The Greatest Gift You Can Give Your Teen

Written by Mark Gregston.

Greatest GiftAs parents, we often put a lot of blame on ourselves for what we cannot offer our kids.  When Christmas or birthdays roll around, we feel guilty when we can’t afford the latest and greatest iPads, video games, designer shoes, or state-of-the-art cell phones.  Perhaps we feel embarrassed that, when it comes to housework, we’re barely keeping our head above water, and it’s all we can do to start the laundry, run the dishwasher, and feed the dog.  And if that’s not bad enough, we have the tendency to compare ourselves to what other moms and dads can offer their teens.  Instead of being able to take a family vacation to Disney World, perhaps all you can do is pack the car up for a weekend with Grandpa and Grandma in Peoria, Illinois (I love people in Peoria; this is just an example).  While other teens you know are taking private ski lessons, learning Italian in Europe, or going out to a movie every weekend, you feel like you’re letting your teen down because you’re not able to offer the same type of experiences.  So we start to believe that we don’t pass muster as parents.

Picking Up the Pieces of Broken Trust

Written by Mark Gregston.

Motorcycle WreckI remember the day my dad brought home that shiny new motorcycle.  My brother and I couldn’t wait to hop on that hog and careen down the streets of our town.  But wisely, our father put the motorcycle in the garage and told us boys not to ride it unless he was there.  Well if you’re the parent of a teenage boy, you might see where this story is headed.  When my dad left one day, his car wasn’t halfway down the street before we pulled the forbidden vehicle out for a spin.  The result of our ill-conceived joy ride was my brother breaking his jaw, a friend breaking his ankle, and a busted air conditioning unit.  While a friend’s dad took the necessary people to hospital, I was given the unwelcome job of trying to smooth things over with my father.  It did not go well.  I had broken the trust my dad had given me.  After meting out the consequences, my dad sold the motorcycle and did not talk to my brother and I for close to three months.

Helping Your Teen Deal with Divorce

Written by Mark Gregston.

Helping Teens with DivorceI had a really good childhood until I was nine, then a classic case of divorce really affected me.Kurt Cobain

These days, divorce is more and more a common occurrence.  A recent survey shows that 40 to 50 percent of marriages in the United States end in divorce.  While broken marriages are painful for the spouses, a split impacts children to an even greater degree—especially if the kids are in the pre-teen or teen years.  According to the National Health Interview Survey, children of divorce are at a greater risk for asthma, headaches, and speech defects.  The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry reports that teenagers in single parent or blended families are three times more likely to need psychological help.  More studies have been done recently linking high rates of unwanted pregnancies, difficulty in school, and lower income potential for kids of broken homes.  At our Heartlight teen counseling center, I have witnessed many issues stemming from the pain of seeing parents split up.  Divorce brings with it many emotional, physical, and spiritual problems for teens and pre-teens alike.

I say this not to guilt or embarrass parents who have gone through a divorce, but to make mom and dads aware of the vital importance of helping teens deal with a separation.  Sadly, there is no real way to fix the problems that divorce can bring into a child’s life.  But there are ways to guide them through a very painful and confusing experience.

Don’t Let Them Isolate

It’s painful to watch as parents go their own separate ways.  And when parents remarry, it can push teens further out of touch with their families.  Kids dealing with divorce tell me that they feel betrayed when their parents move on.  And these feelings of isolation and abandonment will often be expressed through rebellion, self-harm, depression or promiscuity.  Teens will try to seek a sense of “family” elsewhere, either from a boyfriend or girlfriend, or from the wrong type of peer group.

It is extremely important that as parents you make every effort to help your teen feel included and remembered.  Communicate clearly through words and actions that you value their time and presence in your life.  Also, refrain from taking your teen’s heritage or childhood away by hiding it.  A divorce can strip kids of the memories of a happy childhood, as they question whether it wasn’t just a fraud.  Display pictures of you and your teen around your home, and get out the old videos, even though it will be hard for you to see you and your former spouse in them.  Talk to your teen about the good times you had as a family, how great it was the day they were born and the funny things they did as a toddler.  This adds validity to their past and helps them understand that “family” is a good thing.

Claim Responsibility

When it’s appropriate, honestly admit your mistakes in regard to the marital split.  It will be tempting to air the laundry list of your ex-spouse’s faults, but resist that urge.  Teenagers are very good at deciphering who is responsible for what went wrong in the marriage, and they don’t need help seeing their parents with a critical eye.  If a parent is willing to admit fault, it’s likely your teen will be more honest and take responsibility for their own mistakes, as well.  This is a golden opportunity to open a dialogue for you both to work through the hurts and feelings of isolation together.

Don’t Turn Negative

To help our teens navigate the emotional obstacles of divorce, it is crucial to avoid negative comments about your former spouse and his or her new partner.  I understand that this may be one of the most difficult things to do following a difficult divorce, especially when the hurts and aches are still fresh.  In moments when you are tempted to let loose and give your child the low down on your ex, bite your tongue and pray for patience.  I can tell you that the only person adversely affected by those biting comments about your ex-spouse is your teen.  You don’t have to complement your former partner, but you shouldn’t tear them down in front of your child either.

Be There More

If you are the noncustodial parent in the divorce, your job will be a little harder.  To help your child through this process, I recommend doubling your efforts to be there whenever you can for your teen.  The amount of time you spend with your child instills a sense of value that no one else can give.  If you only see them every other weekend, then ask for more time.  When you have the opportunity, take your teen to lunch, grab a snack after school, attend every game or school event you can and communicate online.  Send daily text messages or e-mails to say “Hi” or, “I love you.”  If your child believes that you’re not interested in being involved in his or her life, they’ll seek validation from someone else, and that can lead to bigger problems.

Don’t Stop Being a Parent

You’ve probably witnessed other divorced parents changing their parenting behaviors as a way to get back at their ex.  They might give their children unnecessary gifts or allow them abundant freedoms in order to win their love and favor.  Don’t do this!  When I hear comments like “Mom gives me money” or “Dad doesn’t make me do that” it’s a clear warning sign that a child is being pulled in two different directions.  To avoid this back and forth battle, consensus and concessions need to be made between the parents.  It’s difficult, no doubt, and it requires swallowing your pride.  But continuing to parent together is the best thing for your teen.  So meet up with your “ex” in a neutral public setting and hammer out your differences.  Come up with a discipline plan for your kids that you can both agree on and stick to it.  Agree on the rules, consequences, freedoms, and responsibilities for your teen.  Don’t let your child be a casualty of a battle between spouses.

Work It Out

Divorce is a harsh reality of our culture.  I understand that there are reasons and factors that force people to make tough decisions.  While I would never condemn someone for getting divorced, I encourage anyone considering the possibility to think long and hard about the long-term consequences.  A broken marriage never makes things easier.  The excuse, “We’re doing it for the kids,” is simply not valid.  Children want and need two parents.  I don’t know your circumstances, but if it’s at all possible, stay married.  Because God knows the pain and the sorrow that comes with a broken relationship, Malachi 2:16 tells us that He hates divorce.  If you’re considering the option, talk with a marriage counselor or seek the help of godly friends and mentors you trust.  Avoid divorce at all costs.

If it’s not possible to prevent a split-up, or if you’re already divorced, then it’s crucial to invest in the life of your teen more than ever, to guide them through this transition.  With time and effort, both you and your teen will survive the break-up, and come out the other side.



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

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Healthy Parents, Healthy Teens

Written by Mark Gregston.

My view from the conference center of the Heartlight campus allowed me to watch as parents starting filing in to drop their kids off.  It’s always an emotional day for moms and dads.  I remember one mom in particular.  She came in to deposit her son into our care and she looked like she had been through every single battle in both World Wars and was looking to get into World War III!  She was obviously very tired, spent and frustrated.

My First No-Mom Mother’s Day

Written by Mark Gregston.

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

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

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

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

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

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

She showed up at significant times.

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

Showing up and listening. Two things that my mom did well. And by doing those two things, she indeed had a profound influence on me.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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






Responsible Weightlifting

Written by Mark Gregston.

Every time you go to the gym to work out with weights, you know you’re headed for pain.  Pumping iron hurts!  Why?  We build muscles by tearing down muscles.  All that pain eventually delivers impressive results, but it ain’t always fun.

Parenting today’s teens involves the same painful process.

As parents, we are responsible to help our children build the muscle they need to lift the heavy issues of life.  But as their virtual personal trainer, it takes a lot of discernment to help them understand how much weight they should lift.  I can tell you from my experience with kids at Heartlight, teens are quite capable of handling tough issues, but they can’t do all the heavy lifting on their own.  Teens are still trying to figure out who they are and how they fit into the world.  You get to help your teen manage their muscle-building program, and all of us go through lots of blood, sweat and tears along the way.

When your child appears weak and insecure, it’s tempting to want to step in and rescue them from the pain of failure.  Or, we become over-controlling and smother them with advice, lecturing and counsel.  In these times, we do little to help our teen build the muscle they need and, in essence, we try to manipulate what only God can do in their life.

Psalm 1 describes a process that a person follows when he is learning something.  First they walk, then stand, and eventually they sit.  The psalmist wrote,

Blessed is the one 

    who does not walk in step with the wicked 

or stand in the way that sinners take 

    or sit in the company of mockers, 

but whose delight is in the law of the LORD, 

    and who meditates on his law day and night. 

That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, 

    which yields its fruit in season 

and whose leaf does not wither— 

whatever they do prospers.

When your child is young, you can’t demand a lot of that child because you know he doesn’t have the skills, experience, or wisdom to make the decisions on his own yet.  Your child walks in the way that you direct him, looking to you for guidance in placing each step.  But your teen is in transition now.  He is in the standing position, getting ready to take his position on life.

Remember this when you interact with your teen!  When your child is standing, you can transfer opportunities for him to build his muscles while you are still standing next to him.  But this means you need to know where he is standing as well.  What are his challenges?  Who are his friends?  What are his needs?  With open lines of communication, you will have a greater opportunity for sharing your own experiences and wisdom with your teen.

In a few years, your teen will choose where he will sit.  Which way will he be facing?  What outlook will he take on life?  What things that you have taught him will he hold onto and what will he discard?  Everything he has experienced up until this point will help him make that decision.

If your goal is to help your child grow up, then be intentional in your relationship with your child.  This doesn’t mean turning a blind eye when bad stuff happens, but it doesn’t mean holding onto the reins so tightly either.  Teens aren’t perfect.  Parents aren’t perfect either.  But when you allow your teen to exercise his freedom and to face the consequences in a safe environment, surrounded by people who love him and want him to succeed, he’ll be able to flex his muscles and grow.

I would never want to run a marathon without any training.  In fact, if I signed up for a marathon, I’d be out there every day getting ready for my 26-mile trek.  Bit by bit, I would run farther and faster.  And eventually, I should be able to reach my goal.  The day is coming when your teen will leave your home and be on his own.  Sure, working out right now might create some risk as you and your teen determine his boundaries, but if you wait until that day to allow him to experience freedom, he may not be able to handle his newfound liberty

When you train your body as a weightlifter, the key to success is to keep at it.  There are days when you won’t want to get up and pump iron, do squats or run on the treadmill.  It’s the same way with your relationship with your teen.  If your family isn’t intentionally building strength together every day, the muscles you are trying instill in your child’s body will atrophy.

If you have been holding onto the reins tightly, try starting off with some light weights.  See how he responds to responsibility, and then gradually increase the weight.  If you have been taking a hands-off approach, get a sense of whether your teen might be struggling under too much weight.  Remove some of the freedom until he is able to show that he can handle the responsibility.

When you give your teen the opportunity to succeed and the opportunity to fail, he will either make a mistake, face the consequences, and try his hardest not to do it again, or he will succeed and remember how good it feels.  With every choice that is made, your teen will strengthen his ability to handle the harder decisions and responsibilities later on in life.  When that day comes, you can look back with deep satisfaction knowing that God used you to be his personal trainer.

Mom, dad, keep up the good work.  Your son or daughter is well worth the effort!



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

Dear Mom and Dad…

Written by Mark Gregston.

Have you ever drafted a note to somebody when you were really miffed?  Not that you would send it, of course, but the exercise of writing out your thoughts often helps us process through our anger.

Your teen probably has a note like this waiting for you.  Oh, it’s not likely on paper yet.  But I can guarantee you, there’s something in your teen’s life that he or she is just waiting for the right time, the perfect occasion, to share with you.

In today’s culture, kids are flexing their communications muscles by using text and tweets, and it’s much harder for them to communicate eye-to-eye.  They talk to each other on Facebook and sometimes in emails (although even email is becoming a relic of the past).  They share their deepest thoughts on blogs and never think about the person on the other side of the computer who might be reading it.  And yet, when confronted with a face-to-face conversation, our kids often struggle to naturally communicate their emotions.

One of my favorite things to do is take time to meet and talk with kids.  I enjoy learning about their culture and trying to get a better sense of who they are and what they are going through (this is one reason why I enjoy having teens on the Parenting Today’s Teens radio program).  Teens rarely reveal their heart until I ask them questions that require more than “yes” and “no” answers.  But as I move closer toward them in a trusted relationship, they move closer to me and are willing to drop their guard and tell me what’s really on their heart.

Most kids have this hidden desire:  “I wish I could tell my mom and dad what’s really on my mind.”

I remember meeting with one teen who was frustrated with his parents.  His mom and dad had been talking with him, but they seemed to be more interested in managing his behavior than diving into real issues.  After I spent an hour asking this teen questions, the truth finally spilled out.  He had entered into a sexual relationship with his teacher.  His parents were devastated.  When his mom asked why he hadn’t shared this before, his answer was telling:

“You never asked.”

As parents, we have to mine for the nugget of truth that our teens are longing to share with us.  If we don’t give our kids the opportunity, you can be certain they will never volunteer their most personal thoughts.

The trouble is, when you attempt to communicate with your teen, sometimes he will push you away.  If he hasn’t heard this kind of talk from you before, he might brush you off at first.  It won’t be easy to start this kind of communication if you haven’t had it with your teen before.  So, let your teen know that it’s okay to share the things that are truly in his or her heart.  Try not to over react.  That only serves to shut them down.  We need to give our kids a trusted place where they feel safe to open up their heart and be vulnerable.  It’s a scary moment for most kids, and we need to create an environment where they know it’s okay to be real.

If your teen isn’t as open with you as you’d like, you may need to find creative ways to draw them out.  Whenever I meet with a teen, I let them know that I will pursue them no matter what.  Even if they push me away, I will try to connect with them.  This establishes an expectation in their mind that you don’t plan on giving up on them or retreating on them even when they act belligerent or indifferent.

One way to show your teen that you care is by taking part in what he enjoys.  If your teen likes animals, go horseback riding together.  If your teen is into music, find some music that you can listen to together.  It’s not the activity that matters, it’s that we convince our kids that we truly want to engage with them on their terms.

Wendy Mattner is a guidance counselor at Harvest Christian Academy near Chicago.  Wendy will join us on this weekend’s broadcast of Parenting Today’s Teens to talk about her work with teens and the things they share when in the counselor’s office.

Every teen has something they want to communicate.  They are harboring thoughts about things they’ve done, things that define them, problems they’re struggling to solve, and situations that cause them frustration with their parents.  By building a relationship that allows for a balance between guidance and accountability, we can cultivate an environment of trust that convinces our kids that we love them … no matter what.


If you are in the Houston area or know of someone in the Houston area then make plans to attend the upcoming Turbulence Ahead seminar on Saturday, May 5th. The seminar takes place at Windwood Presbyterian Church. Go to or call 1-866-700-3264 for more information.


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

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