Adoption Issues to Be Aware Of

Written by Mark Gregston.

You may have heard the news story not long ago – an adoptive family in Tennessee put their 7-year-old Russian-born boy on an unaccompanied one-way flight back to Russia, explaining that he had terrorized their family since coming to live with them. Now, the world is in an uproar over their seemingly heartless and careless act.

This family’s decision to abandon their child is totally unacceptable, I know.  But I also know that adoptions can go haywire.  Adopted kids may or may not have any more problems than any other group of kids, but I think they often present a different “mix” of problems.  And those problems can often be more severe, with behavior escalating to the point where a child is out of control and dangerous to himself and others around him or her.

There’s no question that typical adolescent issues like belonging, fitting-in, rejection, connection, acceptance, and peer-relationships can become particularly prominent for some adopted kids.  But there are other factors that can cause just as many problems for the child and the adoptive parents.

Adoption Issues to Be Aware Of

If the adopted child was born out of a high-risk pregnancy, there is higher probability that they were prenatally exposed to alcohol, tobacco and other harmful drugs.  These impediments aren’t always unmanageable, nor are they untreatable.  But just knowing that there might be issues down the road as a result of that exposure might prepare you for dealing with it later on.  Many kids given up for adoption have come from high-risk pregnancies, exposing them to potential for developmental delays, impulsive choices, poor choices, attention deficit, hyperactivity, learning disabilities, and emotional disorders. There may be a higher risk as well for issues such as Reactive Attachment Disorder, other attachment issues, learning disabilities, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), logic sequence problems, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, or Attention Deficit/Hyperactive Disorder.

Adoptive parents may also have to deal with anger and rages in their adopted child, just as the Tennessee  parents have claimed.  As a result, adopted kids might have to attend a special school, have special teachers, or need tutoring.  All of this can be expensive and may go on for years.  To make matters worse, an adopted child may not hug you or express love or appreciation the way you want.

But There’s Hope in Every Adoption

Am I an expert on adoption? No, not me.  But I enter the world of adoption “from the other side” because I know and have helped more than 700 adopted teens who have come to live in our Heartlight residential counseling program, and I have listened to the 10,000 questions they brought with them.  My search for answers to those 10,000 questions has led me to my own conclusions about problems that can come up with adopted kids.  Sometimes their struggles may be the result of prenatal issues, but mostly it’s because we’re all people who carry some personal baggage, and we bring our wounded hearts into our relationships.  We all are sinners in need of a Savior … and in need of help.  I am convinced that no problem is too great for God to resolve, and no relationship too damaged for Him to repair.

I believe that God in His sovereignty places orphaned or abandoned children with families on purpose.  And what I have discovered is that conflicts that arise from adoption issues, whether on the side of parents or of the adopted child, can be overcome.  God has a way of taking conflict and using it for our own good, and for deepening the relationship between parent and child.  God doesn’t give up on us, nor does He send us back to where we came from. There are times that I believe that working through the conflict helps everyone involved move toward wholeness, and to deeper relationships.

It is good to understand the issues that surround adoption, for understanding brings a family to a different response, a calmer approach to handling conflict, and a platform to learn new ways for engaging with a child.

So, Why Adopt?

I want people to adopt.  In fact, I sit on the board of an international adoption agency.  But I want adoptive parents to know full well the issues that might come up, invade, or enter the relationship with their child.  Perhaps if the parents in Tennessee had known more about the potential pitfalls, perhaps they would have been better prepared for the potential for struggle.

If you plan to adopt, just remember this; there is more to the portrait of your adopted child’s life than you will be able to see.  You’ll play a very important role in that portrait, and the presence of conflict, disillusionment, or hardship won’t negate the purpose of the portrait.  I believe that most change in a person’s life come through conflict, difficulty, and hardship.  I also believe it is worth the struggle so that kids can live in families.

God bless those who choose to give a child a new home and a new family.  If you are an adoptive family, may your home be a haven of hope for a child who needs you; may God’s beautiful provision for orphans reach down to you as well, and may He give you the strength to work through any future struggles or difficulties.  And, as always, if I can help, please don’t hesitate to call.


Tips for Connecting With Your Teen

Written by Mark Gregston.

Are you connecting with your teenager or growing farther apart every day?  Here are three things you can do to communicate and connect on a deeper level.

So, what do you and your teen talk about?  My guess is that you discuss such items as academics, work, behaviors, privileges, sports involvement, picking the right friends, choosing the right clothes, performing chores, and obeying the rules of the house.

Now, take a minute and think about what else you talk about.  Pretty short list, isn’t it?

Most of what we talk about is what they’re doing or need to do, not about what they’re thinking about or asking about their passions and goals in life.  This imbalance can create the impression that your relationships with your teen is determined by their actions and how they perform, versus your desire to really know them.

The point is this . . . talking to your teenager does not necessarily mean you’re communicating.  In fact, too much talk can cover up what really needs to be said.  Sometimes the most important connection with your teen can happen with very few words.  Are you looking for ways to really connect with your teen’s deepest hopes, concerns and fears; or is the mode of communication between the two of you an endless stream of superficial words, demands, and lecturing?  I encourage you to stop the chatter, look for what’s under the surface, and connect with your teen in a more meaningful way.

I.  Communicate By Asking Questions

The power of a parent asking questions is remarkable effective.  Everyone knows that when you are asked your opinion, you feel valued.  I’m talking about “What do you think?” questions, not “What did you do?” questions.  When asked in a non-condemning and non-prying way, these questions can convey a sense of value and relationship that is unparalleled by any other act of kindness.  The movement toward a teen by asking them what they think lets them know you have an interest in them and that you value their opinion.

So, ask your teen lots of questions.  Not ones that make them uncomfortable, but the kind of questions that make them think about things.  Find out how they would do something, where they would go, and why they think a certain way.  Talk about controversial subjects as you would to 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?

If parents don’t ask questions, they could be missing serious hidden situations in the life of their teen.  Wise parents understand that anything can happen today, so they maintain an open line of communication with their teen to prevent things from getting out of hand if it does happen.  Foolish parents never give it any thought, so they never ask questions. The most common comment I hear from the parents of hundreds of struggling teens is this:  “I never knew this could happen to my child.”  Let me assure you from years and years of experience that anything can happen to anyone at any time.

Engaging with your teen through the power of caring inquiry is crucial, but you must also learn to keep your mouth shut long enough to hear your teen’s answer.  If you know something is wrong, be sure to inquire past their first “Nothing’s wrong” answer.  And when the real answer comes out, regardless of how bad or shocking it is, don’t respond with anger or disappointment.  Just listen.  Establishing a line of communication is far more important at this point than scolding or getting your “I told you so” point across.

Sometimes just by asking questions you empower teens to apply the values you have taught them to their own current situation.  Your questions might also encourage your teen to ask questions of you.  And if she does start asking questions, she might be inviting you to a dark and shameful corner of her world.  I always tell parents to ask questions, because I know it works.

II. Communicate Respect in Times of Conflict

Maintaining an attitude of respect is key.  It is basically putting your child first and showing them respect, even as you demand the same of them.  This affects your tone and demeanor, since you wouldn’t yell at, belittle, or talk down to someone you respect.  Show grace and respect in the way you communicate to your teen and they’ll learn to do the same with you.

In times of conflict, my goal for every difficult and sometimes heated discussion is this:  At the end of the argument, I want there to be an opportunity for us to hug one another, even if I didn’t change my mind nor lessened the consequences.  That’s the goal.  Even if we can’t agree, I still remain in charge, and we can at least agree to disagree because it was all talked out.

Being respectful has nothing to do with how right you are and how wrong they are.  It has nothing to do with the discipline you may need to apply to their behavior.  It has everything to do with maintaining the right approach whenever you talk to your teen, and thereby maintaining your relationship.  Sometimes when you need to address an issue, I again recommend asking a question.  Asking a thoughtful question can help engage their thinking process and the system of beliefs you’ve taught them.  You may be surprised to find they come to the right conclusion all on their own when they are shown respect in this way.

III.  Communicate by Listening More, Speaking Less

Not talking is one action.  Listening is another action.  Just because you’re not talking doesn’t mean you’re listening.  God gave us two ears and one mouth because He wanted us to listen twice as much as we talk (okay, not really, but it gets the point across).  You may hear what your teen is saying, but are you really listening without trying to correct him or get him to answer the correct way?

Most of the time, your teen says things to you or to others not to communicate valuable information, but simply to process life.  She doesn’t need a response or a judgment, she doesn’t need an opinion or a solution, and she probably isn’t really asking for anything.  She just needs a listening ear.  So take time to listen – slowly.

A Sunday school teacher once asked the ten-year-old in her class, “What’s wrong with grown-ups?”  A boy responded, “Grown-ups never really listen because they already know what they’re going to answer.”

If this sounds like you, it may be time to admit that listening is not something you do well.  Polishing up your listening skills is never a bad idea.  Good listening habits can easily get tossed aside in the business of life.  But the way you listen to your child goes a long way in determining his willingness to share his deep concerns with you.  And if you ever want him to listen to you, then you had better teach him how to listen by your example.  Practice listening to your child.  Position yourself at his eye level, and make lots of eye contact.  And don’t worry about your answers.

All teens want to do is talk and have someone listen to them.  If a teen shares what is on her heart, and that is missed by a parent more concerned about the delivery of the message than the heart of the communication, that teen will eventually quit sharing.  If your teen is in the shutdown mode, there is a reason.  And the reason may be that you aren’t listening to what’s being said anyway.

Most kids want to say, “My parents listened to me, and they heard me and they valued me.”  For your kid to say that, I’d say you are moving toward perfection.  If you are willing to just listen, you might touch the heart of your teen and convey a sense of value.  Don’t worry about your answer, just focus on listening as your teen shares their heart.

If you’ve been a bad listener, keep working at it, and share your desire to be a better listener.  Find opportunities for your teen to talk, even if they seem a bit forced at first.  Eventually, with diligence on your part, your teen will again learn to trust their dreams, thoughts and questions with you.

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


Teens Consumed by Video Games

Written by Mark Gregston.

Video game sales now surpass sales of both music and movies. For millions of kids and young adults, playing video games has become an obsession.

To give you some history, I grew up in New Orleans – not exactly the most conservative city. But when I was a kid, people weren’t allowed to play pinball games at the arcade until they were 21. That seems like a silly law today, especially since nowadays nearly every family has their own version of a pinball arcade right in their own home, and most kids play games on their cell phones. I find nothing wrong with most of these games. In fact, playing a video game together with your teen is a great way to connect. But some kids and young adults are being consumed by them, and that’s where the problems lies.

I think what happens in many homes is that the parents buy video game consoles, intending to play games together as a family. The kids initially enjoy them, and the parents play along from time to time. But the excitement eventually wanes and the kids come home from their friends’ houses asking for the more advanced video games their friends have. Partly out of guilt for not playing with them more often, mom and dad agree to buy the more advanced video games that the kids can play on their own, not paying much attention to what’s on them or how much time is spent playing them. After all, it keeps them at home, out of trouble.

The Draw of Video Games

Teenagers love playing video games because they provide a challenge and an escape. It’s also something they can be very good at and be proud of their skill.  But they also offer mental and visual stimuli that can cause the “gamer” to forget where they are. In fact, hours can pass as if minutes. It’s sad that we live in a culture that is so stressed that kids feel the need to escape in this way. It shows the intensity of that world out there and the need for parents to make their home and their relationship a place of rest for their teen.

What’s more, kids find a sense of value and esteem in playing these games. Even the dorkiest kids can become virtual sports stars, rock stars, cool secret agents or Rambo-like warriors in these games. It’s one thing they can do better than their parents and maybe even their friends, so they relish it. And it’s one place — maybe the only place — where they feel totally in control.

When It Becomes All-Consuming

I find it interesting that the word “Atari,” the brand name of one of the original video game platforms, means in Japanese “you’re about to become engulfed.” And that’s exactly what happens to kids and an increasing number of young adults who play video games. They become engulfed in these games and lose all sense of time or care for anything else. Many kids stay up all night secretly playing video games, night after night. The loss of sleep causes them to become emotional wrecks and their grades begin to slip. Like any other addiction, they can’t get enough of it.

There is also an opportunity cost to playing video games. Every hour spent on them is an hour the teen isn’t doing something more productive, like learning a new hobby, getting exercise, doing homework, or spending time with the family. Anything that takes over a child’s time and attention for many hours every day should be moderated. Parents need to moderate the amount of time that their kids play and the type of games their kids play, and not just follow the rating on the package. Make sure the game is appropriate for your child and your family values.

Some argue that playing video games is a good way to spend time with friends, and I agree. But kids who are consumed by these games will tell you that they started playing games with their friends, but then moved on to playing against people online that they don’t even know. S o that’s a red flag — don’t let your kids become so consumed by these games that they no longer invite their friends over to play.

The Effect of Violent Video Games

While most moms don’t want their kids playing “shooter” games, research is split on the effect of violent video games. I find just as many experts saying they have a negative effect as not. I truly think that it is more of a reflection on the individual child, their maturity, and the situation in the home than anything else. If you have a kid who is already prone to violent outbursts, hangs around with violent kids, or seems to lack a moral compass, violent games should be avoided. It’s akin to giving stimulants to a hyperactive kid.

Some experts offer the horrific shooting at Columbine High School in 1999 as an example of the negative impact of violent video games. The two teenage shooters, Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, were known to be immersed in violent video games. They reported in their online diaries that their lives were most gratifying while playing in a virtual world. Some think that the two killers may have been desensitized to killing due to their constant exposure to violent imagery and actions in such video games, as well as the violent movies they both enjoyed, which gloried killing.

Trouble began to brew after the games were grounded when Klebold and Harris were arrested for breaking into a vehicle. That’s when they had time on their hands to begin planning the school massacre. Some experts believe that the anger and tactics that were previously being projected into the video games was unleashed into the real world when they could no longer play. Maybe so, but psychiatrists diagnosed Harris, the leader of the two, a psychopath who was already bent on killing those in the school who had wronged him. A psychopath has no ability to tell what is real from what is not real, and is characterized by selfishness, ruthlessness and the inability to feel guilt.

So it becomes a “chicken or the egg” question. Did the games cause Harris to become a psychopath, or was he already a psychopath and the games fueled his murderous intentions? Obviously, the latter is true. If violent video games did create psychopaths, we’d see Columbine-like massacres happening around the world every minute of the day, because millions of kids and young adults are playing them. Of course, that’s not happening.

I believe that for most kids violent video games won’t do anything at all – especially if the game is played only periodically as a pastime. The normal child won’t become desensitized to killing people by simply playing “shooter” video games. They know that the opposing characters in the game aren’t real — no different than the skeet I shoot or the plastic ducks lined up at the shooting range at the fair. For boys, who are visually-oriented and naturally have a warrior instinct, these games of skill and conquering are very appealing. It’s when they’re played incessantly that the fantasy world can sometimes get mixed up with the real world. And that’s a problem only if the child is already emotionally unstable.

Getting It Under Control

What you as a parent can do is to keep an eye on the games your teen is playing. When a new game is purchased or is given to your teen as a gift, play the game with them to learn how it works and what images and values it portrays. If you find it objectionable, then get rid of it, even if your child pitches a fit. Most cities have video game exchanges, so take your teen there so they can find a better game to trade for. Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water by banning video games altogether. There are literally thousands of good games, including skills-based sports games, skateboarding games, motocross and racing games, city-building games, and multi-tiered adventures with no immoral or violent overtones.

If your teen is spending way too much time playing video games, or if the games are affecting their motivation or personality, then it’s time to act. Cut back the number of hours they play daily. Shut down the unit and take away the power cord after a certain hour in the evening. Require that they match the time they play video games with equal amounts of other more productive non-digital activities. And remember this … kids play video games on their computers and on smart phones as well, not just using the game box hooked to the TV, so be sure to keep an eye on that as well.

Playing video games can be a fun activity that you and your teenager can enjoy together. In fact, it can help your relationship if you make it a point to play with them on a regular basis. But it can be an unhealthy activity if it consumes your child’s time and attention, takes them away from you, their friends or the rest of the family, or if it promotes immoral thoughts or behavior. Some video games can feed violent or antisocial behavior in teens who are already prone to such problems.

If your teen is already caught up in video games to an extent that it is consuming their life, and you can’t get them away from it, then treat it like any other addiction. Intervene with the help of a good counselor who deals with such addictions. They’ll give you the tools you both need and uncover the root causes for why the teen tends to be consumed by this kind of activity.

The bottom line for parents is this … tell your kids that you’ll stand beside them through thick and thin, but you’ll stand in front of them when it comes to blocking anything unhealthy, immoral or antisocial that is influencing their life. And that includes controlling their use of video games.

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

Parenting the Internet

Written by Mark Gregston.

In the 60’s, Christian parents were outraged over the shocking youth culture. However, parents today may wish for the “good ol’ 60’s,” because on all levels, kids today are into far worse stuff … thanks mostly to the Internet.

Who would have ever thought that the Internet would beat out television and movies as the most time-consuming form of entertainment for teens? It has! 96% of all teens in the U.S. daily access the Internet, averaging more than four hours online every day. It now affects every family in some way, since it can be accessed in many more ways than it once could, and it is being used by teens in ways that may shock some less Internet-savvy parents. So, it is especially important for parents to know how their kids are interacting via digital media today, while also understanding that completely removing it isn’t always the best move.

The Breadth of the Problem

A lot of good can be gleaned from the Internet and from use of today’s digital tools like cell phones. The Internet is a powerful research and teaching tool. It has become the main source for news, new music and it will eventually become the main source for books and movies. Through cell phones, parents are able to keep in touch with their kids wherever they are, and kids can text each other. In fact, the average teen sends over 3,000 text messages to their family and friends every month — an important part of their social interaction. And through video tools like Skype and social networking sites, teens and extended families can connect with each other in important and extraordinary ways.

But along with all the good, comes the bad.

Pornography and suggestive invitations to participate in pornography are prevalent on the Internet and not easy to miss. Web surfers see inappropriate pictures or videos even if they aren’t necessarily looking for them and there is no cost barrier, since millions of photos are provided free. While the porn industry has been around since the beginning of painting and photography, the Internet and digital cameras on cell phones are making it so that just about anyone can become involved in uploading their own sexualized photos, as well. As a result, no age group is more involved in digital pornography than teenagers. It has become so widespread and accepted in their culture, kids no longer see anything wrong with it.

What gets the most attention on the Internet are the images with the greatest shock value. In other words, the most shockingly immoral or dangerous videos or photos are the most sought for and passed around. Kids surf the Internet seeking titillating images to pass on to their friends. And many are making and uploading their own photos and videos. As a result, every form of experimentation, from drugs to sex are openly discussed, taught, demonstrated and encouraged on the Internet today.

When kids get online and participate in what they would never think of doing in person I call it “digital courage.” As a result, guys are getting a warped image of girls, what girls want from boys, and what boys should expect from girls. Girls are given messages that if you don’t present yourself in a sexualized way, then you won’t get noticed. And both sexes are getting warped ideas about same-sex relationships. It’s a culture fueled by permissive messages that make it okay to be blatant about sex and silly to care about modesty. And what’s happening online, in a fantasy world, is making its way into the real world for these kids when they spend hours engulfed in it daily.

I don’t think parents quite understand the tremendous amount of pressure that this emphasis on seduction places especially on impressionable teen and pre-teen girls. They are forced to choose between doing what is socially acceptable in their own circles and what is acceptable among their family and church. More often than not, the social pressure to fit in outweighs their desire to be modest and follow what they’ve been taught. Girls who’ve grown up in church may therefore begin to present themselves in ways that are not in line with the values they have learned.

Beyond the moral influences, kids fail to understand the potential practical consequences for what they carelessly post online. For instance, the United States government recently announced that every word “tweeted” on the second largest social networking site, Twitter, is being recorded for permanent public storage by the Library of Congress. It means that messages and images can be recalled many years from now. Why is that an issue? For one thing, many employers and some colleges now research what applicants have been saying or posting online, since what they find there is a good indicator of the motivations and attitudes of the applicant. Educational and career choices may be hindered by the careless words or pictures your teen is posting.

Solutions No More

It used to be that filters on your home computer could be used to block inappropriate sites, but that’s an incomplete solution today. Parents have a bigger issue on their hands now, with the advent of wireless and handheld computers, iPads, iPhones, PDA’s and smart cell phones. Kids can get online just about anywhere, not just at home where it can be monitored. Not only are there more wireless ways to connect, 77% of kids access the Internet at school or the library, where there may be no filters at all.

According to Pew Research, one third of all teens use the digital cameras on their own cell phones or computers to send sexual photos or “send sexual texts — a practice called “sexting.” Even if your teenager isn’t “sexting” themselves, photos and sexualized comments from other kids are being passed to them.

What’s a Parent to Do?

Parents need to realize that it is becoming nearly impossible to keep kids away from the bad stuff on the Internet. That’s why they should begin talking to their children in the tween years (by age 11) about the inappropriateness of pornography. Talk in age-appropriate terms, being careful not to spark interest in it or to make it appear that all kids are involved in it. Revisit the topic periodically, since your teen’s thoughts and motivations will change over time. Regularly ask questions in your one-on-one weekly meeting, like, “What so you think is appropriate and inappropriate to see or talk about on the Internet or in texts.” Be very wise in the way that you approach it so that you don’t push your child away. Listen more than you speak and never embarrass them.

Your child is likely on MySpace, Twitter or Facebook – the largest social networking sites — so you better make sure you are on there, as well. There’s nothing like knowing that your parent may see what you say or the photos you post. It keeps them in line. Tell them that they must “friend” you, so you can monitor what they and their other friends are posting. But don’t respond to their posts online or otherwise bring embarrassment to them in front of their friends. Just use it for monitoring and discuss what you find there with them personally.

Getting It Under Control

It is important to keep in mind that all rules for use of the Internet in your home must be adapted to the age of your child and his or her responsibility level. With that being said, here are some tips for parents to get the Internet under control:


Make it a home policy that parents must know all electronic passwords. This gives access if needed. Have access to their social networking account for your monthly monitoring (or don’t allow them on any network site if they can’t be responsible). Add yourself to their “friend” list to be able to roam around on their site. Make sure their profile is “private,” so that only their approved “friends” can communicate with them. A little monitoring goes a long way. If they refuse, disconnect their Internet access and texting on their cell phone.


Take advantage of parental controls offered by wireless communication companies, but also install silent tracking software and let it do its work to help you know what sites they are visiting. Most kids learn to quickly get around blocking software and the so-called “parental controls,” but they cannot usually defy software that tracks their every keystroke.


Keep Internet accessible devices out of your teen’s bedroom. Keep them out in an open area with the monitor visible from various angles. Don’t allow access unless you are in the room, and put a limit on the amount of time they may spend on the Internet. If you have wireless in your home, shut it down after hours and when your teen is alone at home. If your teen has a smart phone that can access Internet sites or receive photos, then have them turn it over to you before going to bed.


On their computer, periodically view their Internet “browser history” and follow the trail. You will be amazed; software is available to secretly record their every move if needed, especially if you think they are accessing the Internet overnight or when you are not home.


Tell your teen that for the privilege of texting on their cell phone, you will periodically ask to see that they’ve been texting. Tell them that they mustn’t erase text messages, or that will be an assumed admission of guilt. Then, do unannounced spot checks several times per month. Don’t use it as an opportunity to seek proof of other offences, but simply spot check for inappropriate messages or photos. Then, talk to your teen about what you find.

Find out who they are chatting with online. Many times, the people on the other end aren’t who they portray themselves to be, so keep your teen out of the open chat rooms. Be especially careful if you think your teen may be interacting with an Internet stalker. If you find anyone you don’t know asking to meet your teen boy or girl alone somewhere, immediately report it to the police.


Get on their social networking home page and look around. Look at their friends. See what they’re saying. Look at what is being said to them. Go visit their friend’s pages. You might just find out something about your child that would be a perfect intro into some great conversations.


If you find something inappropriate on a cell phone or computer, privately talk to your child. Make it something you agree to both get together to talk about periodically. Don’t accuse them and assume the worst. All teens – especially boys — are curious about adult things and they want to see what their friends are suggesting they see. So, be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger. You’ll be amazed how your child will respond when you speak with a gentle spirit, not one of condemnation and guilt. You’ll be glad you found the issue before it got too big in the child’s life. Catching it early will often prevent it from becoming a life-long addiction.

I believe in privacy. I believe in trust. But I also believe in “being there” to be the parent God has called me to be. If I see anything that concerns me, then it must be brought into the open with the teen, shared, and discussed. I tell kids that I sleep with one eye open. I’m always looking for something that has the potential to destroy a relationship with them and with God. I tell them that I’m looking out for them because I don’t want any unwelcome thing to intrude into their life.

It’s Up to You

Monitoring your teen’s Internet use can be a lot of added work, but I believe that parents should go to no end to find out what their teen is into and who they are connecting with online, especially if it begins affecting their attitudes and behaviors. That portal to the outside world needs monitoring. After all, would you let just anyone, even a registered sex offender or pornographer, into your house to befriend your teen? Of course not. The hold that an outsider may have on your teenage girl, or the hold that pornography may have on a teenage boy, may ultimately harm both them and your family. Your teen will be too embarrassed to reveal it, so it’s up to you to find out and take action.

Helping your teen become more discerning in how they surf or text on the Internet is now more important than older tactics of simply blocking teens from it. They’ll find other ways to access the Internet, whether at school or in their friend’s homes or using their friend’s cell phone or laptop computer. So, teaching them to be discerning will give kids the skills they need in a culture where it is nearly impossible for a parent to completely block them from accessing it.

Moms and dads all over the country express great frustration to me with how to positively encounter their teen living in a seductive, visually oriented, and digitally bombarded world. The answer to their questions is always that they have to do something, rather than doing nothing. Online and texting parameters must be set, communicated, and adhered to. And it must be a set of parameters that are monitored, revisited and discussed often. Remember this … rules without monitoring aren’t rules at all. They’re just blind suggestions.

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

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Tuesday Oct 11th – Speaking at a dinner for Camp Highlands- Atlanta, GA
Thursday Oct 13th- Turbulence Ahead seminar at Moraga Valley Presbyterian Church, Moraga Valley, CA
Friday Oct 14th –Turbulence Ahead seminar at Oshawa Community Christian Church, Oshawa Ontario, Canada
Saturday Oct 15th- Turbulence Ahead seminar at Oshawa Community Christian Church, Oshawa Ontario, Canada
Sunday October 16th- Speaking at both services at Oshawa Community Church Oshawa Ontario Canada then meeting with some folks in Chicago, IL
Monday October 17th- Meeting with publishers in Nashville, TN


Liar Liar

Written by Mark Gregston.

“A lying tongue hates those it hurts, and a flattering mouth works ruin.” – Proverbs 26:28 

There seems to be an avalanche of dishonesty across all sectors of our society today.  And when kids see dishonesty as a strategy to get ahead — as is the focus of most reality TV shows, or as a way to gain power — as it is in the political realm, it’s natural for them to emulate that.  Sadly, it’s hard to find an unimpeachably honest public figure or champion of honesty today.

Kids lie for the same reasons that adults lie … to lift themselves up, to get ahead, to destroy their competition or to protect themselves and avoid consequences.  When they spend hours daily making up puffed-up stories about themselves on the Internet, or using cruel dishonesty to tear down their enemies or competition, the lines between the virtual world and the real world begin to fade.  Kids being dishonest in a fantasy world are likely to bring that over to the real world, as well.

Confronting Dishonesty

My friend Tim Kimmel says, “Parents should never be surprised that their children lied to them, because they gave birth to liars.  But, you cannot allow these to go on, because they will destroy somebody.”  

It’s best to deal with dishonesty earlier in life, since it tends to grow incrementally with each lie that isn’t caught.  Never tolerate dishonesty when they are still young, and it will be less of a problem when they are older.  But if those days are come and gone, how does a parent deal with dishonesty in the teen years?  If you feel that your teen is lying, or if you have evidence of it, don’t attack them head-on by calling them a “liar.”  They’ll simply lie more to protect themselves, which only compounds the problem.  The better approach is to say something like, “I heard or saw this…” or “Someone said that you did this…so, why don’t we get together tomorrow to talk about it.”  Give them time to think about it and an opportunity to come forward with the truth without feeling attacked.

The first step in your meeting the next day is to let your teen know why you are confronting their dishonesty.  It is that you love them and want to help them avoid bigger problems later in life.  Demonstrate your respect for them by your demeanor, assuring them that you will move toward them in times of difficulty and struggle, not away from them.  Tell them that you can’t possibly love them any more than you do, and you’ll never love them any less, not even when they are at their worst. 

Then, briefly describe the dishonest behavior.  Tell them how you feel that dishonesty is counter to your values and how destructive it can be to their future.  Affirm that you know they can do better.  Make them right the wrong, including confessing to whomever was wronged.  And finally, enforce appropriate consequences and make sure they know that you will be on the lookout for any form of dishonesty in the future. 

Unfortunately, some kids may like the idea that they have become a pretty good liar, so you don’t want to build that up in them.  Rather, you want to begin to chip away at their ability to get away with lying, so they see the futility of it.  Make sure as much as you can that they never benefit from lying.

Don’t forget that requiring your teen to confess their lie, or their cheating or their stealing, to appropriate parties or authorities, and facing the external consequences for that, is often a better deterrent than any consequence you can levy.  So, tell your teen, “If you are ever caught, not only will you pay consequences at home, but you’ll be required to set the wrong right with whomever you have wronged.”

Look for Deeper Issues

Most teenagers from good homes know that it is wrong to lie, cheat or steal (all forms of dishonesty), so if they’ve suddenly become dishonest, look for deeper issues that may be troubling them.  Peer through the smokescreen.  Look for reasons why your teen is suddenly living a double life, including the possibility that drugs or even sexual abuse are involved.  Nothing can justify dishonesty, but other factors may be why it is happening now and reveal how to correct it. 

Some kids may fear that if they told their parent what is really going on in their life, they would lose the relationship.  So, lies build upon lies and dishonesty envelopes them.  In an immature way, they are really trying to protect the relationship by being untruthful.  Sounds wacky, but it can happen if your relationship is already rocky and the truth will put it over the edge. 

Performance-based parents can also create an environment where lying or cheating is a form of survival for the teen.  Perhaps the parent is demanding more than their teen can bear.  So, to please their parents, they cheat on tests or plagiarize reports to get better grades, or take performance-enhancing drugs to perform better on the sports team, or go on dangerous diets to improve their appearance. 

Laura, a girl who came to live with us at Heartlight, tried to keep up the perfect teen routine for her perfectionistic parents, but she suddenly snapped and took up lying and doing whatever she pleased.  I noticed as we attempted to help Laura that her parents seemed to criticize our every effort as well as hers.  I discovered just how difficult it was to please them, and I could see that Laura’s dishonesty was rooted in her feelings of frustration.  If you find yourself criticizing your teen’s every move, lighten up.  Don’t drive your teen to dishonesty just to please you.

Setting a Good Example

So, where do kids learn integrity?  From you!  Good or bad habits nearly always rub off on your children.  If you’ve been dishonest, don’t be surprised to also see it in your teen.  Try to set things straight by first apologizing to your kids and show them how you’re working to be more honest.  Teens need their parents to speak the truth, at all times.  They know when you aren’t being truthful, so determine to be a loving, truthful parent, no matter how difficult the telling becomes and that will be a powerful legacy of integrity to leave your children.

If dishonesty has become a way of life with your teen, it won’t go away with the mere passage of time.  It needs to be confronted or it will reappear at significant stress points in their life, and that can land them in real trouble.  So, deal immediately with every instance of dishonesty in your kids today, and you’ll be avoiding bigger problems tomorrow. 

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


Decision-Making Muscle Building

Written by Mark Gregston.

Are you helping your teenager build decision-making muscles, or will they be as weak as children when they leave home?

Teens need to be allowed to make more and more decisions, but as they do they will naturally make mistakes.  It’s a messy process!  The real problem comes when parents don’t allow them to make decisions.  That may be easier and less stressful on the parents, but it isn’t doing the kids any favors. In fact, it leaves kids weak and unable to make good decisions after they leave home.

Here’s how I see it.  In the younger years, parents mostly need to stand in front of their kids to prevent them from taking a dangerous course of action.  As they grow older, parents should gradually move along side their kids, encouraging smaller decisions.  But when the teen years come around, parents need to mostly get out of the way when it comes to decisions that aren’t of a permanent or life-altering nature. Getting out of the way will be a first step toward strengthening a teenager’s decision-making skills for the rest of their life.

Change your teaching style.  The way you interacted with your children when they were young was needed to keep them safe, but a wise parent will shift their style (not their beliefs and convictions) to match the age and maturity of their children.  The learning and thinking styles of kids change as their brains change, and they develop the ability to reason.  That also means shifting from demanding to coaching, from managing to mentoring, and from commanding to imparting wisdom. However, it doesn’t mean backing off.  In fact, more than ever, parents need to be vigilant, watchful and strong in the teen years, because errors in judgment need to be pointed out and dealt with.

If  how you successfully parented before isn’t working now, or if your teen is frustrated and showing some signs of rebellion, it’s time that you make a change.  In fact, it’s far beyond the right time.  You’ve had your opportunity to instill values; now it is time for those values to be played out in your child’s decisions.  Then, when they make a mistake in judgement, the consequences you enforce will teach them. And knowing these consequences in advance helps a teen weigh their decisions, so they can choose properly.

Know what’s going on.  Can you list the four or five major challenges your child is facing right now?  I can’t tell you how many times I have heard a parent say something like, “I never saw it coming.  I didn’t expect this.”  Be actively involved in your teen’s life so that you can be there through the problems they face.  Let me say this to parents of younger teens—the problems are going to come…they’re already hitting your child.  Seventh and eighth grade is where most of today’s challenges start.  It’s a transitional time, and you need be “in the game” and up to speed with what they’re dealing with.  If you think they are too young to be talking about and doing what would be considered “adult” things–you’re wrong.

Share your own mistakes.  Frequently parents ask me how much they should tell their teens about their own adolescence, especially mistakes that they made.  My answer is that kids need to know that their parents weren’t perfect.  That helps them understand that it is possible to make mistakes and still recover.  Sometimes they get the message that we expect them to be perfect and that’s a pretty discouraging standard to set up.  If you tell them honestly how you struggled and learned from your mistakes, you’re giving them both hope and wisdom—and it’s far better for them to learn from your mistakes than to make those mistakes themselves.

Don’t shield them from external consequences.  One of the tools God has given to teach wisdom is the consequences of our actions.  Proverbs 15:31 calls those consequences “life-giving rebukes.”  Many times well-meaning parents will step in and protect their kids from external or natural consequences that they have brought upon themselves, but that keeps them from learning.  Sooner or later they’ll make the same mistake, or one even worse, and you’ll not be able to correct it this time.  It’s better that they learn the big lessons from the smaller mistakes. Allow consequences to happen.

When you don’t know what to do, go to God.  The Bible says that when we lack wisdom, we can get it from God. (James 1:5)  It’s okay not to know all the answers and struggle with what you should do.  It’s important for parents to be receiving wisdom in their own lives as they work to communicate to their children.  The Word of God and a good church are great resources for you.  And no matter how bad things seem today, you don’t have to give up; there is help available.  The power of prayer is something that you are going to need as the parent of a teenager.

Keep an eye on the long term.  There may be times when you feel like nothing you are doing is working.  Your attempts to help may be met with loud voices, slammed doors and worse.  Don’t give up!  I was talking last week to a young man who is with us at Heartlight.  As we talked, I was struck by the conciliatory tone of his voice.  So I asked him, “It almost sounds like you’re grateful that your Dad didn’t let you get away with what you were doing, even though I’m sure it made you mad at the time” and he said, “I am.”

Wisdom only comes through long and patient work.  Keep doing what you can to speak wisdom to your child and trust God to bring a harvest from the seeds of truth you have planted in his or her life over the years.  Stay engaged in their lives, and keep praying.  There is hope for your teen, no matter how they are acting today.

We talked about this issue in depth on our radio broadcast titled “Wisdom in a World of Foolishness.”  To listen online look for the program dated September 24, 2011 at

Are You and Your Teen Connecting?

Written by Mark Gregston.

I’m talking a lot lately about the enormous wave of disconnectedness that is sweeping our culture — particularly among our teens. The reason I’m so focused on this topic is that this sense of not being connected is having a dramatic impact on young people. In their search for meaningful connection their behaviors are leaving their parents scratching their heads and asking, “Where did that come from?”

You’re probably saying, “But Mark, my teen is connecting with their friends all the time, all day long; tweeting, texting, posting . . . the stream of words is nearly constant!” However, the increasingly impersonal nature of these means of communication is actually hindering real connection rather than promoting it. Today’s teens are not only becoming less connected with meaningful relationships with their peers, but increasingly less connected with their parents, family and church as well.

You can’t “fix” the culture in which your teen lives, and you can’t force them to start connecting, but you can take steps to assure that they have at least one meaningful connection — with you. This is not something you can hand off to a teacher, pastor or youth worker; you need to be actively involved in connecting with your teen. I urge you to take the initiative rather than waiting for them to come to you.

What I’ve found is that parents tend to overestimate their child’s ability to deal with the pressures they are facing and underestimate the influence of the culture on their child. Your child is swimming in dangerous waters whether you recognize it or not. They are going to need your help to handle the turbulence in their life in a way that doesn’t come across as being patronizing or judgmental.

Remember this, if they’re drowning or the sharks are swirling around, they don’t need a lecture. They don’t need to hear about other swimmers who are doing better. They don’t need to be corrected on their swimming technique (or their swimwear either) — they need help! Throw them a life preserver, or jump in and help them make it back to shore. I’m not saying there aren’t things that need correcting; I’m simply pointing out that as a matter of priority, making sure you have a strong connection with your teen is critical. It really can be a matter of life and death.  That uninterrupted hour you spend together each week (as a minimum) can be that life preserver.

Assess your child’s relationships. Look at the other kids your child is spending time with. Do they connect? Does your child have the kind of friends who would push them under or lift them up if they started to struggle? You can’t pick and choose friends for your teen; parents have been trying to do that as long as there have been teenagers, and the next time it works will be the first. But you can encourage them toward positive and helpful relationships, and you can ensure that they are in places where there is a good chance of them finding a meaningful and helpful friend (church, mission outreaches, volunteering, and civic clubs or other activities that tend to attract good kids).

Finding a friend at church is no guarantee that they will be a positive influence, so take care not to assume that.  I can’t tell you how many of our Heartlight kids said they began this or that bad behavior because a friend from church or their Christian school dared them to. Take care to look for a church and youth group where your teen feels comfortable, where there is solid leadership, and where strong values are taught.  I know that many families struggle with the issue of church choices during the teen years. For our kids, we told them to choose what church they would like to attend, as long as it was a good Bible-believing and teaching church. We dropped them off there, and Jan and I went to the church we liked. There’s nothing wrong with that. They would have been bored silly and not had any good friends attending the church we liked to attend. We would have not enjoyed the church they liked and not had any friends there. So, we did what was best for each of us.  It made for great after-church conversations, since we could each talk about our own experiences and what we learned that day.

Don’t be afraid or embarrassed to share your struggles with your teen. Your struggles can have a powerful impact on them, encouraging them to turn to God and friends for help in the difficult times. They need to know that it’s okay to struggle. They need to know where to go in times of struggle. They need to know that God answers those who call on Him for help, and that the church and good friends will be there for them. There’s no better way for them to learn that than to see, not just hear, it in your life.

Spend more time together. What you do with your teen doesn’t really matter. What’s important is that you spend time together. Find something that interests and appeals to them. Most of the girls at Heartlight would rather sit and talk. Most of the guys would rather be out doing something active while they talk. But there are exceptions. My point is that you need to find an environment where your teen will be able to have fun and enjoy their time with you. This both builds a deeper relationship and creates an atmosphere where they can open up about what is bothering them.

You need to know enough about their world to be able to answer the questions they ask and speak truth into their lives. So many times I hear the words, “I never thought it would happen to my child.” Don’t let that happen to you. Be involved and know what’s going on. We know that all teens are going to have troubles as they go through adolescence; what I’m suggesting is that you be aware enough to see the dangers coming before they become life-threatening.

Want a change? More than anything else, teens change because of relationships — with you, with leaders they look up to, and with good friends. Likewise, they can be dragged down by relationships with bad influences.  They crave for relationships wherever they can find them, so be sure not to leave a void.  If you work to keep the lines of communication open and your relationship strong, you are giving your teen an incredibly valuable preparation and example to live by, not just for their teen years but for life. Work at keeping your relationship alive, and your teen plugged in to your family and church.  If you do, they (and you) will be spared the negative consequences brought on by a disconnected culture.

We’re talking about this issue on our radio program this weekend titled “Disconnected Teens.” Listen in on your local station, or to listen online, look for the program dated September 17, 2011 at after the morning of the broadcast.

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

2011 Turbulence Ahead Tour

For more details, visit

City Date Location
Westlake Village, CA
September 24
8:00am – 12:00pm
Oaks Christian School
31749 La Tienda Drive
Westlake Village, CA 91362
Moraga, CA October 13th
6:30pm to 9:30pm
Moraga Valley Presbyterian Ch.
10 Moraga Valley Lane
Moraga, CA  94556
Oshawa, ON, Canada Oct 14 and 15
Fri: 7:00pm – 9:30pm
Sat: 9:00am – 12:30pm
Oshawa Community Church
71 Simcoe St South
Oshawa, ON, Canada
Old Bridge, NJ November 4
7:00pm – 10:00pm
Calvary Chapel Old Bridge 123 White Oak Lane
Old Bridge, NJ 08857
Hanover, PA November 5
9:00am – 3:00pm
Hanover First Church of God 600 Fairview Drive
Hanover, PA 17331


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