, her eyes welled up with tears, and she replied, “When my dad left, I felt all alone.”

Suddenly, there was silence. I stood looking at her for a few seconds and instead of trying to come up with the right words to say, I just gave her a hug. Finally, a real connection was made.

Don’t allow emotional isolation to leave your teen feeling all alone.

Physical Isolation

Divorce or separation can definitely lead teens to feel physically isolated. But this can happen when parents are together, as well. Sometimes it takes the form of dad spending nights and weekends at the office, and away from the family. Or maybe it looks like mom devoting her free moments to various boards, committees and volunteer work, and never being home. We know the devastation divorce can bring on kids. But being married and always apart can do similar damage.

Just like kids who feel emotionally isolated, kids who feel physically isolated from mom and dad will look elsewhere to fill the void in their lives. They may choose to spend little or no time at home. They’ll be prone to seek a sense of “family” elsewhere, usually with a peer group where it is easy to find acceptance and form attachments. Or your teen may try to imitate mom and dad by throwing themselves into school, sports, video games, friends, or social media in order to experience the feelings only quality time with parents can offer.

Putting It In Perspective

Now let’s look at some positive ways we can help and protect our teens even if our marriage is stormy.

First, understand that your child is affected by your relationship with your spouse. Even fights behind closed doors aren’t hidden from kids. They can feel the tension and sense the conflict. If you and your spouse aren’t working together and your marriage isn’t strong, your teen will know it—and may try to use it against you. I’ve had parents say to me, “We just can’t see eye to eye.” My reply is, “Then get counseling and fix it.” Don’t let pride keep you from doing what your kid—and your marriage—needs. You can’t get your marriage, or your family, where you want it to go without guidance and direction from others, and if you don’t stop and ask for help, chances are you’ll end up somewhere you never wanted to be. No one sets out to create a broken family, but without getting counsel and advice from others, you’re likely to create one anyways. Even Jan and I had to get counseling for a period of time, and it helped a lot.

If your teen sees his parents working through their problems with a counselor, it will give him hope that his situation can be resolved as well. Don’t be afraid to share some of those struggles with him in the context of working toward a solution. Saying “We’re going to remain strong even when don’t agree” gives the child license to feel loved and accepted even in the midst of family conflict.

Second, you’re not in the seventh-grade anymore, so don’t blame your spouse in front of the kids. Your teen doesn’t need to hear why his mom can be hard to live with, or why her dad is inconsiderate. If you need someone to talk to about the problems in your marriage, find a pastor, counselor or friend. Do not air your dirty laundry in front of your child.

Remember, spending time with your teen confers on them a sense of value that no one else can give. Even in the midst of working on your marriage, make sure to spend regular time with your teen. If you have the freedom to do it, take them to lunch, grab a snack after school, attend all games or school events, and communicate online. Send regular text messages to say “Hi,” or, “I love you.”   Make sure your teen knows your desire to be involved in his or her life, or they’ll seek validation from someone else, and that can lead to bigger problems than you ever want to have with your teen.

Lastly, Mom and Dad need to protect their marriage above all else. In fact, it is more important than just about anything parents can do to help their kids. Parents who have kids approaching the teen years would be wise to prepare ahead of time by ensuring that they are on the same page, and that the foundations of their marriage are strong.  Start taking steps today to guard your marriage from the problems that can arise during the teen years. And for parents who are experiencing difficulties with a teen right now, turn your attention toward your marriage first, to begin the healing process for the whole family, including your teen.

I have grown to think highly of couples who, knowing that they’re headed for a split, stay together until their teen graduates from high school or college.  Many will argue against this statement, but you will never convince me that a child is better off with parents living in separate homes, and this is especially true with teenagers.  Mom and dad may feel as if they are better off splitting up, but that’s not always the case when adolescent children are involved. Teenage sons need their moms. Teenage daughters need their dads. Sons need their dads. Daughters need their moms.

Divorce is a harsh reality of our culture.  While it is not my place to condemn a divorced person for being so, I encourage anyone considering divorce to think long and hard about the long-term consequences before engaging in the process — especially if their kids are in their adolescent years.  If you can’t avoid a split-up, or if you’re already divorced, then it’s good to practice “damage control” in the life of your teen. They still need a sense of security. They need to know they are loved, and that you enjoy spending quality time with them. They need to know that your divorce is not their fault, and that it’s ok for them to love both parents equally.

No marriage is perfect. But the struggles between a husband and wife don’t have to spill over into the lives our teens. Once we realize how interconnected our family relationships are, we can take steps to assure our teens that they are loved, accepted, and valued. Remember – by working on your marriage, you’re also building up your teens.


Intentionally Connecting Into a Disconnected Culture

Written by Mark Gregston.


We live in a disconnected world. I realize that a statement like this may sound unbelievable in our era of technological know-how. After all, with Instagram, iPads, smart phones, texting, Twitter, e-mail, websites, blogs, and Skype, communication seems to have moved into a whole new realm of possibilities! Facebook users upload 250 million pictures each day. YouTube boasts more than 80 billion videos on their site. On average, over 6.1 trillion texts are sent each year. We have a myriad of ways to talk and share life with other people, and we can be in constant contact with anyone, anywhere, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week! That’s a whole lot of connecting!

You would think that with all these avenues to talk and engage we’d have strong communication skills and the ability to develop deep, personal relationships.  But sadly, it’s the exact opposite.  In her latest book, The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age, clinical psychologist Catherine Steiner-Adair writes,

The tech effect has transformed every facet of our lives—from work to home to vacation time away—emerging, dot by dot, to reveal a new and unsettling family picture. While parents and children are enjoying swift and constant access to everything and everyone on the Internet, they are simultaneously struggling to maintain a meaningful personal connection with each other in their own homes.

To illustrate her point, Catherine interviews one stressed-out mom trying to manage in the new digital age.         

“When you have very busy lives, your relationships become completely utilitarian and nagging,” says Helene, reflecting on life with her husband and two teenage children. She rattles off the to-do list of deadlines and scheduling that dominates their conversations: homework, camp application deadlines, games, sports, concerts, practice, the family social calendar. “It’s like we’re this little business, and we just interact, so if you want to have any kind of connection otherwise, you send the YouTube video, send the text … we never talk directly, we never look each other in the eye anymore.”

Obviously, no parents want to see their family “interacting,” without connecting. But in a fast-paced, digital age, meaningful connections are difficult to create; they do not simply “happen.” We must be intentional and commit to fostering deep relationships. We must be proactive, rather than passive, in our attempts to create and develop bonds with members of our family.


More teens today are struggling with anxiety, stress, and self-image problems than ever before.  I believe some of the main culprits in this surge are the shallow social media interactions that are passed off as meaningful connections. Human life was created to flourish in the context of deep relationships. Kids are drawn to Facebook, and Twitter, Instagram, text messaging, and all the rest because they are craving for connection. This is a good craving! There is God-given value in connecting with other people. But social media is a poor substitute for truly satisfying connections. It’s like binging on junk food; the more you eat, the hungrier you become!

I encourage Mom and Dad to intentionally carve out space on the calendar to spend time with each child. By planning moments those special moments, you are letting your son and daughter know, “You are worth my time. I want to be with you. I desire a meaningful relationship with you.” In the family economy, time equals value. Your teens may roll their eyes and call it lame, but they’ll also benefit from the time you spend with them and enjoy it more than they are likely to admit.  Put a weekly date on the calendar to go get coffee with your daughter, watch a movie with your son, or sit outside in the backyard and sip ice tea with them. You don’t have to spend money, just time.

I’ve found that the best way to build better connections with your teen is to find an activity you can participate in together. Conversation seems to flow naturally when you’re having fun together.  This is especially true for boys, who seem to process life better when their hands are busy.

Our Heartlight counselors sometimes shoot pool, go for a walk, or play video games with kids during their counseling sessions, and that is often when the kids really open up. The application for your home is plain enough. If hunting is your child’s interest, go hunting. If riding horses is considered fun, then go horseback riding together. You may not learn how to skateboard, but you can build a ramp and run the video camera while your child does his or her thing. The point is, if you participate in an activity with your teens that they really enjoy, you’ll find more opportunities to communicate with them.


One of the most powerful tools in a parent’s toolbox is a good question.  With the right question, you can gain entrance into your kids’ world and have a greater opportunity to speak into their lives.  It’s the same way with adults.  When someone asks our opinion, we feel valued.  When someone shows interest in our passions and interests, we feel appreciated.  Our favorite subject is often ourselves!  Ask even a reserved teenager a good question, and you’ll probably find yourself waist deep in a stream of conversation.  

So what counts as a good question?  You can go ahead and forget about queries like “How was your day?” or “What were you thinking?”  If a question can be answered in a single word, then it won’t build a very strong connection.  And if your question is laced with sarcasm, judgment or meant to embarrass, chances are your teen won’t even acknowledge it.  Good questions convey a sense of value.  They are a way to move toward your teen by asking what they think and how they feel, and giving them the freedom answer honestly.

Some examples of good questions include:

  • What would be one thing I could do for you to make your life better?
  • We’re all known for something.  What would you like to be known for?
  • Do you think the music (or movies, TV shows) you watch or listen to influences you, or is just an expression of what you feel, or what you’re in the mood for?
  • What would make school better for you?
  • What’s a lesson about life you’ve learned this week?
  • When you hear someone talk about a “real man” who comes to mind?
  • If you could change one thing about your appearance, what would you choose?


When was the last time your teenage son or daughter asked your opinion? Does your child listen to you and discuss life’s significant issues and difficulties?  In other words, do you have meaningful, two-way dialogues, or does most of your communication tend to be one way? Good communication, initiated by good questions, is essential to establishing a healthy and loving connection with your teen.


Don’t misunderstand this point; this is not a promotion for complacency in connecting. What I am recommending is a “Do Nothing” night. It’s one night a week, or a month, where there are no cell phones, no laptops, no homework, no chores, and no television. As a family you “do nothing” together! Of course, spice it up by cooking a great meal that your teen will love. Then start a fire, play a game, talk about the day and share a meal together.  Don’t run to the extreme and ban technology or social media every night of the week. This is just an occasional event where you remind the family that deep connections are not formed by typing on a screen. Make this night something that the whole family can enjoy, and by all means, don’t announce that talking and connecting is the evening’s agenda. Just leave the space open and available and see what happens next.

Look, I own a smart phone.  I text, I email, and I use Facebook.  Living in the digital age has its share of advantages.  We don’t need to light a bonfire and start throwing our technology into the flames.  The danger arises when our kids (or ourselves for that matter) become so immersed in the blinking lights and bleeping sounds of our devices that we neglect to spend time conversing with people face-to-face. I’ve discovered a simple formula: more screen time and less people time equals stunted growth both for us and for our teens.  It’s really that simple.  In our disconnected culture, we have to be intentional about connecting with our kids. We need to show them how to interact and communicate with the world around them in a way that provides them with a sense of value, community and acceptance.  By providing genuine connections for your children, you are giving them a precious gift they will carry with them for the rest of their lives.

Learning to Shift Your Parenting Style

Written by Mark Gregston.


Father giving daughter key to  car

Do you allow your teenager to make mistakes? Or do you protect him from that? Think about it — if you hadn’t learned from your own mistakes, how would you know what it means to make one? And if you prevent your teen from making mistakes, how else will he grow into maturity? By lecturing him? By rescuing him every time? Based on what I’ve learned from 30 years of working with troubled teens, that mode of parenting simply isn’t helpful to children in their teenage years.

As Children Enter Adolescence, Parents Need to Shift Gears — from Lecturing and Protecting to Mentoring and Coaching.

Perhaps you recall the Biosphere II experiment 20 or so years ago? Several scientists were sealed in a huge glass bio-dome in the Arizona desert to see if life could be sustained in a similar facility in outer space. There was one unexpected result from that experiment. As trees were grown in this seemingly “perfect” environment, with sun and water and good soil, they all eventually died. You see, as trees normally grow in nature, winds continuously bend them back and forth, making microscopic tears in their bark. The tree responds by filling the tiny breaks with protective sap that hardens and forms a sturdy outer core, making the tree trunk strong enough to stand upright. So, without the buffeting of wind in the protected dome of Biosphere II, the trees there simply flopped over and broke after reaching a certain height.

I hope the analogy to parenting is obvious. Are you overly protective of a teenager in your own “dome”? Can you see how that could become detrimental, or at the very least not be very helpful to them, when in a few short years they will take on life all on their own?

After years of being in protector mode, we need to get out of the way and allow our children to gradually bend in the winds of life a little more. Through that gentle buffeting they’ll gain strength and wisdom to stand upright and flourish in their later years. Without it, they will simply fall over at some point.

The shift also encompasses moving from telling and providing to listening and guiding. In other words, avoid fixing everything for the little darlings but be there for them to cry on your shoulder when they make a mistake. Encourage them to make as many of their own decisions as possible, as long as they aren’t life threatening.

The teenager may not get it quite right at first but eventually, through natural consequences, they will learn to make better decisions. Begin early, and keep working at it. This is an ongoing process, and one you should consider a critical stepping-stone to maturity.

Parents of teenagers who really understand the “shifting gears” principle become really good coaches and listeners. They allow their children to learn from small mistakes along life’s road to prepare them to handle bigger decisions later on. They remain in the game, enforcing the boundaries without wavering, but they avoid anger when boundaries are broken. They allow consequences to speak for themselves, for it is through consequences that we all learn. And they express true empathy and inspirational support during their teen’s struggles, even when they make really stupid mistakes.

If you have a teenager in your home, perhaps it is time to shift your style of parenting. While it is hard to step back and watch as inevitable mistakes are made, it is essential for parents to allow the buffeting winds of life to blow. And give your teen some credit. You’ll be surprised how quickly he or she will mature once the training wheels are taken off and it is up to them to either steer straight, or crash. Like the beam on a child’s face after his first unassisted bike ride, your teen will grow in confidence and self-esteem with each new decision he makes.

Give it a shot. Stop teaching and start training. You’ve done a great job giving your child input throughout the years. Now, start helping your daughter apply those truths to her life. That usually doesn’t happen in one conversation; it happens with many conversations. And start the process of helping your son become independent and take control of his life. It’s what HE wants. And you know it what YOU want. There’s a difference between teaching and training. Which one are you spending most of your time doing with your teen?

My Third No-Mom Mother’s Day

Written by Mark Gregston.


This will be my third Mother’s Day without needing to purchase a gift for my mom.  Mom passed three years ago after the deteriorating health of her frail body finally gave up and said it was time for her to “call it quits and head home.” So, my gift to her this Mother’s Day is to acknowledge her influence on me, and hopefully help other moms recognize the inspiration each mom provides their brood.

Moms, even though you might not think you’re having an impact on your child, know that you are because God is using you when you don’t even know it.

Several times over the last few months, I’ve thought about when I sat quietly next to Mom’s hospital bed and watched her sleep to the rhythmic and melodic beat of a heart monitor, waiting for an occasional one sentence dialogue.   Knowing that she was slowly drifting from us, my memory would recall particular photographs and memories of specific events or thoughts that brought to mind the specialness of this kind woman who I got to call “Mom.”

Since her death I still process through the “should haves”, “could haves”, “wish I would haves” and lamented over things I would have done different, and different things I wish we would have done while there was still time to do it. I still think through the hundreds and hundreds messages from people expressing their condolences through sympathy cards, texts, and e-mails.  Most expressed a gratitude for the impact that my mom had on me; seen by others, but never really ever appreciated (and perhaps acknowledged) by her mustached son. Until now.

I came to this conclusion. My mom’s character influenced me two ways; through her presence, and through her listening ear. Because of those two things, her character and life of service spoke volumes into my life, even though I really never thought about it while she was alive.

As I reflected on the 57 years I knew her, I realized that she was present at some pretty significant points in my life. She was there when I was born in Midland, Texas (a given). She was at there at the Beach Boys concert in Tulsa where I committed my life to Christ. She drove my then girlfriend Jan, and I to our first date the summer of my 9th grade year; a Led Zeppelin concert no less! She came to my high school swim meets, my graduations, and our wedding. She was the first one I told when found out that Jan and I were pregnant with, and became a first-time grandma with our daughter, Melissa. She was at each of our kid’s weddings.

She showed up at significant times.

Here’s the second thing she always did. She listened. Whenever I talked, she listened. Probably got tired of hearing me ramble, but she always listened.

Showing up and listening. Two things that my mom did well. And by doing those two things, she indeed had a profound influence on me. Her life of service was truly more “caught than taught”.

Mom was a volunteer for various organizations most of her life; Red Cross, hospital auxiliary, Girls Scouts, homeless shelters, thrift stores for the needy, and Boy Scouts. All volunteer; all a giving of herself to others.

Surprisingly I’ve lived my life the same way.   I’m amazed that a mother’s “showing up and listening”, coupled with God’s faithfulness to mold and shape lives into vessels of His peace, works so well together.

I also realized some other things about my mom. I never heard her quote Scripture. I never heard her get up at church and speak. I never heard a Bible story come from her lips. I never saw her reading her Bible; never saw her pray. And she still had an amazing impact on my life.

She gave her life to people and was married to my dad for 62 years. Two pretty good lessons that are better “caught” than “taught.”

So, this Mother’s Day, I want you moms to sit back, relax, quit being so critical of yourself, and know that regardless of what you have done or haven’t done in the life of your child, God is still going to use you to influence the life of your child. Your child is “catching” more than you know. And one day, your child will be thankful for a mom’s role in his or her life, just like I am today.

Happy Mother’s Day to all you mothers who are being used by God in ways that you don’t even know, to influence the life of your kids. God bless you all!



(My mom’s last words to me? She woke up from a deep sleep, smiled and looked me in the eyes and said “Mark, your mustache is so white”. It was her way of making sure a smile would come to my face every time I think of our last time together.)

I Can’t Fix Your Teen!

Written by Mark Gregston.


Have you seen the marketing from publishers promising parents of troubled teens that they have something that will fix their kid?

You know – the commercials that say things can be miraculously transformed, or nearly perfect? A quick fix by the end of the week? Try mood therapy – it can fix it an angry teen. Try addiction therapy, because it can fix an addict. Buy nutrition therapy, it will fix a brain, and start playing Sudoku, because it will fix your memory, and then life will be perfect!

Expert as I might be in dealing with troubled teens, you will never, ever, hear me promise that I can fix your kid. You will never hear me promise that treatment of any kind is the way to fix another human being, or that life will ever be nearly perfect.   The truth is, I can’t fix your kid, and as a parent, neither can you. Living to fix a child will cause you to miss their heart with every time you try.

Just to be clear, I’m not knocking therapy, or therapists. I’m not dissing good nutrition, or taking medication if you need it, or playing Sudoku if it helps. These are effective ways to treat symptoms. That’s not the point I’m making. Instead I’m addressing the mindset that as sinful, messed up people, we can apply a simple fix-it mentality to human beings. Frankly, I think it’s stupid to even consider it. And, I just don’t see our attempts to fix a human being or live perfectly as a principle found in scripture either.

Let me give you some examples: Despite all he tried to do for him, Abraham couldn’t fix Lot. Despite all God promised her, Sarah couldn’t fix Hagar. In every attempt to sooth and befriend him, the effect was temporary, and David couldn’t fix Saul.  Perhaps the greatest example is God himself. Look at what he did for Adam and Eve in giving them the perfect life, perfect marriage, perfect environment, and perfect relationship with him, and it still didn’t fix things for them. And even though they had perfection, they still chose to rebel.

Scripture teaches that man is fearfully and wonderfully made, and that human beings are created in the image and likeness of God. Those are truths packed with layer upon layer of meaning – and not the least of which is that God made man with some of his own qualities. Like God, human beings have free will, creative energy, and the power of choice. But we are not perfect.   We are saints because we are sinners, redeemed by a Savior.

So when a teen exercises his humanity, and the power to choose the wrong thing, you cannot fix it. As much as you’d like to, parents cannot make a teen’s choices for him. A dad cannot choose for his daughter when it comes to whether or not to have sex with a boy. A mom cannot choose for her son about whether or not to view porn. Parents cannot choose for their teen never to drink, or smoke, or try drugs. Does that mean parents are powerless, and shouldn’t try? Of course not!

God imbued parents with the authority to train a child in the way he should go, so that when he is old he will not depart from the goodness of life with God. But when a parent’s plans for their child go awry, when a child steps over every boundary line drawn, and when every attempt to fix a kid doesn’t work – change your mind. Realize – you cannot fix them.   I teach parents to set boundaries, create rules, and enforce the consequences. Doing so will teach a teen in making better choices. But when they blow it completely, and have damage in their life, fixing it becomes less important than redeeming it.

You can’t fix it, but you can be part of redeeming it. Just as God put a plan in place to redeem mankind through sending us a Savior, parents can be part of a redemptive process, and put a plan in place that allows for redemption in the life of their troubled teen.

Redeeming looks, acts, and thinks differently than fixing. Redemption means coming alongside, and carrying the burden together in a new way. Redemption puts anger aside, and speaks with gentleness and humility. Redemption looks at the heart with compassion. Redemption understands that there are always consequences to bad choices – always. But it doesn’t mean all is lost.

Since perfection is not possible in anyone’s life, failure is guaranteed for everyone, and we all make choices whose outcomes cannot be changed, isn’t it better to live as though the goal in parenting is redemption, instead of perfection?

Parenting Today's Teens is produced and sponsored by the Heartlight Ministries Foundation. You can visit our family of websites below.