Arena for Relationships

Written by Mark Gregston.

ArenaRelationshipsWhat your child wants more than anything else is relationship.  By God’s divine guidance, He’s either placed the child in your presence or has allowed you to give birth to this child.  There is a master plan in the midst of all of it which sometimes gets lost in the dealing with the struggles and difficulties and the issues.  There’s something intentional and there are no mistakes in the midst of it.  There’s that need for relationships.

Usually a child learning about the depth of relationships comes as a result of conflict.  The kids that I’m closest to are the ones that I have fought with the most.  The ones that love me the most and I love them the most are the ones that have turned my hair colors and I have wanted to yank it out.  It is those that have caused that are the ones that draw the relationships together.  Conflict does that.  Those relationships that stick together through conflict are closer relationships.

Conflict Can Help Strengthen Your Future Relationships

Those kids that do real well move on, but it’s always funny to me that they’re the ones that we’ve had the conflict with.  Your family has gone through a great deal of conflict and struggle, and I think whether it’s God ordained or not, you’re in the midst of it and it has the opportunity of pulling your family together more than you would be pulled together any other way.  And if that’s true, then it changes your perspective on relationships.  And it’s trying to say, I’m having a relationship with you regardless, and hopefully in that relationship I’m not going to stop if you don’t respond.

I’m having a relationship with you regardless and hopefully in that relationship…I’m not going to stop if you don’t respond.

Sometimes when your child calls and there’s a conflict going on you can enter into the conflict for the sake of destroying something, or you can enter into the conflict for the sake of salvaging something.  Saying, there’s something in this that’s better.  Why would that happen?  What’s going on there?  There’s something good here.  Rather than the tendency that we all have – that’s moving to the other side of the conflict – which is to separate.  I think conflict doesn’t have to separate us – it can join us together.

Communicate a sense of love across a bridge of friendship that doesn’t stop if the teen doesn’t respond or makes a mistake.

Time Together

Calculate and strategize the amount of time needed to further the relationship that moves beyond “entertaining” into “developing.”

For their best interest, and no matter how nasty things get, I’ll continue to love them and spend time together.  Fathers, if you have a daughter, you’ll never spend enough time with your daughter.  You can’t do that.  In any kind of a group setting, the number one item is always the daughter saying, “I want more time with my Dad.”  If you spent 24/7 with your daughter, it would never be enough time.  So just know that.  But they do want the time together.  So when your child comes home, make sure you’re spending time with them.  “You and I are going to eat breakfast. Just you and me.”  Or just mom and daughter.  They need the time.

Shared Experiences

Find a challenge for the both of you and pursue it with excitement, resources, time, effort, interest, and vigor.

Bike riding, buy a couple of horses, buy some jet skis, buy a boat, go white water rafting.  Doesn’t have to be Noah’s Ark, it can be Billy Bob’s barge.  It doesn’t have to be some Christian thing.  Go ride horses in Montana.  Those trips are far cheaper than having to enroll your teen in a program like Heartlight.  Go do some things that are out of the ordinary.  Learn to scuba dive together.  Go snorkeling down in the Grand Caymans.   Go camping – buy some good camping gear – you can always turn around and sell it.  Buy anything used.  And then sell it used.  You won’t lose any money on it.  Do something that’s different.

You must establish patterns of doing things while you’re still working so that these patterns are in place when you retire.  It doesn’t work to put off things to do until you retire if you haven’t been doing them.  Take advantage of the time now.  Start doing something now that’s different.  Don’t think that you can’t learn.  Start doing something with your child.  Buy tickets to go see something that you can’t afford.  That’s what kids remember when they’ve grown up and don’t live with you any more.  You’re going to want shared experiences to come back and be the foundation of your relationship.

Opportunities for Discussion

Look for opportunities to lead into a discussion where the wisdom of a parent can be communicated along a common focal point.

Go to a movie once a week.  Make sure that movie is appropriate.  Movies that we see here, we want to follow up with some kind of discussion so they can talk about it.

There’s experiences to learn by listening and talking with older folks.  That’s history.  It’s wonderful when they share stories.  Look for opportunities for discussion.

Develop a Sense of Humor

Learn to laugh, share the good jokes, lighten up, do some fun things, be impetuous, and smile a little more.

Some of you are sour, bitter, up tight all the time.  Get on the Internet and find some jokes and have a joke night.  Everybody come to the table sharing a joke, even if it’s just a shade off color, just a little bit, just enough that’s it’s funny.  Everyone needs to share a joke so the whole group can laugh.

Play paint ball.  Group laughed so hard it hurt.  Find something the kids can laugh about and have fun.  Go into a video store and find something country.  It’s fresh, relational, good, clean stuff.  It’s finding those things that are good and laughing about it.  Everybody tells a joke at home with everyone trying to outdo one another.  Pull some stunts.  Create a sense of humor.  Have fun.  This is developed.  You aren’t born with stuff like that.  The goofiness of who you are – kids will enjoy that goofiness.  Live it up and enjoy this with your kids in some way.  Develop a sense of humor.

Sharing of Thoughts

Look for those times that you are invited to share your thoughts…not just throwing out your ideas for the sake of filling silence.

Sometimes it’s okay just to sit and watch a movie, go to sleep at night, good night, and it was a relaxing time.  Go fishing somewhere.  This could be a monumental time in the life of your child – spending time with his Dad and loved it.  (Dad may feel the day is wasted, but child has it etched in his memory.  Share the thoughts.  Kids enjoy it when they just sit around and do nothing with their parent(s), enjoy just sitting back and looking at the stars.  Go to an observatory and go look at Saturn.  Make that a deal – I want you to see Saturn.  Take blankets and go out and see the stars in the middle of the night.  You may see a meteor shower.  (Turn off all the lights possible).  Play music while you’re watching the stars and talk about the stars.

That the God of the Heavens even thinks about you is an amazing thing.  Start a fire and sleep outside.  These are manufactured times and they just don’t happen all at once.  Learn a special song and sing to your child in front of an audience.  Come up with ideas that you’ve got to make happen for that special time with your child.  Share your thoughts during those times and look for them.  Even when they don’t want to do it.  Build up to it, “when we get home, we’re going to do this.”  Every Sunday is my night and your night.  We’re going to do something.  You don’t get to go out with or get to do anything.  If you do, we’re going to cut off one of your toes.  But it ain’t going to happen.  You have those times for that.

Opportunities to See You “In Action”

Take them to work, share your frustrations, hurts, and longings.  Enter their world.  And always keep an invitation open for them to come into yours.

In some way, they need to see what you do and what you deal with and the frustrations – so that can feel that there’s some identity with you at the same time. Tell them how you deal with problems. How you seek God’s guidance.  How you don’t have all the answers.


Don’t forget who this child was, who he is, or who he will become.  The benchmark is the joy at birth…not at the struggles and difficulties.

Get an image of your child, say at age 2.  Your child is the same image when you brought them home or if you adopted them.  When you got them there and you looked at them and said this is an unbelievable baby – it’s the same child.  And they’re made up the same and they’re the same purpose they were created for that day.  It may be covered up with stuff, but it’s the same one.  If you keep that in mind, whatever circumstances there are surrounding the child, it is there for a reason. So it’s really a coming along side rather than a standing in front of or always having to feel behind.  It is being with them at those times.

Seek right things for the right reasons, confront with calmness, and correct with firmness…with a love that seeks their best interest.

Establish Boundaries

Let them know where they can go, and where they can’t.  And be firm about that.  You walk here, and you’re in trouble.  But you can have the freedom to do whatever you want here.  But you go here and that’s it.  Unacceptable behavior has to be dealt with on the spot.

You don’t want to say, “I will never support that.”  You’re setting yourself up for failure, cause you may have to eat your words.  “It’s your choice.”  There are no limits in that, because you’re at the age when you can make your own decision.  But when they’re living at home and they’re with you, establish that – and set some boundaries around yourself.  We’re not going to do this.  We not going to be involved in this.  We’re not going to continue to enable inappropriate behavior in our home.

Display a Firm Commitment to God, Family, and Others.

Display your own beliefs by your actions.

“At all times share the gospel, other times use words.”  –St Francis of Assisi

Put it into words.  Don’t just say it.  Words mean very little.   Let your actions speak louder than words.

And so the issue is not enforcing the rules, though that is necessary.  The issue is how do I maintain a relationship with my teen?  A relationship that doesn’t stop if they don’t respond (and they won’t).  A relationship that loves them through the tough times, and always shows them the character of God, for you are His earthly model.

The post Arena for Relationships appeared first on Parent Tips from Mark Gregston.

A Teen’s Need to Fit In

Written by Mark Gregston.

IMG_1291Do you recall some stupid things you did as a teenager? I do, and I’m sure you do, too. I guess that’s why many of us parents work overtime to help our teenagers avoid such embarrassment. But unfortunately, these life lessons cannot be learned any other way. Experiencing and becoming embarrassed by our own immaturity can do far more to help us reach maturity than anything else.

For many teenagers, the need to fit in can lead them to do some of the most immature things they’ll ever do in their entire life. They’ll mimic dress, language, musical preferences, attitudes and even the high risk activities of their peers just to fit in.

It can be highly confusing and shocking for parents because of the sudden changes in their child’s appearance and demeanor. Overnight it may appear that their child is forsaking everything they’ve ever been taught.

It is natural then for parents to seek ways to protect their child from these “bad influences.” They may go about pulling their teen out of that crowd, out of that school or out of that church. Or, they may even consider moving the entire family to a new town.

If your teen is being influenced to head down the wrong path, be sure to seek wise counsel and take care to look for any hidden reasons for the change. Could there be deeper psychological or medical issues, or underlying abuse, bullying, or a loss that could be causing this behavior? Could drugs be involved? Or, could the child not be getting enough acceptance at home, so they seek it elsewhere?

If the odd behavior is simply your teen trying to fit in, then don’t overreact. Most teens are not actually being rebellious and it’s best not to label them that way. They are just in a healthy pursuit of independence and personal validation. Innapproapriate dress, talking back, or other disrespectful or unlawful behavior is never acceptable and should be corrected, but don’t think your teen has “gone bad” just because he or she is making efforts to fit in.

As your teen gets older, I have found that it is best to mostly stand on the sidelines of the maturing game and offer wise coaching when the time is right. Stand your ground in regard to your household rules, but let your teen’s own choices, good or bad, be their teacher. Some day they’ll look back and realize that the group they were hanging with were totally immature. They’ll realize that they, too, looked like a dork, sounded like an idiot, and acted like a jerk when they were with that crowd.

We parents need to learn to “let go” when kids get into the upper teens. Don’t worry, their good and bad choices will eventually validate the concepts and values that we’ve taught them all along. It may be hard to watch it happening, but with a little exposure to some hardship resulting from bad decisions, your teen will learn how to apply the moral and ethical principles you’ve taught them, and will mature because they “see a need for it.”

So, if your teen is older and you’ve taught them good principles their entire life, put away your fix-it kit, hide the training wheels, and pray that God will bring about good influences and teach important lessons in your child’s life through every decision they make. Most of all, don’t force your teen to choose between fitting in at home versus only fitting in outside your home. There should never be a question that they fit in at home and are unconditionally loved by their family.

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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.



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, 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, 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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