Helping Our Kids Spread Their Wings

Written by Mark Gregston.

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“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.

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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.

#1: DEMANDING PERFECTION

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.

#2: HAVING A JUDGMENTAL ATTITUDE

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.”

#3: THE NEED TO CONTROL

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.

#4: CONSTANT NEGATIVTY

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.

Intentionally Connecting Into a Disconnected Culture

Written by Mark Gregston.

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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.

SPEND TIME

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.

ASK QUESTIONS

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.

DO NOTHING

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.

A Special Message from Mark: Our Families in Crisis Conferences

Written by Mark Gregston.

For years, my focus was dedicated to helping families whose teens were spinning out of control at a time that my only resource was to send their child to come live with me at our residential counseling program called Heartlight.

As I started the radio programs, began writing books, and initiated all the resource opportunities for parents, I realized that we had a gaping hole in our offerings to parents. That “hole” was the lack of options for parents when their parenting challenges went far beyond what a book can offer, yet the testing of their abilities by their teen didn’t warrant sending their child to live at “a Heartlight”.

So, we created an option. A three day retreat where folks came to Texas and are able to spend time with me and our staff for three days of instruction, counsel, relationships to develop of a new parenting plan to take home and change the direction of their family.

It’s called the Families in Crisis Conference, and we hold them 8 times a year. The positive responses by families have been amazing. And we know this. That 95% of the families that attend, never have to send their child off to a program. It’s so successful that we now ask all the families who call Heartlight looking at the placement of their child into the program, to first consider coming to a Families in Crisis Conference.

These conferences are limited to 40 people. Single moms get to attend free. And its three days packed with opportunities to discuss family issues and meet with a counselor on our staff and come up with a new “plan”.

If you or someone you know is struggling through your child’s adolescent years and my books and radio programs aren’t providing the answers you are looking for (yes, even my books can’t meet everyone’s needs), this conference might be for you.

For more information about the Families In Crisis Conference, watch the video below, or visit the website. And to reserve your spot at our next conference, please call 903.668.2173. The conference is $250 a person, and does not include lodging. But, you will have the greatest steak you’ve ever eaten at my home for one of the night’s dinners.

It’s a relaxed relational time. And I look forward to spending it with you should you need help for your teen. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to call.

Hopeful,

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Mark Gregston

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Learn more about registering for the Families in Crisis Conference by clicking here.

 

God Hasn’t Abandoned Your Teen!

Written by Mark Gregston.

God at Work Here

Road construction can be frustrating. What was once a four-lane highway becomes a one-lane pit stop, as maintenance crews tear up the asphalt. With jack-hammers, dump trucks, back-hoes, cranes, and sometimes shovels and picks, groups of men in hardhats slash and hack and break apart the familiar and comfortable road you’re used to traveling on. While the construction is happening, you’re involuntarily resigned to idling in your car, seething.

But it’s not like this break in your commute came out of nowhere. For miles back, the road crews had placed a sequence of orange cones, gigantic markers, and bright flashing signs that declared “Men at Work!”

Mom and Dad, can I suggest that God puts up those same signs in the life of your teen? I know that sometimes we feel stuck watching our teenage son or daughter make mistakes, wander off the path, and cause delays and distractions that make coming and going incredibly difficult. All we can see is the chaos and destruction in our kid’s lives. And we may have missed all the signs reading “God at Work here!”

Demolition Can Bring About Transformation

Maybe your daughter came home high after an all-night party. Perhaps your eighteen-year-old calls you to come bail him out from the county jail. When our teens blow it badly, often as parents we focus on the devastation that bad decisions bring. But many times demolition brings transformation.  I know that this is true in my own life.  And I believe it can be true in yours. See, God cannot build something new into someone’s life without starting from the ground up. And this may mean He is going to allow some events that will bring us right down to our very foundation.

I had one student who, as a result of a party lifestyle and rebellion, got pregnant when she was sixteen.  Caught in her mistakes, she was forced to have a difficult conversation with her parents, and reevaluate her decisions.  With the support of her family, the young lady did the right thing; gave up her beautiful child for adoption, got serious counseling, and is now a growing and mature adult.  I asked her thoughts on that tough time in her life some years later, and she said, “Mark, getting pregnant was the best thing that could have happened to me.  It was a wake-up call, and for the first time in my life I had to deal with my mistakes and learn responsibility.  And giving up that baby was one of the hardest things I ever had to do.  So now I want my next baby to be the result of a happy marriage.

I could tell many more stories about former students who have written me letters and e-mails to say that their DUI was the best thing that happened to them, or that running away from home changed their lives.  It was not because these events were good things at the time, but looking back, they gained a new perspective about the struggles they faced, and how their choices shaped their futures.  Those trials and troubles gave them a reason to find help, and served as a reminder of the consequences of their actions.  What seemed devastating at the time, actually cleared the way for a new life.

Look for the Big Picture

Understand that what is happening in the life of your child right now is not the whole story.  God is forming a “bigger picture” which includes many more people than just you or your child.  And the scope of that picture goes far beyond the pain of the here and now. I know that it’s hard to look at the bigger perspective when you hurt for your child now.  But there’s a lot more going on than you can see from your current vantage point of concern for your child.  It doesn’t mean your struggle is any less difficult, but remembering the big picture can give you hope for the future.  Use this difficult time as an opportunity to deepen your relationship with your child, and you’ll shorten the amount of time that your child remains in a state of disarray. Galatians 6:9 encourages us “not [to] become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”

When we see our teen make a mistake, engage in reckless behavior, and start walking down a dangerous road, we normally panic and try desperately to “fix” our kid.  But that is just not possible. You can fix the boundaries, fix the consequences, and maybe even change the environment, but you’ll never fix your child.  Only God can change your child’s heart.  Instead, focus on what you can fix in your parenting, and get out of God’s way as He does what He needs to do in the life of your teen.

God’s plan for your child isn’t going to change just because you do not see it.  The best thing you can do is try to understand what He’s doing as he works in the life of your teen. That understanding comes through prayer; prayer to understand His will and prayers of submission accepting whatever God needs to do both in your life, and the life of your child. The older I get, the more I understand that prayer is meant to help us get in line with and understand God’s perfect will, versus trying to influence or change it.

Hopefully you can already see how God has worked in your own past, and maybe you have even seen glimpses of God’s plan for your future. But often, it’s most difficult to believe that God is involved in what is happening today.

So, pray.  And keep a daily diary; it will help you maintain perspective.  Look for ways that God is working in your teen’s life, and record those; being sure to thank Him as you see His hand at work. Trust God to finish the work He has begun in your teen. Depend on His promises to remain true.  God, the Creator, is fully capable of fashioning a new life and a new relationship between you and your child out of the wreckage we see.  He’ll amaze you, as he does me, as He creates abundant life and perfection out of dust and confusion.

Don’t Give Up Hope

I remember a particular father who brought his daughter into the residential program here at Heartlight.  His eyes filled with tears as he spoke to me about the struggles and the problems that his daughter was experiencing.  Frankly, it was one of the worst stories of a troubled teenager that I had heard in quite awhile.  My heart ached for this hurting father as he looked for a bit of encouragement.

Just tell me that there is hope in this,” he told me.

I remember distinctly looking him in the eye and saying with complete confidence, “There’s always hope.”  This wasn’t a worn-out cliché I was dragging out.  The reason I could tell this dad there is hope even in the mess he sees is based on the character of our Heavenly Father who promises to finish what He starts. God is not going to leave the job half-done. What God starts, He completes. And that includes your teen! “I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living,” says Psalm 27:13.

Even though they’re a lot older now, I can remember the first kids I counseled when I started this ministry.  There were times when I thought, These kids are hopeless! There’s absolutely no way they can turn it around!  But these same kids are now healthy, happy adults with strong marriages and good families.  The time that their parents, the Heartlight team, and most importantly, God, worked and invested into their lives brought about a healthy and improved future.  After countless examples, I’ve learned that though the outlook might seem bleak and hopeless, there is always hope, because God is still at work!

Forgiving Our Teens

Written by Mark Gregston.

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A friend of mine was walking back from the supermarket to his car, with arms full of groceries, when he noticed a gigantic dent on the passenger door of his car. It didn’t take an investigative reporter to see what had happened. Someone had parked too close to my friend’s sedan, and when they opened their driver’s door, WHAM! A massive cavity in an otherwise pristine vehicle. Worse, the careless driver had left no note on the windshield, no apology, and no insurance information. It was up to my friend to repair the damage himself.

Now, my buddy could have spent his time driving around town with a banged up car, mumbling under his breath about the “no-good so-and-so” who wrecked his ride. It would not be unreasonable to park his car a mile away from other cars so that it wouldn’t happen again. Or maybe he could just try to ignore the blemish and pretend it never happened. Instead, my friend invested the time and energy to fix the dent and then moved on.

Raising kids is no easy task. As parents, we are going to get dinged, scraped and dented along the way. Our kids will hurt us, intentionally or unintentionally, and the wounds can run deep. Maybe you are walking around with a banged up heart because of your son or daughter. There’s a big ‘ole dent in your life caused by your kids, and it stands as a constant reminder of how they disappointed you, hurt you, angered you. I know some parents who carry these types of wounds around with them for a long time. After a while, they can’t imagine life without the dents. To fix the issue would mean they would have to give up their right to be angry or upset. And so, moms and dads navigate their lives with banged up relationships and a chip on their shoulder.

But here’s the fix for broken relationships with your kids; personal forgiveness. And in order to offer forgiveness, you will have to give up a few things.

GIVE UP THE PAST

Forgiveness is giving up hope that the past will ever change. The mistakes made yesterday, last week, last month, last year are over and done with. We can brood and be upset about what our kids have done, but that will not change what happened. We can wish that our kids had not done what they did. We can regret the mistakes that were made. But pining for the past will not repair a broken relationship. In order to offer your son or daughter forgiveness, you need to give up hope that you can change what has already happened, and instead act now to change the future. Let go of the pain your child has caused you. Put the hurt behind you, and try to move forward.

I know this is difficult for parents. It’s why we begin many phrases with “You always ______”, or “Remember when you _____” or “You never _____” These are all references to the past, which supply no benefit to what is going on now and in the future. Forgiveness is only possible when we let go of what happened in the past and start working in the present towards the future.

GIVE UP CONTROL

Many parents have come up to me and said, “Mark, my teen has really hurt me, but refuses to say sorry. What do I do?” Remember that true forgiveness cannot be forced. Demanding apologies from our teens doesn’t engender repentance. Neither does guilting them into remorse. You do not have to wait for your teen to ask for forgiveness in order to forgive them. When you extend forgiveness regardless of your teen’s repentance, you are a living picture of grace. Grace is unmerited, undeserved, and unwarranted—but freely given. Romans 5:8 tells us that “While we were still sinners, Christ died us.” And as Jesus was hanging on the cross, He prayed, Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 22:34 NIV). God did not wait for us to get our act together, to come to Him on hands and knees in order to extend His grace to us. God made the first move. It’s this undeserved forgiveness from God that motivates and moves us towards repentance. So whether or not your teen ever asks for forgiveness, you can freely offer them grace. It not only frees you from the burden of carrying around your hurt all day, it might be just the thing that actually brings your child to repentance.

GIVE UP BITTERNESS

Forgiving people who do not deserve it is a challenge for me, just as it is for you. I carried a lot of anger and bitterness towards my father for many years. It was a like a collar around my neck. But I remember one night I had a dream where I died and went to heaven, and saw my dad standing next to God. I asked God point blank, “Why is HE here?” In my dream, the Lord said, “Mark I’ve used the difficulties this man caused you as instruments to transform you into the image of My Son.” I realized that all the resentment I was lugging around was keeping me from seeing what God was doing in my life, despite my father’s flaws.

Mom and Dad; could it be that God is using your difficult teen to mold and shape you into a stronger and more faithful person? Is it possible that those wounds from your child are teaching you how to be more like Jesus? You see, God can use even the terrible things in life for good. He can use the most painful events to bring about something beautiful. But when we stew in bitterness and refuse to forgive, we’re essentially blocking God’s work in our lives. I know it’s tough to forgive. But when you do, it opens you up to see how God is working in you and your child.

GIVE UP REVENGE

Forgiveness is not about forgetting what was done, ignoring the mistakes, or pretending it never happened. Simply put, forgiveness is releasing the offending party from their obligation to you. It is writing off the debt caused by their offense, and refusing to hold a grudge over it.

Yet at the same time, forgiveness does not equal reconciliation. If your teen’s behavior has driven a wedge between you, offering forgiveness does not magically make things better. You can forgive regardless of another person’s apology, but reconciliation requires both parties. When you forgive, you are doing your half. But the offending party must repent in order to complete the reconciliation process.

Additionally, forgiveness is not handing out a license to continue offensive behavior. If your teen is disrespectful, hurtful or mean, grace doesn’t say, “Keep doing what you’re doing.” Teens need to understand that such behavior cannot be allowed. When you forgive, you are releasing your teen from their obligation to you, but they still need to recognize that their behavior is inappropriate, otherwise they will continue to hurt people with their actions. Discipline may still be appropriate if they are not repentant. But discipline is about correcting behavior, not about revenge. Don’t punish your teen because she hurt you. Discipline her because you care about her and don’t want her to continue these destructive habits.

Lastly, forgiveness is more caught then taught. Maybe you’ve put a couple of dents in your parent’s lives, your teen’s life, or in someone else’s. Today, make the first move, call that person up, and ask for forgiveness, and let your teen see you doing it. It could inspire them to ask forgiveness from you. And if you are the one with the scratch in the paint or the dent in the door, it’s time to stop holding out—let go and offer forgiveness. Only this flow of offering and receiving grace can repair your broken relationships.

Peace in Parenting At-Risk Teens

Written by Mark Gregston.

Philippians 4-6-7

When your teen is spinning out of control it is frightening to think about the damage he may be doing to his future. But that’s just what we parents do…we worry about our child when we see the warning signs (grades dropping, hanging around with the wrong crowd, drug use, depression, defiance, sexual promiscuity). The unknown is always scary, but we cannot watch over our teenager every minute.

Are you dealing with a struggling teen in your home? Are emotions running high and hope running low? I’d like to offer you some advice to help you find peace in the midst of this struggle…

We can learn much from the philosophy of a man struggling with terminal cancer. Talk about a hopeless situation! He said, “I try not to stand too long on the mountain, and I don’t sit too long in the valley. I live one day at a time, and try to keep my attitude somewhere near the middle.”

He continued, “I really enjoy the mountaintop days, when the cancer or the chemotherapy don’t bother me too much. On bad days God gives me peace, and I learn dependence on Him I probably wouldn’t learn any other way. The days in between, I pray for strength, and my hope in Him keeps me going.”

Life can be nearly as traumatic for parents watching helplessly as their child spins out of control. There are good days and there are terrible days. They try this and they try that, and each time they think they’ve got it figured it out, their teen throws a curve ball and they sink to a new low.

I’ve found that those who are successful seek God’s peace in both the highs and the lows of life, as well as the muddle in the middle. They survive by keeping their faith strong and they spend more time on their knees. They let each day bring what it will, realizing that tomorrow may or may not look anything like today and that in most cases their teenager will eventually come around.

Do not worry about anything, instead, pray about everything.
Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.
If you do this, you will experience God’s peace, which is far more
wonderful than the human mind can understand.
–Philippians 4:6-7 (NLT)

Most parents describe the struggle with a teenager as a “roller-coaster” or a “powder keg” and for many it can either be a time of the family banding together, or it can tear them apart. With what is at stake, the most important thing you can do for your teenager is to keep your relationships strong and prevent the struggle from becoming the focus of your life.

You’ll have those “valley” days. Walk through the valley, and keep on walking, for as long as it takes. Do not stop to build monuments to your grief, anger, or fear. One thing that can help at the low times is to pull out old pictures and videos to remember the good old days when your teen didn’t treat you like dirt. It will give you better perspective and strength to keep fighting for what’s right for your teenager even though it may be a totally one-sided and unappreciated fight for his future.

And, celebrate the good days. They’ll likely be few and far between for a time, but that’s okay. Let them prop you up. Enjoy each victory. Laugh with your teen. Reflect on the good, and hope for a future filled with more days like it.

I’ve said a million times that consequences are the best tool a parent can use to teach maturity? I mention it because God, your heavenly parent, may be using this situation with your teenager to also teach you a thing or two. If so, take heed. Take a close look at your life to see if there is anything that needs changing. Most parents I deal with in our Heartlight residential program say that they, too, had to change before any real progress could be made with their teen.

The bottom line is that parents can do no good for their teenager if they are caught up in despair and are constantly on edge. Learn early from others who have gotten to the other side of this struggle and actually survived! Give the reins to God and He will give you peace, strength, and the right perspective to deal with your teenager. Look at what may need changing in your own life. And finally, no matter how they’ve hurt you and no matter what they’ve done, love your teen unconditionally, even as God also loves us.

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