Preventing Damaging Parental Habits

Written by Mark Gregston.

Preventing Damaging Parental HabitsI have never heard a mom publicly announce, “I want my daughter to be perfect,” and I have never heard a dad audibly declare, “I want to force my authority on my son.”  And, I’ve never heard parents say, “We want to be judgmental parents.” For I’ve heard hundreds of daughters say, “My mom wants me to be perfect.”  And I’ve heard an equal number of sons say, “My dad rules our home with an iron fist.”  And I’ve heard thousands of kids say, “My parents are the most judgmental people I know.”  Somewhere between our intent and our execution, those can be the very desires we communicate to our kids.

Dousing the Flame: Dealing with Teenager Anger

Written by Mark Gregston.

Dousing the Flame: Dealing with Teenager AngerFor Lucas, it started in high school.  “I guess I have a face and personality that invites bullies,” he told me.  Kids in class would ridicule Lucas’ clothes, mock his behavior, laugh at where he came from, and deride him constantly.  But in teen culture, you can’t show weakness.  Teens know that if you let on to bullies that they’re affecting you, you’re giving them an open invitation to continue the abuse.  So Lucas put on his impervious face each day, and endured the barrage of mistreatment at school.  But that kind of ill-treatment wears you down.  “When I would finally come home,” explained this young man, “the littlest thing would set me off.  I mean, my mom would ask me to take out the trash and I could feel the anger building.  At first I wouldn’t talk, but that made my mom mad, so eventually all this anger would just, kinda, explode.  I would yell, throw things, break things.  My mom didn’t know what to do.

Letting Consequences Teach Maturity

Written by Mark Gregston.

Facing Consequences“Everybody, sooner or later, sits down to a banquet of consequences.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

What’s that famous line parents, coaches, and teachers use ad naseum?  Practice makes perfect.  Though it borders on the cliché, the saying holds water.  When we hear a child practice an instrument for the first time, the sounds are anything but pleasant.  The notes screech out, and we’re tempted to cover our ears.  But we don’t let them stop playing the violin or flute just because they can’t hit the notes right off the bat.  As they learn, kids will make mistakes, which should make them practice more.  Eventually, with enough practice, they’ll play that song just right, and we will give a sigh of relief!

The same principle that applies to music, sports, academics, or anything worthwhile, holds true for decision-making, as well.  With enough practice, your child can learn to be more mature, responsible, trustworthy and accountable for their actions.  But that means handing over some of the control.  Unless we allow a child to take full responsibility for their behavior by facing consequences, our teenagers will remain perpetually immature.  If we don’t allow them to practice maturity, they will constantly be blaring that one, screeching note of irresponsibility.

Experience comes from a making mistakes and learning from them.  There lies the heart of maturity – consequences.  If you wonder why teenagers behave irresponsibly, it’s because, well, they are irresponsible.  And, they will not become responsible, or mature, until they deal with the consequences of their choices and behavior.  It is a cycle that needs to happen over and over before a teen comes to full maturity.

So how can mom and dad allow their teen to deal with consequences appropriately?

Don’t Wait – Start Early

I’ve had many parents say to me, “Wouldn’t it be best to wait until I trust my child before I give them more responsibility or control?  Then they won’t have to deal with such difficult consequences.”  My answer has always been, “If you wait until you trust your teen, you will never give them any responsibility.”  By delaying the process of handing over accountability to our kids, we’re throwing away valuable, real- world practice time.  Once they leave the home, all that adult- type responsibility will be on their shoulders, and the consequences they face will be much more serious.  Better to start early, and often, so that when they do face the realities of the world, they do so equipped with the decision- making tools they learned growing up.

Good decision- making is a learned process.  As the writer of Hebrews says, “But solid food is for the mature, who, because of practice (constant use) have their senses trained to discern good and evil” (Hebrews 5:14).

Gradually hand over the reins, and stop helping teenagers so much – the way you did when they were younger.  You help your teen best by letting them deal with the natural results of their decision, fall down a bit in the process, and then figure out how to get back up.  Don’t wait to develop this necessary skill in your child.  Start early, and often!

Avoid Over-Control

“Over-control” is when well-meaning parents protect their children from the consequences of their mistakes by enforcing strict rules or by trying to oversee all aspects of a child’s life.  There was a recent extreme case of “over-control” when a college student filed a restraining order against her parents, alleging that they required her to leave her computer’s web cam on all the time, so they could see what she was doing and who she was with day and night.  Now, that’s a severe example, but even to lesser degrees, “over-control” can be dangerous.

Overly protected children are more likely to have problems with peer dependence, relationship conflicts, and difficulty setting and keeping firm boundaries. They also run the risk of having problems taking risks and being creative.  Avoid that problem by handing your teenagers more degrees of control and allowing them to face the consequences of their decisions.

Let me give you a few examples:

  • Allow your older teen the freedom to regulate their homework.  Now, they may get an “F” on if they don’t turn it in.  And if they get enough F’s, they will flunk the class.  And if they flunk the class, they will have to make it up in summer school.
  • Buy your teen an alarm clock and give them the responsibility to get up in time for school. They may have to walk to school, pay for a cab, or miss an entire day when they don’t get up in time to make the bus.  If they miss school, they miss the fun after school or this weekend as well.  Don’t write the excuse note that gets them out of the consequences.
  • Your teen gets sent to detention, then let them miss the football game on Friday night, as well.
  • Every year, allow your child more privacy on the Internet.  But if they choose to use the Internet to post an inappropriate image or lifestyle, disconnect the computer for a period of time.
  • Should your teen be arrested, let them sit in jail for awhile.  Don’t bail them out right away. The consequence of spending a night in jail can have a sobering affect on their thinking and force them to reevaluate their life’s direction.
  • If your teenager is ticketed for speeding, not wearing their seat belt, being out past the local curfew, or other infractions of the law, let them figure out how to pay the fine, as well as how to get to work or school the next day, since you will not let them use their car, or yours either.
  • Give your teen the privilege of helping to pay for their insurance and gas when they are ready to start driving.  Don’t even get them their license until they can pay their portion of the first quarter of insurance.
  • Pay for your child’s college as long as they maintain their grades at a level you both agree on prior.  If their grades become unsatisfactory, then they have to pay for the next semester.
  • Give your pre-teen a checkbook, or a debit card with their monthly allowance on it.  If they spend their money foolishly, don’t buy them the things they need.  Let them figure out how to pay for those things.  Doing without teaches the importance of sticking to a budget.
  • Cancel your cable or the Internet service if viewing inappropriate content is a problem for your teen.  Loss of that media is an appropriate consequence that will help them in the long run.

Listen; you are not being a bad parent by allowing these appropriate consequences to follow your teen’s actions.  In fact, you are helping your child learn valuable life lessons, and grow into a mature adult.  That’s being a good parent!  Every culture on earth has a similar proverb like this one: If you rescue them once, you will just have to rescue them again.  Don’t swoop in and rescue your kid when they are face-to-face with the outcome of a bad decision.

Are you willing to start relinquishing control and helping your teenager find out who he is and who God desires for him to be?  This doesn’t mean you stop helping your child.  But it does mean that you guide them into a problem-solving process, even if you don’t solve problems for them.  You may have to repeat this process several times before your teen gets it right, so hang in there.  Eventually he or she will get it, learn how to make good decisions, and avoid unwanted consequences.  And that’s sweet music to any parent’s ears!



Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, located in Hallsville, Texas.  For more information and helpful resources for moms and dads, check out our website.  It’s filled with ideas and tools to help you become a more effective parent.  Go to  Or read other helpful articles by Mark, at  You can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.  Hear the Parenting Today’s Teens broadcast on a radio station near you, or download the podcast at

The post Letting Consequences Teach Maturity appeared first on Parent Tips from Mark Gregston.

Walking the Tight Rope Between Rules and Grace

Written by Mark Gregston.

It is not that we keep His commandments first, and that then He loves; but that He loves us, and then we keep His commandments.  This is that grace, which is revealed to the humble, but hidden from the proud.


One of the toughest assignments in all of parenting is the balancing act between enforcing rules and giving grace.  On one hand we all agree that kids (especially of the teenage persuasion) need boundaries, order, and consequences.  Those clear lines in the sand mark where we require respect, responsibility, and honesty.  But if all we have are rules, then our home becomes a legalistic training ground, where performance measures the amount of love that is given and received.

On the other hand, we cannot survive without grace.  No one is perfect.  We all have flaws and foibles.  Those flaws become more noticeable as kids reach the teenager years, so prepare to deal with mistakes!  But grace is the action of moving towards your child regardless of what they’ve done or how badly they have behaved.  However, if grace isn’t partnered with rules, then it’s like placing a teenager into a wide open field and letting them run free until they’re lost.  Rules are the fences that allow us freedom to live in comfort and safety.

So you can see why the most common question parents ask me is about how to juggle rules and grace.  How can a mom or dad adhere to the rules while at the same time, doling out hearty portions of grace?  Let me give you some helpful tips.

Throw Away Legalistic Behaviors

If you have ever said anything like…

  • “It’s my way or the highway!”
  • “You’ll do it because I said it!”
  • “As long as you live in this house, it will be done this way!”
  • “You will respect me; I’m your father!”

…then it’s possible you may lean towards being a “rule-enforcer” rather than a “grace-giver.”  If these phrases sound familiar, then it’s time to re-evaluate your speech and actions to incorporate more grace into your home.  Throw away the legalistic jargon that frustrates rather than trains or guides your children.  To give grace means to communicate with teens why a rule is in place, what the consequence of breaking that rule is beforehand, and allowing freedom in the areas that aren’t worth the battle.

When your teen received that golden ticket that is a driver’s license, then you probably enacted a few rules regarding curfews, who can ride with them, and responsibility towards gas and insurance.  But did you take the time to explain why the 11 o’clock curfew is in place, or why everyone in the car has to wear seatbelts?  Just saying, “Do it, because I said so!” only tells your teenager that it’s the rules you’re concerned with, not their health or well being.

Rigid adherence to authority doesn’t teach or change kids.  Grace does.  It demonstrates you care more about them than you do about the letter of the law.  Grace speaks volumes to the heart of a struggling child.

Stick to the Consequences

If there is one guarantee in all of parenting it’s this — teenagers will break the rules at some point during their adolescence.  In fact, if your child hasn’t broken a rule yet, check their pulse!  When lines have been crossed, teenagers need discipline.  But giving grace does not mean we skirt around the consequences.  If we look at the example of Jesus, His offer of grace didn’t negate the law or the penalties of sin.  He paid the price on the cross so that He could offer us forgiveness.  The law of grace works the same way.  Discipline and rules apply, but we don’t move away from our kids during that time.  We move closer to them.

Let’s say your teen does break one of the car rules you’ve put into place.  They roll into the driveway around midnight and try to sneak in, only to get busted by a creaky door or a barking dog.  So you take away the license for a week (or a similar consequence).  Now, showing grace towards your child doesn’t mean giving them back the car privileges after a couple of days.  But it does mean you go to them during their time of restriction and say, “Let’s go grab some coffee.  I’ll drive!” or, “Want to go watch a movie, just the two of us?”  It’s a constant motion toward the relationship, while upholding the penalties for breaking the rules.

Anyone who knows me understands that I am BIG on consequences.  But I’m even BIGGER on relationships.  As one of my favorite authors Josh McDowell wrote, “Rules without relationships leads to rebellion.”  If I was to tweak this, I would say, “Rules without grace leads to a frustrated heart!

The Harder Path

I know that for some parents with struggling kids, showing grace is a monumental task.  You’ve been hurt and wounded by your child and though you still love them, you have a difficult time showing them grace.  I understand.  Grace isn’t easy.  It’s extremely tough to give certain people something they don’t deserve.  But let’s face it — none of us deserve grace.  If kindness was given solely on merit we’d all be in a heap of trouble!  Colossians 3:13 tells us to “be tolerant with one another and forgive one another whenever any of you has a complaint against someone else.  You must forgive one another just as the Lord has forgiven you.

There was a young man staying at the Heartlight Campus a few years back.  He was generally a sweet kid; funny, well spoken, and kind.  But he didn’t deal with emotions well at all, especially anger.  One day after coming back from school, he got so mad, he took a baseball bat and started beating on my truck!  Then, when one of my dogs came out to see what all the commotion was about, and this teenager turned around and kicked my dog.  I was furious!  But I took some time to calm down before I spoke or dealt with the situation.  I realized that I needed to forgive and show grace even in this circumstance.  Of course, this young guy had to pay for the repairs to my truck and the vet bills for my dog.  And during that time, I let him know that I forgave him, and I helped him take the dents out of my car.  I made a conscious effort to move towards this angry young man, not away from him.  It was not easy, but it made a huge difference in his life.

I know that grace is tough.  But think back on all the grace you have received in your life, and pour that back into your child.  In the midst of disappointment or even anger, let them know that the relationship is still important, and there’s nothing they could do to make you love them less.

It’s a precarious balancing act walking closely between rules and grace.  We cannot lean too much to one side or the other.  But once we find the correct balance — when consequences are delivered with grace, and kindness is bounded with rules — that’s when we we’ll see our kids and our home flourish.


Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, located in Hallsville, Texas.  For more information and helpful resources for moms and dads, check out our website.  It’s filled with ideas and tools to help you become a more effective parent.  Go to  Or read other helpful articles by Mark, at  You can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.  Hear the Parenting Today’s Teens broadcast on a radio station near you, or download the podcast at

Crime, Punishment, and Grace

Written by Mark Gregston.

In high school English, I was forced to read the book Crime and Punishment.  Let me tell you, this is no short story.  It was a crime and a punishment that I even had to read it!  But I have to admit—once I got into the story, I was hooked.

Crime and Punishment follows the life of a normal guy who commits a heinous crime in a fit of rage.  Guilty and ashamed, he tries to cover up his offense and pretend it didn’t happen.  But try as he may, he can’t shake his conscience.  His guilt overwhelms him, even as a clever police inspector starts to put all the pieces together.  It’s a vivid portrayal of the truth that for every crime there’s a punishment—even if it’s simply a matter of a nagging conscience.

How To Get Your Kids to Stop Listening to You

Written by Mark Gregston.

I recently had a conversation with a dad who complained that his kids wanted nothing to do with him.  He was baffled.  Hadn’t he always strived to teach and provide the best for his brood?  Confused myself, I talked to each one of his kids, and they had the same thing to say about why they never wanted to talk with their father.  And it floored me.  They told me, “Oh, our dad loves God, and we know he wants the best for us.  But he’s the most judgmental person we know!  It’s impossible to talk with him!

Waiting For a Runaway

Written by Mark Gregston.

When a teen decides to sneak away from the household, it traumatizes the entire family.  How do you respond when your child decides to abandon the familiar and become a prodigal?

I have been helping runaway teens for a long time.  The first kid that I took into my apartment was a runaway.  Thirty-seven years later, one of my responsibilities as the executive director of Heartlight, a residential home for kids, is to help find teens who have run away.  It’s become almost a normal thing for us.  But it’s never normal for the families going through it.  It’s an emotional time.  In the midst of the emotion, you have a few choices:  You can to remain calm, think through some things, and move in a positive way to get your child back.

Running To or From?

Any time a child runs away, it’s a complicated situation.  It usually feels like it came out of nowhere.  But many times the teen may have tried to communicate something that will give parents a clue as to why they ran away.  If it’s happened to you, consider thinking through some of the things your child might be responding to:  Could running away be a symptom of a family structure that’s broken?  Is your child running away from something that is difficult?  Are they being abused (my wife was abused for 5 years and no one knew about it)?  Are they not being respected or valued? Is there something going on that you don’t know about?   It’s not fun to second-guess your contribution to the cause, but every parent needs to take the time to figure out if something needs to be fixed.  This is one of those scriptural encouragements to look at the log in your own eye before you look at the speck in your child’s eye.  If it’s not fixed, the child will continue to run away.  And as much as it seems like the child running away is the only problem, it’s really just a symptom of a bigger problem.

On the other hand, they could be running to something.  Maybe your child wants to express his independence or punish your family.  He could be running toward a dream of his, or to a young woman whom he thinks can help him achieve his dreams.  Try to be sensitive to this.  You may have to deal with this issue in addition to the runaway issue.

Leaving the Light On

When you know the reason why your child ran away, you may want to develop some parameters for how your child can come back and how you’re going to deal with the issues that made him run away in the first place.  This may be different depending on the age of your child.  A 14- or 15-year-old will likely have fewer parameters than a 17-year-old.  You may want to talk about the expectations you have for when they come back:  You can’t lie.  You can’t take things from us.  We’re going to get you help.  You can’t get help if you’re at home – so let’s talk about living with grandma.  If the conditions of your child coming back mean that he might live with someone else for a while, that’s better than not knowing where he is.

As a loving parent, let your child know that you want them to come home.  If you know where your child is living, you can still invite him to lunch.  Send him a text every once in a while.  You can continue the relationship without enabling him.  It’s not about giving them the money, clothes, or shelter they might need; it’s about being open to them and keeping the relationships available.  I’ve seen it time and time again — a point comes when they can’t take it any more – when they come to their senses like the prodigal son did – they may decide that it’s better to come home.

In the meantime, parents might end up playing the waiting game.  It might be difficult to see your child struggle.  It’s awful to watch.  But if you thwart the opportunity for them to live on the streets or with friends in an uncomfortable situation, you may rob them of the chance to see the hand of God working in their lives.  Now that doesn’t mean you have to turn your back on them.  You can stay connected and continue to find out what’s going on in their lives.  But it’s not enough to just know about what’s happening with your kids; it’s helpful to work through the problems.  This can help build the relationship and show your kids that you are willing to stay with them through their failure and pain.  This may be the hope they need.

Reaching Out for Help

If your best efforts (change of home structure, counseling, intervention, etc) aren’t working out like you had hoped, and your child’s action are placing them in greater danger, you may need to consider coming to one of our Families in Crisis Conferences or placing your child in the Heartlight residential program.  We all respond differently to different people.  Parents, it might help if you can have someone else come in and work with your child in a different way.  This will help give you, and the rest of the family, a break.  And it can help you calm down emotionally so you can start thinking a little bit straighter.

Despite the pain involved, I don’t fear when kids run away, because it either points to the problem that can now be dealt with, or moves a child to come to his senses and start making better decisions.  It takes them to the end of themselves.  When there isn’t any other option, the kids realize how important their family is to them.  And they will only come back home if the family leaves the light on for them.

To find out more about Heartlight and check out resources that can help you, go to  Listen to the Parenting Today’s Teens weekend broadcast on a radio station near you, or download the podcast.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a therapeutic boarding school located in East Texas.  Call 903-668-2173.  Visit, or to read other articles by Mark, visit

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