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.

Fear-Based Parenting

Written by Mark Gregston.

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.

 

Countering Your Teen’s Peer Pressure

Written by Mark Gregston.

teenagers drinking in the park

Ever hear of a lemming? You know, the Animalia, Chordata, Mammalia, Redentia, Cricetidae, Arvicolinae, Lemmini scientific classification kind?   They don’t live in Texas, that’s for sure. But are found in the Artic. They, and our teens, have a little in common. Lemmings are rodent cousins of hamsters that spend their lives in the northern regions of the world. Now, we wouldn’t pay these small, furry creatures much attention, except for the fact that they display some bizarre behavior. Every few years, when the lemming population becomes too large (because, let’s be honest, lemmings multiply like rabbits!), they migrate in huge numbers in search of new sources of food. What’s interesting is that there is no lemming Moses figure leading this mass exodus. Instead, these overgrown hamsters move as a giant, panicky group.

This kind of mindless devotion to the behavior of the collective leads lemmings into precarious situations. If migrating lemmings reach a large body of water, like a lake or even an ocean, they will follow each other into the water and swim away from shore without considering the danger. Now, lemmings can swim, but not across a gigantic sea! Most either drown or get eaten by sea gulls, fish or seals. You would think that at some point, a lemming would stop and say, “Hey guys, anyone know where we going? Are we sure we can swim across the ocean?

Everyone experiences the “lemming years.” Back when I was teen, when dinosaurs still roamed the earth, I remember doing things that were stupid, dangerous or unwise simply because others were engaged in the same activity. I’m sure that you have your own stories of jumping off cliffs or swimming across oceans while following the crowd. This consistent pull to do what others are doing is what we call “peer pressure.” Just like you and I experienced its influence, your child will face, or is facing, this kind of pressure, as well.

But peer pressure looks different today than it did back then. The siren call of the lemmings on your teen is unlike our own cultural pressures. It’s stronger. It’s more appealing. And it’s more dangerous. That’s why moms and dads need to be equipped to counter the relentless peer pressure their teens are facing each and every day. So what are the likely forces your child is facing now?

Pressure to Be Politically Correct

I’m all for open, respectful and honest debates about the issues. But more and more teens today are feeling the burden to adhere to the specific language and values espoused by a PC culture. It shows up when teens tell you, “You can’t say that!” Or, “That’s YOUR truth. It’s not mine.” If we are raising our kids to live according to God’s authority, chances are they will bump heads with the culture at certain points. But we don’t pattern our lives after Scripture because it’s popular, but because it’s right. It’s true.

To counter the peer pressure to be politically correct, resolve to be graceful towards your teen and others. Show them that having unpopular opinions doesn’t mean you are unloving or a critical person, that tolerance is possible, even in disagreements about issues of religion or politics. To attack the sources of this peer pressure will only reinforce their appeal for your teen. Also, stand by your beliefs. Explain to your teen what you believe and why you believe it. In doing so, you’ll provide a model for swimming against the current of the culture, and weaken the draw of that persistent pressure to go with the flow.

Pressure to Be “Normal”

We were created to be social creatures; to be part of a larger community and to be connected relationally. Kids feel this need intensely during the teen years. It’s what drives a large part of their behavior. Teens desire to be accepted, valued and welcomed within their peer group. That means that if certain aspects of their personality or character stand out, they will try to change in order to fit in. It’s a pressure to appear “normal.”

If normal is defined as “imitating Christ,” then this peer pressure can be a good thing. But if “normal” is simply misbehaving, you need to guide your teen to a new peer group. Encourage them to go to a youth group, where the entire community is focused on pursuing Jesus. Have your teen join the music program at school, where they will get to go on trips, practice and form tight-knit relationships with other peers who have a singular goal in mind. Or push them to get involved with other extra-curricular activities, like the debate team, volleyball, or chess club, where they can work and enjoy the community of other kids with similar, worthwhile goals. Groups, teams, and organizations help to define “normal” in a positive way.

Pressure For Appearance

This is a big one for parents. In every generation it seems like the pants sag lower, and skirts are cut a little higher. Most parents dread clothes shopping with their teens because it means walking into World War III. The styles have changed, and teens feel pressure to be hip, cool and fashionable, which leaves parents with worried looks and splitting headaches.

Here’s my advice for countering this pressure for appearance; decide beforehand which hill you’re willing to die on. For our daughters, modesty is important. There will be certain clothing items that show too much skin and require a firm, “no.” But should you go to war over your daughters desire to dye her hair purple? Or your son’s droopy pants? Think back to some of the fads and fashions of our day. Most were hideous, but we grew out of them. And so will your teen. Set rules about modesty or profanity or permanent body modification, but allow the minor things to go unchallenged, knowing that the pressure to dress that way will soon pass.

Pressure to Be Sexually Active

You don’t have to look far to see that the promotion of sexual activity is all around us. In fact, not having sex is considered weird and abnormal. Your son or daughter will be asked in their teen years, “How far did you go?” or “Did you sleep with him?” or “Why haven’t you slept with her yet?” The pressure to experiment and engage in sexual behavior is a driving force in your teen’s world. And it’s happening at younger and younger ages.

To counteract this sensual push, teens need you to be open and honest. I know it’s difficult to have frank discussions about sex with your child. But you need to balance the misinformation they are receiving in their culture, with the wisdom and insight from your experience. In a sensual world, teens need parents to help them navigate and avoid shipwrecks.

Start by asking questions to get the conversation going. Say “would you ever do something that makes you uncomfortable to be with someone you like?” Or “What’s the biggest pressure you are facing right now?” Now, be prepared, because you might hear some answers that will shock you. But don’t overact. Establish a relationship with your teen that engenders a sense of trust and honesty. They need to know they can ask you any question or confess any mistake without fear. Then, look for opportunities to speak into their world. When a TV show celebrates a couple living together before marriage, take a moment to comment on why that’s not a good idea, and how it leads to more broken relationship. When songs laud one-night stands, share the shame and guilt that comes from such casual flings; the aspects we don’t hear about. If you don’t share healthy sexual boundaries with your teen, who will?

No one can escape peer pressure. It’s always been here, and will continue to push kids to jump off cliffs and swim oceans. But equipped with tools and knowledge, you can help your teen stand out from the crowd and resist those lemming leanings.

Could You Be the Prodigal?

Written by Mark Gregston.

Dreaming

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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