Entering Our Teens Cultural Arena

Written by Mark Gregston.

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

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

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

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

Look Around

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

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

Verbalize Your Findings

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

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

Fewer Lectures, More Conversations

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

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

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

Countering Your Teen’s Peer Pressure

Written by Mark Gregston.

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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.

Your Teen’s Selfishness

Written by Mark Gregston.

 

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What have you done today to help your teenager grow in maturity?

Some parents feed their teen’s selfishness into adult years by continuing to rotate their life around them.  I tell parents that at age 15 it is time for them to begin aggressively helping their teen get over a selfish mindset.

Instead of always wanting to be “served” by mom and dad, older teens need to do things for themselves and also learn to serve others.  After all, they are potentially only a few short years away from having to live totally unselfishly as parents themselves.

Scripture says,“Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought….” (Romans 12:3 – NIV). This is a good principle to teach to your teens at this stage, since selfishness is just that — thinking more highly of oneself than others (including you).  Should this selfishness be allowed to grow during the teen it years will only accentuate into other problems after they leave home.

So how do you put an end to your teen’s selfishness?

First, you need to put on the brakes!  Stop doing everything for your teen.  Quit jumping every time he says “frog.”  His control over your life and the life of others in your family is to cease, beginning now.  Review the negative habit patterns you established in your home in the early years, and let it be known in a gentle way that you’ll no longer be doing a lot of the things that you had been doing to help them as a younger child.

Break the news to them in this way:

  • I’ll no longer be doing your laundry.
  • I’ll no longer get you out of bed in the morning.
  • I’ll no longer accept childish whining from you.
  • I’ll not be doing what should be your chores, like cleaning your room or bathroom.
  • I’ll no longer nag you about what you need to accomplish.
  • I’ll no longer pay for gas or give you spending money unless you earn it.

Get my point?  You have got to stop doing some things, so that your child can start learning to do some of these things for themselves.  You stop to get out of the way, so he or she can start.

If you don’t do this, your teen is not being required to grow up.  And I see a great number of kids today that remain immature into early adulthood.  That happens not because of forces of nature or culture, but because parents enable it.

So the first step is to just stop.  Can you do that?  And I mean both parents, not just one.

The second step then is to have a discussion with them about why stopping.  It doesn’t have to be a deep philosophical discussion about their need to learn responsibilty.  I would leave it as a simple, “Because you now have the ability to do it for yourself and I don’t want to do it anymore!”  Any comments beyond that will only stir up further fruitless discussion.  Let your teen know that you’re not doing “it” (whatever “it” is) because you don’t want to do “it” any more.  You’ll be amazed how it will put him in a position of not being so demanding of you, and will put you in a position of not having to do everything for them.

Sometimes it is best to let teenagers know that they will have to start these new responsibilities “this summer,” or, “when school starts,” or, “when you turn 15,” or, “the first of the year.”   That way you prepare them for the change that is coming. Don’t drop it on them overnight.  Maybe even work with side by side them for couple of weeks as you make the transition, but be clear when your assistance will stop and that you’ll not do it yourself during the transition period.  They have to help.

Again, here’s what to tell them:

  • They’ll be doing their own laundry and if not, they’ll have nothing to wear.
  • The alarm clock you are putting in their room is so they can wake themselves and get to school on time. If not, they’ll get in trouble at school.
  • That you expect respectful talk and no more childish whining.
  • That you’ll help in emergencies, such as typing their homework if their fingers are broken (use a little humor). This is something one adult would do for another if they needed the help.
  • That you’re not going to nag them any more. You’ll ask once and that’s it. Then, they’ll have to suffer the consequences if they don’t do it in a timely fashion.
  • That they’ll have to begin earning some money to pay for their own gas for the car. You may pay for the insurance and some upkeep; but that’s it.
  • That they’ll have to clean their own room. If they want to live in a dump, that’s their choice. If they want a clean bathroom, you’ll purchase the cleaning materials, but that’s all. They’ll have to change burned out light bulbs, wash towels, and scrub their own toilet. Say you can’t do those things for them because you can’t breathe when you’re in their room for the smell of the dirty shoes, socks and shorts.

I’m sure that when you present these things to your son or daughter, you’ll get to see their selfishness in action.  They won’t like it and may even throw a tantrum.  If so, then it only says that you should have started this process sooner.  They’ll drop the ball a few times and have to suffer the consequences as a result, but be sure not to rescue them from their selfhishness nor lessen the consequences.  Doing so will only cause selfishness and immaturity to continue.

 

 

 

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Teen Modesty in a Culture of Seduction

Written by Mark Gregston.

 

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Remember the crazy fads in the late 60’s and 70’s?  The tie-dyed shirts, the beads, headbands, and the peace symbols? When I was in high school my dad hated my bushy sideburns and long hair, my purple bell bottoms and boots that came up over my knees.  It was a fad to look like the rock idols of the day and that look was in. My appearance made no sense to my parents, but it made a lot of sense to me at the time.

I bet there are things your parents didn’t like about the way you dressed as a teenager. Chances are, you don’t still dress that way, and when you look at those old pictures you may giggle, as I do, about how foolish you looked back then.

Today, I mostly hear from concerned parents of teenage girls who want to dress too seductively. They wonder how to deal with the issue of seduction when it has become so pervasive in our culture.

Teens today live in a world of sexual innuendo, where outward packaging and presentation is all important. The definition of modesty has changed for them, not so much because of the lack of values taught by parents, but because of the overwhelming exposure given to seductive lifestyles.

For the most part, dressing seductively is just a fad, and all fads pass soon enough. If your teen wants to be in on the fad of the moment, it doesn’t mean much of anything about her character, other than that she is playing out a role on the stage of adolescence. Generally speaking, she hasn’t gone off the deep end just because she wants to wear current fashions.

This fad can be a challenge for parents to manage, since the Internet, coupled with books, television, music videos and movies, have all inundated our kids with seductive images and inappropriate suggestions. Highly sexualized lifestyles are touted as normal, so girls face extreme social pressure to look and act seductively as well.

Girls from good Christian homes often tell me they are torn between doing what is acceptable by their peer group to “fit in,” and doing what is taught them by their families and church. More times than not, the social pressures for the teen to look and act like their peers will win out when they are in school or out with their friends.  But they will soon realize that the end result of their seductive presentation — when guys do pay attention — is not always what they expected, or what they really wanted in the first place.

My advice for parents is to not flip out when your daughter is just trying to fit in.  Using harsh words that defame her character such as, “you look like a …” will only push her deeper into the negative behavior. Rather, calmly and regularly address the more important issue of modesty.  Focusing on modesty, versus putting down the current fashion as our own parents did with us, will eliminate the perceived generation gap. And that way, when the next fad comes along she’ll understand her boundaries within that fad as well.

Make sure she understands that modesty is an important part of your family’s values and that’s not an area you’ll allow to be compromised, no matter what the current culture or fad says.

Is maintaining modesty going to be easy? No. But by being diligent and also showing that you understand her need to fit in with the culture she lives in, you’ll be able to maintain a great relationship with your little princess as you navigate and struggle through these tough waters. In the long run, a strong and open relationship with your child, coupled with uncompromising values of modesty, will best insure that she maintains appropriate dress, even when you aren’t looking.

…have(ing) righteous principles in the first place…they will not fail to perform virtuous actions.  — Martin Luther

Dressing seductively is a fad today for teenage girls.  Like any other fad, it will pass soon enough. Parenting teenage girls to be modest in their appearance in the midst of this fad is a tough place to be, and every concerned parent I know hopes it will pass a little quicker. But then again, who knows what the next fad will bring?

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Teen Spin Control

Written by Mark Gregston.

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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.

There is nothing worse than living with a struggling teen who is spinning out of control, and no worse feeling than the hopelessness parents experience in the process. It is difficult to know what to do and how to react when your teen daily reaches new lows in disobedience, dishonesty, and disrespect, and chooses every wrong thing.

Your teen is caught in “The Spin Cycle,” and he or she needs you to intervene.  The downward spiral can have tremendous destructive potential with lifelong consequences, or even bring a young life to a quick end.

It is frightening to think about the damage he or she may be doing to his or her 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.  We also personalize our teen’s struggles as a direct reflection of who we are as people and how good we have been as parents.  This personalization often causes more pain and anger within us than the current situation should cause.

When teens spin out of control, they need a responsible adult to respond, not react.  In responding to a spiraling teen, you offer calmness, honesty, love, grace and support.  If you are instead reacting, you are emotional, angry, hurt, quick to judge, and often harsh.  These knee jerk, seemingly instinctive interactions are almost always counterproductive.

Reacting to your teen’s misbehavior or lack of respect is probably never going to give you the response you intended or wanted.  Responding correctly in the midst of chaos is difficult, but parents of teens must learn to stop their mouths, think about what is to be said or done, and only then speak or act – Stop, Think, Go.

Most people in times of crisis are in Go, Stop, Think mode, which will only bring more pain and chaos.

So, Where Do You Begin?

You can start with a simple truth and consequences message, “Honey, we’re not going to live like this anymore.” or, “I will no longer stand by and watch you destroy yourself. We’re going to address what’s going on, get some help, and get through this together.”  Make the message clear, “The negative behavior we’re seeing will no longer be allowed or tolerated in our home.”

Don’t expect your teen to like the new rules, nor the related consequences.  And they probably won’t appreciate your attempts to deal with their bad behavior.  Their first response will most likely be anger or resentment.  Be prepared for their behavior to get worse – more screaming, more name calling, etc.  They are upping the ante; forcing you to back down.  They want to see if you are really serious about these new rules.

The time your child may spend hating you is short, and compared to the entirety of a life, it’s just a blip on their radar.  Secretly, he or she may feel relieved and thankful you cared enough to intervene, giving them a good excuse to say “No” to their peers when asked to participate in the wrong things.

Usually, a teen figures out that life will be much easier if they change their behavior so they can work things out with their parents, but not always right away.  And sometimes they simply don’t figure this out at all, or this behavior is too entrenched to handle it all on your own.  You may need the help of a counselor, or may even need to place your teen in a program like Heartlight for a time.

Then What?

Once you start down the path of responsible parenting, don’t stop, and don’t be pulled down to their level with childish fighting.  Stay calm and focused on what you want for them and deal with the heart of the issue.  There will be days when you mess up and yell back.  After you calm down again, go to your teen and apologize for yelling.  Don’t turn it into a lecture or blame her for you losing your cool.

There’s never a good time in our busy lives to be faced with a crisis like dealing with a teenager caught in the spin cycle.  It can be very difficult, but keep in mind that more parents of teens are going through the same thing with their own teenager.  Seek them out and find a place where you can share your feelings and gain strength and support from each other.

Most parents describe the struggle with a troubled 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 relationship 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.  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.

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)

Be sure to 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, as God loves us.

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Ten Ways to Rebuild a Relationship With a Teen

Written by Mark Gregston.

Teen Ways to Rebuild Relationship with your Teen-@MarkGregston

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Relationships thrive in settings where everyone agrees that nobody is perfect.

Unconditional love is fundamental for building healthy relationships with teenage children who will test their parents and their rules in every possible way. When they do, a busy, stressed-out parent can often react in ways that don’t always convey unconditional love.

If that sounds like you, maybe you need to work on mending your relationship before it is destroyed altogether.  Consider implementing some of these bridge-builders:

10 Ways to Rebuild Your Relationship

1.  By spending weekly time together, one on one…

Of all the advice I swear by, this is one you cannot ignore; Take your child out for breakfast, out for coffee, or do a lunch — and make it a habit every week.  Even if they resist, you must insist.  It tells your child, “You are worth spending time with, even when you are at your worst.”   Make it a one on one time together and come prepared with a topic to discuss that will be of interest to your teen.  It doesn’t have to take a lot of time.  But it should be consistent.

2.  By sharing challenging experiences…

Parents need to spend more time, not less, having fun with their child when he or she reaches adolescence.  Unfortunately, many organized school and church activities can tend to get in the way of that.  I recommend you find a challenge you both appreciate and pursue it together with excitement.  Dedicate some resources, time, effort, interest and vigor to developing your interest together.

3.  By looking for opportunities for discussion…

Ask the right kind of questions.  The kind of questions that make them think about things, not just a “yes” or “no” questions.  Find out what they think, how they would do something, where they would go, and why they think a certain way.  Take advantage of reinforcing those moments when a discussion leads to surprising expressions of wisdom from your teen.  Talk about controversial subjects as you would a friend or co-worker for whom you have extreme respect.  Never belittle their opinions about things. After all, did you know everything when you were a teen?

4.  By listening more and answering less…

If you want your teen to grasp what you are thinking, then stop telling him what you are thinking until your are asked for your opinion.  Zip your lip – just be quiet.  Stop lecturing, start listening.  Your teen won’t be ready to really listen until he becomes the initiator of a discussion, so just hush and get out of the way of him taking the lead.

5.  By developing a sense of humor…

Some of us are sour, bitter and stressed all of the time.  Lighten up!  When was the last time you really laughed?  Try having a joke night – where everyone has to come to dinner with a joke to share.  Even if it’s corny, everyone laughs!

6, By playing together….

Play paintball, go ride horses, go fishing or hunting, go camping and gaze at the stars, or pull a stunt together.  Get them up at midnight to watch a meteor shower.  Live it up and enjoy life with your kids in some way.  If you don’t like what they like they like to do, then just be there to watch or help them in some way. The key is the two of you being together.

7.  By remembering your child’s past and believing in your child’s future…

Carry a photo of your child as a youngster with you at all times! Post their baby photo on your refrigerator.  This way you won’t forget who this child was when they turn into an alien in their teens.  Keep in mind the joy of bringing them home at birth.  Remember, the thumbprint of God is still on their life.  Don’t dwell solely on their current struggles and difficulties.  Thank God for the work He is doing and will do in your child’s life.

8.  By establishing boundaries…

Let them know where they can and can’t “go” in your relationship.  Tell them what you expect, before something challenges those expectations.  Clearly establish your belief system and household rules. Being too lax as a parent and trying to act more as their friend and peer will hurt, not help, your relationship.

9.  By selfless confrontation…

Remember, discipline is about your teen, not you.  It is discipleship for their own good, not to make you feel better for all the stress they’ve caused.  Seek the right things in your child’s life for the right reasons.  Confront with calmness, correct with firmness, and with a love that has their best interests at heart.  Confront their mistakes with matter-of-fact and consequences, unwavering and without emotion or anger. In this way, it will become clear to them through the consequences that they are causing their own grief, not you.  If you are unsure, ask your spouse if you confronting your teen in an appropriate way.

10. By correcting and disciplining them, even when it makes you uncomfortable…

Your child needs to know you love them enough to correct and discipline them when they behave in ways that offend others or break your household rules or the rules of society.  Find healthy ways to discipline through loss of certain freedoms and privileges for a time.  Never resort to physical discipline with a teenager and be sure to approach all discipline on a united front with your spouse.  And be sure to reward a teen for good behavior by adding more freedoms and privileges.  That’s more important to them than anything else at this age.

And one more — Bonus!

You can rebuild your relationship by acting on your faith and your beliefs.  Don’t just say it, put your beliefs into action.  Serve others, love others, forgive others, pray, worship.  Exercise your faith in front of your teenager. 

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

Remember, relationships thrive when unconditional love is delivered across a bridge of friendship that never stops — even if your teen doesn’t respond or goes on making mistakes.

Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love:
therefore with loving-kindness have I drawn thee.  Jeremiah 31:3 

 

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Connecting With Your Teen

Written by Mark Gregston.

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?

I’ve found that the best way to build better communication with your teen is to find an activity you can participate in together and do so with all your might. Then, talk less yourself, so you don’t get in the way of what they may have to say.

Conversation naturally comes out of having fun together.  This is especially true for boys, who seem to process life while they are involved in an activity of some sort.  Talking less during these activity times may be difficult for you, but when it comes to getting teenagers to open up, you can’t shut up too much.

Our Heartlight counselors sometimes shoot pool, go for a walk, or play video games, grab a cup of coffee, or just “do” something with kids during their counseling sessions, and that is 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 thing.

The point is, if you participate in some activity with your teen that he or she really enjoys, you’ll find more opportunities to communicate while you are doing it together.

By the way, be sure to prevent distractions during your activity time. Don’t bring other friends or siblings along.  Promise that you’ll turn off your phone if they do the same. And by all means, don’t announce the activity is for the purpose of having a talk. Just leave the space open and available while you are with them, to see what happens next. Then zip your lip, be quiet, and practice listening.

Your silence allows your child to fill the conversational void. It may seem uncomfortable at first, but that’s the point.  In their discomfort, they’ll do the talking and say things they may not have said otherwise.  So, if you quit talking, you will begin to gain some ground in connecting your child’s thinking.

Your teen may never have a long discussion with you; it may always be the instant message version. But listen carefully, because what is said will probably be short and you’ll have to do some reading between the lines and asking a few quick questions to clarify what they meant.  This signifies that you are really listening and wanting to understand them.

What you say or how much you say is not even really that important. The important thing is to build an atmosphere where your child feels safe to share their thoughts and feelings.

The times a teenager will really listen to you are few and far between. But they’ll listen you more if you take time to listen to them.

Building good communication with your teen can start by participating in an activity your teen enjoys doing, and then using that time as an opportunity for you to listen, not talk.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a residential counseling center for struggling teens located in Longview, Texas.  He has been married to his wife, Jan, for 39 years, has two kids, and 4 grandkids.  He lives in Longview, Texas with the Heartlight staff, 60 high school kids, 25 horses, his dog, Stitch, 2 llamas, and a prized donkey named Toy.  His past involvement as a youth pastor, Young Life area director, and living with over 2,500 teens, has prepared Mark to share his insights and wisdom about parenting pre-teens and adolescents.

You can find out more about Heartlight at www.HeartlightMinistries.org, or you can call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.

For more information and helpful resources for moms and dads, check out our Parenting Today’s Teens website at www.ParentingTodaysTeens.org, It’s filled with ideas and tools to help you become a more effective parent.

Here you will also find a station near you where you can listen to the Parenting Today’s Teens radio broadcast, or download the podcast of the most recent programs.  The Parenting Today’s Teens radio program was recently awarded the 2014 Program of the Year by the National Religious Broadcasters.

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