When Your Teen is Struggling

Written by Mark Gregston.


Have you ever asked yourself, “What on earth does God have in mind by allowing both me and my teen to struggle so?”

I often see Christians who believe that parenting according to scriptural values, taking their kids to church every time the doors are open, and promoting family togetherness means that all will be well in the teenage years. Like buying an insurance plan, they think that doing the right things will bring about the right result.

Let me tell you, based on years of experience with struggling teens and their parents, that this thinking is just plain wrong. Never assume that applying a continuous moral or religious presence in your child’s life will in itself bring about a perfect transition from childhood to adulthood. It can help and should be encouraged, but it is no guarantee. The often-quoted scripture “train up a child in the way he should go” says nothing about the turbulent teenage years. In fact, you’ll want to remember that some biblical characters with seemingly perfect spiritual upbringings had difficulties themselves in their teenage years.

Stuff happens that is out of our control as parents, and even if we do everything right, stuff still happens. One angelic teenager can lead us to think that we have found the right formula, right up until we see our next child go down a completely different path. Welcome to the real world — where God gives each of our children a free will.

And, welcome to the one thing in life over which you have absolutely no control. It may be the first time in your life that you have to lean on God completely. And that’s not all bad.

Could this Time Be God’s Challenge to You?

In the heart of any parenting struggle there is usually more that we can learn. For instance, could God want us to know Him more fully? Could we benefit from a different perspective and have a better understanding of how to help other kids or parents? Could this difficult time reveal areas of our lives that need to change?

The point is this.  In God’s economy there is always a point to the pain. So allow God to use this time to move you along to a better place or to develop your own character.

Consider Psalm 139:23-24, “Search me oh God, and know my anxious thoughts, and see if there is any hurtful way in me, and lead me in paths of righteousness.”

In addition, think about Matthew 7:4-5, “How can you say, ‘My friend, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you don’t see the log in your own eye? You’re nothing but show-offs! First, take the log out of your own eye. Then you can see how to take the speck out of your friend’s eye.”

Do you have something that needs attention in your own life at the same time as you seek help for your teen? If so, remember this…it could have lasting benefits that go far beyond this difficult period. You will learn to trust God in a very real way.

– You will learn how to become a good listener — one who waits to be invited.

– You will grow spiritually, become more self-controlled, slower to speak, slower to anger.

– You will realize that God is still dependable, even when everything seems out of control.

– You will learn the extent of God’s great love for you.

– You will develop wisdom that is useful for the next generation in your family.

– Other parents will benefit from watching you handle your struggle in the right way.

– Out of desperation, you will stop faking your faith and make your dependence upon God real.

You see, the struggle is always partly about us, how we handle things and how we seek God’s help in the midst of the storm. It will challenge and sharpen our beliefs and help us confront our fear of losing control. Stated in another way, it will help build our faith and dependence on God’s every provision in our lives.

Aim Higher

Isn’t it somewhat comforting to know that God may have a bigger purpose in it all for both you and your teen? If you believe that, then don’t just focus on your teenager’s struggles at this time. Step in front of a mirror and look for areas in your own life that need to grow, and aim to make those changes with God’s help.

Take a moment right now to think about how God might be using your situation to reveal more about His character, and how that knowledge can help you in turn deal with your struggling teen.

The path of parenting a struggling teen isn’t an easy one, but there’s more than one reason for the struggle and I’m sure you don’t want to miss any lesson that God desires to have you learn from your circumstance.  Hang in there; you’ll get through it, and so will your teen.  And when “on the other side” of this bump in the road, you’ll see that God’s plan was much bigger than just eliminating the struggle.

My first book, entitled When Your Teen is Struggling, is a great follow up to this article.  You can purchase this book by going to our website, www.ParentingTodaysTeens.org or call 903.668.2173.

It’s a book that will help all parents understand the process of “struggle” and give insight into the heart of a teen who is.

Entering Our Teens Cultural Arena

Written by Mark Gregston.


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

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

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

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

Look Around

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

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

Verbalize Your Findings

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

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

Fewer Lectures, More Conversations

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

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

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

Would you Consider Bringing us to Your Church for a Seminar?

Written by Mark Gregston.


Dear Friend,

If someone would have told me years ago that I’d be writing books, I would have laughed hysterically. If another had told me that I’d be the host of a  national radio program, I would have called them nuts. And if another told me that I would one day accumulate over 5,000,000 miles on American Airlines crisscrossing the country doing seminars, I would have looked at them in disbelief.

No doubt, I’ve been quite surprised by how our work with parents and teens has blossomed. All I really ever wanted to do was to just work with struggling teens. And while I’ve never put together a master plan for my life, I’m convinced the Master had a plan…so I just get to tag along and see what happens.

One of those “things” that I get to do is seminars. I spend 20 weekends a year traveling to various churches across the U.S. and Canada leading a seminar called “Tough Guys & Drama Queens”; a seminar for parents, helping them prepare for and manage through their child’s adolescent years.

I’d like to come to your community. To do so means that someone has to sponsor us to come to your city, either a church or an individual. While I don’t get paid to lead the seminar, the Heartlight Foundation does ask for a fee for my time. That fee goes into a fund to produce more parenting resources.

Would you like to help put on a seminar in your community? It would mean finding funds to cover the fee and traveling expenses, and then helping us coordinate and market the event. Many times, churches have me come in to lead a seminar on a Friday night and Saturday morning, and just have me stay to speak in the Sunday morning services. Other times, I speak at a Sunday service, then lead a seminar on that Sunday afternoon. And then there are times that I come on a weeknight and we have “An Evening with Mark Gregston”; a two and a half hour parenting seminar. However folks want to host, we’re pretty flexible.

If this idea interest you, you can find out more by calling our fellow that coordinates these events. He can tell you all the details, fees, etc. His name is Sam Sheeley and he can be reached at our offices at 903.668.2173 or by email sam.sheeley@HeartlightMinistries.org.

Be creative. Get some churches to go together to make this happen. Have a special fall back to school seminar for parents.  Find a radio station that will help sponsor, or a local company.

This seminar will change the way parents approach their kids, and help them prepare for the oftentimes-turbulent adolescent years.

I hope to see you in your community.  Let us know if you’d like to help make this happen.



Mark Gregston

Creating Healthy Relationships at Home

Written by Mark Gregston.


We were created for relationships. That’s why we’re often the healthiest and happiest when we’re enjoying strong connections with others. On the flip side, we often struggle the most when our relationships are damaged or broken. That’s why I firmly believe that discipline problems in the home are actually connection problems. Disrespect, dishonesty, anger, and other negative actions and attitudes in teens are the result of anemic relationships. So if we invest in creating a healthy environment in our homes, where relationships can grow and blossom, many of the teen issues we struggle with will work themselves out.

So how do we foster nourishing relationships?

  1. By Laughing More

I love how Chuck Swindoll said it … “The most beautiful and beneficial therapy God ever granted humanity is laughter.” When was the last time you laughed with your kids? Some of us are sour, bitter, and stressed all of the time. And who wants to be around people like that? We need to lighten up! Let’s aim to be parents that are fun to be around. When teens spend time with us, they shouldn’t come away feeling angry, resentful, or bitter. Have fun with your kids. The families that laugh together usually stay together.

  1. By Spending Time

A sure fire way to develop a healthy relationship with your child is to spend quality time with him or her. It doesn’t have to take a lot of time or money.  But it should be consistent. Take your child out for breakfast, coffee, or lunch — and turn it into a weekly habit. Even if they resist, you insist. Pushing for time together tells your child, “You are worth spending time with.” The value of quality time with your child cannot be overstated. I’ve said this on the radio, I put it in my books and I mention it almost every time I speak, yet I think this may be the least heeded advice I have ever given. But spending quality time with your child works! Give it a try. Do things with your kids. You will be amazed at the strong relationship that will result over time.

  1. By Being Responsive

Healthy relationships are made when we respond, instead of react, to our teens. If most of our conversations with a child involve correcting, nagging, or criticizing, you can guarantee our teens will disengage. We don’t have to react to everything a teen says or does. It’s far better to simply respond. This will be hard when your son or daughter says:

  • I believe marijuana should be legal
  • I don’t think abortion is such a big deal
  • I hate church
  • I don’t like the people you hang around with

Our first response to these issues may be to snap at them and inform our teens why they are wrong. But before you go down that road, try saying, “That’s interesting. Why do you think that?” By responding with grace and understanding, you’re letting your kids process their thoughts and inviting them into a conversation, rather than subjecting them to a lecture.

  1. By Learning about Your Family

Many parents still carry a photo of their child as a baby in their purse or wallet. There’s likely a photo gallery of your youngster on the wall. These pictures remind us of the joy of bringing our son or daughter home, and who they once were before they turned into hormonal teenagers. And that’s a good thing! But don’t dwell solely on who your child was. Spend time getting to know who they are. Become a student of your child. Learn about her favorite band, his least favorite class, who she looks up too, what he cares about, what she wants to be. Relationships get stuck in neutral if all we know about a person is who they were ten years ago. Discover and appreciate who your teen is now, and your relationship with your child will flourish.

  1. 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. If you are unable to participate in their favorite activities, then just be there to watch or help them in some way. The key is putting the two of you together on a regular basis.

Which of these tips 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 it up! Make time for them week after week. Eventually they’ll come around.

And remember that a healthy family doesn’t mean a perfect family. There will always be bumps in the road. But if you and your kids are connected, your family will be able to survive and thrive even when things get tough.

Countering Your Teen’s Peer Pressure

Written by Mark Gregston.

teenagers drinking in the park

Ever hear of a lemming? You know, the Animalia, Chordata, Mammalia, Redentia, Cricetidae, Arvicolinae, Lemmini scientific classification kind?   They don’t live in Texas, that’s for sure. But are found in the Artic. They, and our teens, have a little in common. Lemmings are rodent cousins of hamsters that spend their lives in the northern regions of the world. Now, we wouldn’t pay these small, furry creatures much attention, except for the fact that they display some bizarre behavior. Every few years, when the lemming population becomes too large (because, let’s be honest, lemmings multiply like rabbits!), they migrate in huge numbers in search of new sources of food. What’s interesting is that there is no lemming Moses figure leading this mass exodus. Instead, these overgrown hamsters move as a giant, panicky group.

This kind of mindless devotion to the behavior of the collective leads lemmings into precarious situations. If migrating lemmings reach a large body of water, like a lake or even an ocean, they will follow each other into the water and swim away from shore without considering the danger. Now, lemmings can swim, but not across a gigantic sea! Most either drown or get eaten by sea gulls, fish or seals. You would think that at some point, a lemming would stop and say, “Hey guys, anyone know where we going? Are we sure we can swim across the ocean?

Everyone experiences the “lemming years.” Back when I was teen, when dinosaurs still roamed the earth, I remember doing things that were stupid, dangerous or unwise simply because others were engaged in the same activity. I’m sure that you have your own stories of jumping off cliffs or swimming across oceans while following the crowd. This consistent pull to do what others are doing is what we call “peer pressure.” Just like you and I experienced its influence, your child will face, or is facing, this kind of pressure, as well.

But peer pressure looks different today than it did back then. The siren call of the lemmings on your teen is unlike our own cultural pressures. It’s stronger. It’s more appealing. And it’s more dangerous. That’s why moms and dads need to be equipped to counter the relentless peer pressure their teens are facing each and every day. So what are the likely forces your child is facing now?

Pressure to Be Politically Correct

I’m all for open, respectful and honest debates about the issues. But more and more teens today are feeling the burden to adhere to the specific language and values espoused by a PC culture. It shows up when teens tell you, “You can’t say that!” Or, “That’s YOUR truth. It’s not mine.” If we are raising our kids to live according to God’s authority, chances are they will bump heads with the culture at certain points. But we don’t pattern our lives after Scripture because it’s popular, but because it’s right. It’s true.

To counter the peer pressure to be politically correct, resolve to be graceful towards your teen and others. Show them that having unpopular opinions doesn’t mean you are unloving or a critical person, that tolerance is possible, even in disagreements about issues of religion or politics. To attack the sources of this peer pressure will only reinforce their appeal for your teen. Also, stand by your beliefs. Explain to your teen what you believe and why you believe it. In doing so, you’ll provide a model for swimming against the current of the culture, and weaken the draw of that persistent pressure to go with the flow.

Pressure to Be “Normal”

We were created to be social creatures; to be part of a larger community and to be connected relationally. Kids feel this need intensely during the teen years. It’s what drives a large part of their behavior. Teens desire to be accepted, valued and welcomed within their peer group. That means that if certain aspects of their personality or character stand out, they will try to change in order to fit in. It’s a pressure to appear “normal.”

If normal is defined as “imitating Christ,” then this peer pressure can be a good thing. But if “normal” is simply misbehaving, you need to guide your teen to a new peer group. Encourage them to go to a youth group, where the entire community is focused on pursuing Jesus. Have your teen join the music program at school, where they will get to go on trips, practice and form tight-knit relationships with other peers who have a singular goal in mind. Or push them to get involved with other extra-curricular activities, like the debate team, volleyball, or chess club, where they can work and enjoy the community of other kids with similar, worthwhile goals. Groups, teams, and organizations help to define “normal” in a positive way.

Pressure For Appearance

This is a big one for parents. In every generation it seems like the pants sag lower, and skirts are cut a little higher. Most parents dread clothes shopping with their teens because it means walking into World War III. The styles have changed, and teens feel pressure to be hip, cool and fashionable, which leaves parents with worried looks and splitting headaches.

Here’s my advice for countering this pressure for appearance; decide beforehand which hill you’re willing to die on. For our daughters, modesty is important. There will be certain clothing items that show too much skin and require a firm, “no.” But should you go to war over your daughters desire to dye her hair purple? Or your son’s droopy pants? Think back to some of the fads and fashions of our day. Most were hideous, but we grew out of them. And so will your teen. Set rules about modesty or profanity or permanent body modification, but allow the minor things to go unchallenged, knowing that the pressure to dress that way will soon pass.

Pressure to Be Sexually Active

You don’t have to look far to see that the promotion of sexual activity is all around us. In fact, not having sex is considered weird and abnormal. Your son or daughter will be asked in their teen years, “How far did you go?” or “Did you sleep with him?” or “Why haven’t you slept with her yet?” The pressure to experiment and engage in sexual behavior is a driving force in your teen’s world. And it’s happening at younger and younger ages.

To counteract this sensual push, teens need you to be open and honest. I know it’s difficult to have frank discussions about sex with your child. But you need to balance the misinformation they are receiving in their culture, with the wisdom and insight from your experience. In a sensual world, teens need parents to help them navigate and avoid shipwrecks.

Start by asking questions to get the conversation going. Say “would you ever do something that makes you uncomfortable to be with someone you like?” Or “What’s the biggest pressure you are facing right now?” Now, be prepared, because you might hear some answers that will shock you. But don’t overact. Establish a relationship with your teen that engenders a sense of trust and honesty. They need to know they can ask you any question or confess any mistake without fear. Then, look for opportunities to speak into their world. When a TV show celebrates a couple living together before marriage, take a moment to comment on why that’s not a good idea, and how it leads to more broken relationship. When songs laud one-night stands, share the shame and guilt that comes from such casual flings; the aspects we don’t hear about. If you don’t share healthy sexual boundaries with your teen, who will?

No one can escape peer pressure. It’s always been here, and will continue to push kids to jump off cliffs and swim oceans. But equipped with tools and knowledge, you can help your teen stand out from the crowd and resist those lemming leanings.

Building Effective Fences For Your Teen

Written by Mark Gregston.

garden fence

When I was growing up, our family had one major rule—don’t make Dad mad.  If my siblings or I happened to cross that line and break this greatest-of-all-commandments in our house, the consequences were swift and often severe.

I remember once “borrowing” the motorcycle without permission.  It was locked up in the garage, but my brother and I managed to get in and sneak it out for a spin. Of course, we wrecked the motorcycle almost immediately.  Obviously Dad was upset.  Rather than fixing the bike that we loved to ride, my father donated it to the local school for their shop class.  And then he went a step further and withdrew from my brother and I.  Our relationship wasn’t that great to begin with, but he basically didn’t speak to us for a few weeks. I had stepped over the boundaries, and my dad cut me off as a result.

Looking back, I can see that was the only way my dad knew how to set rules and enforce consequences. But that kind of militaristic and legalistic approach does very little to create healthy relationships or healthy teens.  Without a doubt, kids need rules. Boundaries act as fences that keep kids secure, while also allowing them the freedom to run within safe limits.  Though it may seem contradictory, when teens have specific restrictions on their behavior, they actually have a greater degree of freedom.

But maybe that’s not the general feeling in your home. Instead of seeing rules as a function of liberty, your kid sees them as constraints that hamper freedom. Maybe your teen intentionally crosses every boundary you set up for his or her safety. Perhaps every rule you make is met with bitter resistance. Does it seem like every limit you put on your teen’s behavior only makes him or her more likely to rebel? Let me share some tips that may help build more effective boundaries.

Build The Fences Together

When I think about areas where teenagers need boundaries, a few things spring to mind:

  • Bullying
  • Disrespect
  • Dishonesty
  • Disobedience
  • Drug and alcohol use
  • Academics
  • Internet activity
  • Sexual activity
  • Social media use
  • Driving

And I’m sure you could add to this list yourself. At first glance, this may look overwhelming. How do you go about setting up the rules of engagement for these behaviors and mediate the appropriate consequences should they be broken, without being a heavy-handed enforcer? If you establish these rules unilaterally, you’ll likely face significant pushback from your teen.  He won’t understand why he has no say in the process and he’ll be less likely to adhere to the boundaries as a result.

The solution is to sit down with your teen and build these fences together.  This is a time to turn off the cell phones, the television and the laptop and focus on what you’re doing.  Talk about family expectations on issues like dating, driving, cell phones, church, school, friends, media; the list could go on and on, but be sure to major on the majors.  Discuss, but don’t dictate, what kinds of behavior fits with your family’s values and which don’t, and include some rules for the adults in the family as well, so the kids don’t think this process is just targeting them.  Talk through the reasons behind the rules you are establishing and get everyone’s opinion about the consequences that should be applied for breaking the rules.

The conversation could go something like this: Do you think it’s okay to drink and drive? (Your teen will most likely say “no.” If not, or they are unsure, you can spell out the dangers of that behavior). Okay, since drinking and driving is a dangerous, if it happens, you lose the car for a month. If it happens again, you lose the car forever!”  I can almost guarantee you’ll be surprised how tough your kids will be on themselves when consequences are being discussed! If I get a D in any class, I have to live in Siberia for a month! In fact, you might have to lessen the consequences your teen suggests, to make them more realistic.

Somewhere along our parenting timeline, we (as parents) have equated our child’s breaking rules as our own disappointment, which sometimes moves us to anger (which is really an emotional response to not getting what we really want). That anger, when displayed to our kids who have broken the rules, has a tendency to cloud discussions if the breaking of rules is more about our disappointment than “helping our child get to where he wants to go and keeping him from where he doesn’t want to end up” (the definition of discipline). Remember, disappointment doesn’t always have to move to anger. Anger is more about “us” in this case. Remember that proverb, “a gentle answer turns away wrath?” Well, a gentle discussion about rules and consequences is far more productive than one fueled by anger.

By sitting down, getting your teen’s input, and building boundaries together, you are giving your teens a sense of ownership for their own lives. And when they have foreknowledge of the consequences they can expect, they can weigh the cost of breaking rules for themselves. You’ll be surprised at how this newfound responsibility creates maturity in your teen’s life.

Additionally, mutually deciding on the boundaries allows the structure to be the policeman, while you play the part of coach. Instead of just dealing out punishments, you can focus on encouraging good decisions. Honey, I don’t want you to lose your phone for a week … so make the right choice! It’s appropriate to remind your kids that when they step over the line, they’ve agreed to the consequences and now have to live with them. Proverbs 19:19 says, “If you rescue [an angry child] once, you will have to do it again.”  Parents are often afraid that if they enforce the consequences that have been set they will damage their relationship with their child.  The truth is just the opposite.  Kids actually want their parents to be consistent, and they can live with the consequences, so let them be involved in setting those consequences.

Make the Boundaries Relational

            Shawn is a young man who came to live with us at Heartlight Residential Center. He started smoking pot at a young age, and it snowballed from there. Following an arrest for possession and distribution, Shawn and his parents realized it was a time for a change. The rules that his mom and dad had put in place simply were not working. So at Heartlight, Shawn got to spend some time working through his behavior and reestablishing a good relationship with his parents. During this time, Shawn talked with me and said something very insightful. He told me, “Mark, I am a sensitive guy, and I have a lot of feelings I’m uncomfortable expressing to my family. I think that’s why I was using pot so much. It was a stress reliever. And I know my mom and dad were trying to help me, but instead of figuring out what was wrong they just made rules for me to follow. And that made it worse.

Shawn was actually communicating an important principle; rules should be relational. Don’t just set boundaries. Explain them, and ask your teen if they make sense. The goal is to foster a lifelong relationship of mutual trust and accountability.

Take a look at the rules of your home. Are they more about behavior-modification than about relationships? Do boundaries nurture independence, or inhibit growth? I know parents who insist that everyone in their family must brush their teeth three times a day. Now, that may promote good hygiene in young children, but do rules like this help teens make good decisions on their own, or strengthen relationships? Most likely not. So perhaps it’s worth tossing such rules away when your child becomes a teen. If the boundaries you put up have a clear and meaningful purpose your teen can understand, they’ll be less likely to buck against it.

Above all else, work diligently to keep your relationship strong.  As you can probably tell, I think boundaries are important, but the relationship you have with your child is even more important.  Take the time to involve them, and help them take ownership of the rules.  I think you’ll find the fights decreasing and the harmony in your home increasing.  It’s worth the effort!



Mark Gregston

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A Special Message from Mark: Would You Think About Hosting a Dinner for Us?

Written by Mark Gregston.


Dear Friend,

One of the realities of being in ministry trying to help as many parents as we can is the fact that we have to raise money to exist. If it were not for people that come along side of us and help us in our mission, we just couldn’t do what we do to the numbers of folks that benefit from our efforts to bring hope and help to families.

That reality means, that in addition to writing books, speaking at seminars and conferences, and recording radio programs heard on 1,600 stations, I have to raise over $2,000,000 a year for this “machine” to work.

That’s quite a bit less than most ministries have to raise. But, nonetheless, it’s an amount that I think about constantly and am always thinking of new ways to reach more parents and teens.

One of the ways we raise funds to through our Friends of Heartlight & Parenting Today’s Teen’s Dinners. It’s where we ask someone to “host” a dinner at their home, restaurant, club, etc. in hopes of spreading the word about all our work, and encouraging attendees to financially participate with us.

I come to each of those events, and will share about our ministry and mission, in hopes of raising $10,000 to $15,000 from each dinner. You would invite potential donors that you know, and we’d invite some current donors that we know from your area to come. We don’t anticipate these dinners being over 30 people (but if you would like to host a larger dinner…we’re all game!)

The night’s event include a time of mingling, a dinner, a presentation by me about our ministry which includes a short video, and an “ask”, where I offer people the opportunity to help us save lives of teens and families by participating with us financially.

We hope to have 20 of these dinners during 2015, and we’ll schedule throughout the whole year. It is my hope to coordinate these dinners with seminars in your area.

So here’s my “ask” of you. Would you be willing to host one of these dinners, with hopes of helping us meet our financial goal of $300,000 from our dinners? I, or my son, Adam, would be happy to explain to you about the dinners. We’d love to plan them at least 6 weeks in advance.

What do you think? Can you help us in this way? Would you be willing to give some of your time to making a small dinner a wonderful success, and help change the life of teens and families alike?

If you have an interest, please call me at my office number of 903.668.2173, or call Adam Gregston at 972.342.4416.

I look forward to sharing the mission of Heartlight and Parenting Today’s Teens with folks in your community.



Mark Gregston

The post A Special Message from Mark: Would You Think About Hosting a Dinner for Us? appeared first on Parent Tips from Mark Gregston.

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