Teens and Self-Control

Written by Mark Gregston.

Parenting teens is not just about caring for their physical and educational needs. It’s also about training your teen to handle what life will later dish out, with body and soul intact.  It’s about teaching self-control.

After all, your child will spend 80% of his lifetime away from you.  So, you need to ask yourself this question: “Am I willing to relinquish control to my teenager before he leaves home in order to help him learn how to act and become the one God desires him to be?”

Teens gradually need to get their feet wet in decision-making, since one day soon they will be fully in control of their own life and self-control will be paramount.  Your main goal, then, should be about preparation for making good life decisions. It’s more than teaching how to handle the finances, or how to pick the best classes, or driving responsibly. It’s about training them to be godly men or women and developing their character.

“But,” you say, “My teenager is too immature and irresponsible. He’s not capable of handling much right now.” You might be thinking that it would be better to wait until your teen begins to show some slightest signs of responsibility before you begin to trust him with more. But if you wait to see your child behaving responsibly, you may never hand over control.  They may fail at first, and that’s OK. They need to know that failure is a part of life.  This begins the important process of teaching responsibility and maturity.

Independence, But With Limits!

There is one big mistake some parents make when they turn over control to their teen, and that’s where problems can arise.  Some parents go too far, too fast.  They totally back off and don’t set proper limits for their teenager.  I see this happen most often in the life of a child who’s parents divorce, who feel guilty for what they put their child through. Other parents just want to be friends with their children and they throw out their parental role.  Children raised by such parents often become selfish, demanding, independent, and aggressively controlling as adults.  Kids need their parents to be parents, not their “peerants.”

It’s been my experience that a teen wants limits, even though they may balk at them. We all live with limits, don’t we?  Clearly defined limits give a teenager security and direction, like being limited to driving on the right side of the road to avoid a crash.  If you don’t provide limits in which to frame their decisions, they will feel unprepared for their new freedom and become confused and frustrated.  Limits you set should line up with the law, your closely held beliefs and your teen’s maturity.

Once your teen demonstrates that he can handle the first baby steps of freedom, expand that freedom to a new level. Determine if the limits also need to be adjusted or kept the same. Teenagers will become impatient with the step by step process, and there may be a need to back up to a previous level of freedom if the limits are not adhered to, but this is a necessary process to move them on to maturity.

Teaching Self-Control

Your child needs to go through a process of learning self-control, which means to not be controlled by hormones, other things, or his peers. Here are some ways to begin the process of teaching your child self-control:

1. A good place to start is with asking lots of questions. Ask your teen questions about moral issues, and wait for their answer without giving your opinion. “How do you think that person felt about being treated that way? What do you think would be the best thing to do in this situation? What would you do if you were asked to have sex, steal or take drugs? Tell me what you think about…? Allow your teen to come up with his own answer without injecting yours. Don’t use it as an opportunity to lecture or teach.  Let them realize the fullness of their answer by hearing their own words.  Their answer will often be immature or even irresponsible, but that answer will echo in their mind and begin them thinking about the issue and how they would really act if that situation were to arise.

2. Put limits around their decisions to cause them to be more responsible. Once you’ve given them more freedom, allow them to make their own decisions within that area of freedom, good or bad. For example, if you allow them use of the car and give them gas money, and if they instead spend the money on concert tickets, then they will have to figure out how another way to get around. Don’t just give them more gas money. Let them walk, if necessary, to show the foolishness and reality of spending money unwisely. Once they have to walk, they’ll never make that foolish decision again. Or, if they use the car outside of designated hours, they lose that privilege for a time.

3. Set your boundaries, make them clear, and enforce them if they are broken. For example, if you see your teen watching an inappropriate movie, something that is out of bounds in your home, ask him – “Is this an appropriate movie for you to be watching?” Allow him the opportunity to respond as he should, by turning the movie off.  Let him come to the right decision on his own. If his immaturity causes him to not respond as he should, then move in and make the decision to change the channel or turn the TV off yourself. Then reinforce the rule with consequences the next time the rule is broken, such as loss of the freedom to watch television for a time. If the rule is consistently broken, then remove the TV from the home altogether. It will be an inconvenience for you, but it shows your teen how passionately you feel about the issue of watching inappropriate material on television.

4. Encourage your child in their good decisions, and point your comments toward their successes, not their failures. Don’t say, “I told you so,” or, “I should have made that decision instead of you,” when they make a mistake. Instead, patiently allow them the opportunity to make the right choice and look for progress. Whenever you see your child respond with maturity and responsibility, congratulate them and explain that because they made a good choice you are now moving them up to a new level of freedom.  Keep in mind that instant feedback is always best.

5. Randomly offer examples of good decisions in your own life.  While teens will respond to your own stories as examples out of the dark ages, revealing your own good decisions at key moments in your life will come back to them when they have the opportunity to make similar decisions.  They will give the teen fuel and courage to make a similar decision in a similar situation.  And they will also offer something to think about if the teen makes a different decision. Developing a portfolio of good decisions (both by you and others that the teen may admire) and injecting them in conversations randomly (not to make a point when the teen does something wrong) is a good way to teach your teen self-control by example.

My advice today for parents of teenagers is to begin to shift control to your child before you think they will need it. Give them the opportunity to show what they can handle asking them to do so, and don’t bail them out or condemn them if they fail. Give them the chance to figure it out, learn from consequences, and find a better way for the next time they are faced with the same decision. Giving teenagers increasing levels of independence, coupled with proper limits and parental guidance, will begin to teach them the most important type of control, self-control.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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

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

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

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

The post Teens and Self-Control appeared first on Parent Tips from Mark Gregston.

Teenagers and Consequences

Written by Mark Gregston.

Practice makes perfect – especially in music. We parents hear a child practice, make mistakes, practice more, make some more mistakes. But eventually, with enough practice, they get it right, and we jump for joy. The same is true for decision-making. With enough practice, your child can learn to become a good decision-maker, and to become mature, responsible, and trustworthy.

Handing over some control, and setting good boundaries is essential to fostering maturity in your teen. However, we parents often don’t realize that unless we allow our child to take full responsibility for their behavior by facing consequences, our teenagers will remain immature. I deal with this constantly in my work with struggling teens and their parents, who wonder why their teen is so out of control.

At the heart of this issue is one central theme – consequences. If you wonder why teenagers behave irresponsibly, well, it’s because they are irresponsible. And, they will not become responsible or mature, or wise, until they engage in the process of dealing with the consequences of their choices and behavior. It is a cycle that needs to happen over and over before a teen comes to full maturity.

Sometimes a parent says, “Wouldn’t it be best to wait until I trust my child till I give them more responsibility or control, then they won’t have such difficult consequences?” My answer is that if you wait until you trust them, you will never give them any responsibility. You never will. And, they won’t learn how to face consequences and learn from them, or the consequences they face later on will be of a much more serious nature.

Don’t Wait…Start Early

Building responsibility and good decision-making takes practice, and you have to start earlier than you think. It is a learned process. As the writer of Hebrews says, “But solid food is for the mature, who, because of practice (constant use) have their senses trained to discern good and evil.” Hebrews 5:14

Start by giving responsibilities early. Give them a checkbook in the sixth grade. Give them a debit card with their allowance on it so they learn early how to manage it. Get an alarm clock and let them wake themselves up for school every morning. Let them keep a calendar and be responsible to let you know in advance when they need transport to and from events. Then, don’t take them if you don’t discuss it in advance. The consequence of not communicating about the calendar is, “you don’t get to go.”

When they begin driving, agree to periodically put money on a gas card. Then, when they prematurely run out of their gas allowance, don’t give them more. I guarantee it will be the last time they run out. In the process they will figure out how to manage their gas money.

The idea here is to stop helping teenagers so much – the way you have helped them when they were younger. While a major responsibility of good parenting is certainly to control and protect our children, parents must make room for their older children to make mistakes. You help a teen best by letting them deal with the natural results of their decision, fall down a bit in the process, and then letting them figure out how to get back up.

In many cases, a parent takes control because they see an absence of a child’s self-control and there is a display of immaturity and irresponsibility. Parents of struggling teens often feel forced into the mode of over-control.

Avoiding Over-Control

Over-control happens when otherwise loving parents protect their children from the consequences of their mistakes, or by having too-strict rules and limits (Example: Not wanting them to be with others for fear of them learning bad habits, getting hurt, etc.)

Over-controlled children are more likely to have problems with peer dependence, relationship enmeshment conflicts and difficulty setting and keeping firm boundaries. They may also have problems taking risks and being creative.

Every culture on earth has a proverb that resembles this one: If you rescue them once, you will just have to rescue them again.

Handing teenagers control and allowing them to face the consequences of their own decisions means:

  • They may get an “F” on their homework when they don’t turn in homework. When they get enough F’s, they will flunk the class. If they flunk the class, they will have to make it up in summer school. If they don’t make it up in summer school, they won’t graduate. (Believe me, I’ve seen it happen just this way.)
  • They may have to walk to school, pay for a cab, or miss an entire day when they don’t get up in time to make the bus. If they miss school, they miss the fun after school or this weekend as well. Don’t write the excuse that gets them out of the consequences.
  • If they serve detention at school, then let them miss the football game on Friday night as well.
  • If they use the Internet to promote an inappropriate image or lifestyle, disconnect it for a period of time.
  • Should they be arrested and it is obvious that they or the friends they were hanging around with are at fault, let them sit in jail for awhile. Don’t bail them out right away. Sitting in jail can have a sobering affect on their thinking and force them to reevaluate their life’s direction.
  • If they are ticketed for speeding, not wearing their seat belt, being out past the local curfew, or other infractions of the law, let them figure out how to pay the fine, as well as how to get to work or school the next day, since they will not be driving your car.
  • Let them help pay for their insurance and gas when they are ready to start driving. Don’t even get them their license until they can pay their portion of the first quarter of insurance.
  • Pay for college as long as they maintain their grades at a level you both agree. If grades become unsatisfactory, then let them pay for the next semester. If you are paying for college, tell them the schools you are willing to pay for. If they wish to attend elsewhere, they can pay for it
  • If they spend their money foolishly, don’t buy them the things they need. Let them figure out how to pay for those things (like extra gas money). Doing without may teach them to stop spending foolishly.
  • If they are experimenting with drugs or alcohol, require them to pass periodic and unannounced drug and alcohol tests as a requirement to live in your house.
  • Let them decide how to pay for college next semester if this semester they spent more time partying than studying. And don’t finance an apartment or a car if they continue with that lifestyle. Let them decide how to finance that lifestyle themselves.
  • Turn off the TV, remove the TV, or cancel your cable if staying away from viewing inappropriate content is a problem for them. Loss of the TV is an appropriate consequence.

What it doesn’t mean is that you are a being bad parent by allowing these consequences to happen. Letting them experience consequences for poor reasoning is the best thing you can do for a teenager.

Pre-teens are just a few short years away from driving, earning, and spending. Make it your goal to create the environment where they learn responsibility, and grow into maturity. You want them to experience the Fruit of the Spirit, which is self-control, with the ability to make good decisions, and not be controlled by unhealthy things.

Are you willing to begin to relinquish control and therefore help your teenager find out who he is and who God desires for him to be? It doesn’t mean you stop helping your child. It means that you wait to be invited into the problem-solving process, and even then you don’t solve problems for them. You let them face the music and experience the consequences of their own decisions. You set new boundaries, and let them move in the direction they decide works best for them.

You may have to repeat this process several times before your teen gets it right, so hang in there. Eventually he or she will get it, learn how to make good decisions, and avoid unwanted consequences.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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

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

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

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

The post Teenagers and Consequences appeared first on Parent Tips from Mark Gregston.

Parents of Teens Must Adapt

Written by Mark Gregston.

Trying to understand how to help your teen in a world that is constantly changing is like trying to hit a target that constantly moves. Just when your aim is right on target, things change — your kids change. Parents are often bewildered when trying to keep up with the always changing world of teens. It’s like trying to get a drink of water from a fire hydrant, or holding a fistful of sand. Knowing how to set the right standards and enforce the right discipline can be overwhelming, and may seem impossible.

The key to success in this arena lies in learning to adapt your parenting style to be more fluid, more accessible.

As your child develops into a teen, you no longer have the luxury of making demands and expecting things to remain the same. Whether you like it or not, things change, and you must be able to understand and move with the culture, and set appropriate boundaries. I’m not saying you should stop caring about your family rules and beliefs.  What I am saying is that how you enforce the rules must change.  Otherwise, your child will be unprepared to cope with a culture that is constantly changing. They won’t develop healthy relationships.  They will remain immature and irresponsible, because all of the decisions have always been made for them.

Change The Boundaries

Adapting your style must include learning how to set appropriate boundaries for their newly acquired behaviors, and giving them the choice for the direction they need to go.

A good example of how this works comes from the time I spend training horses. When I put a fence around a horse, I am setting up boundaries. The horse can go anywhere it likes like within those fences. If a problem develops, I move the fences in a bit, and reinforce the boundaries. The same can be true with your teen. Set boundaries, and allow your teen to choose his direction within those boundaries. If a problem develops, or things change, move the boundaries in. Examine their world, and put some thought into what needs to be done. Kids today often engage with one another without really interacting or developing any kind of real relationships. The lack of interaction doesn’t help them hone their maturity or grow in their social skills. It’s your job to help them grow. So set the boundaries that help them do more than just engage with others – they need to learn how to interact. Let them choose the direction they want to go. Allow them to experience the consequences of choosing poorly. Help them to see that poor choices and crossing healthy boundaries will take their relationships in directions they don’t want to go, and choosing well will help them build good relationships.

Change Your Aim

Changing your parenting style for the teen years means you change your focus from punishment and discipline to training and character building.

The focus of the boundaries you set should become more about obedience, respect, and honesty, which are the top three qualities necessary to build relationships. Respect, more than anything else, allows all others to fall into their proper place. Conversely, disobedience, disrespect, and dishonesty destroy relationships, and need to be addressed when they appear also. Dishonesty, more than anything else, destroys trust in relationships. Hold your teen responsible for the direction they choose, and cause them to own it. They will make some mistakes, but that’s alright. If they lay the blame on you, however, remember to put the responsibility clearly back on them. Tell them, “this is not about me, or my mistakes, this is about you. I will never be a perfect parent, but if you don’t change things, this will hurt you in your relationships in the future.

Change Your Attitudes

Changing your style of parenting teens in order to meet the demands of today’s world also means that you refocus your own attitudes and behavior as well:

  • Move from lecturing to discussing
  • Move from entertaining to experiencing something together
  • Move from demanding everything, to asking them their ideas about everything
  • Move from seeking justice to giving grace
  • Move from seeing everything that’s wrong and finding more of what’s right
  • Move from spending time always telling them to more time listening
  • Move from giving your opinion to waiting until you are asked.

It is difficult for teens today to grow up and move on. They tend to like their immaturity, and don’t feel the need to grow in their responsibilities. Teaching them to grow and own their attitudes and choices is one of the most important character qualities we can help them develop. So, don’t just tell them they need to be responsible, or that they need to be mature. Instead, carefully identify what is going on in their world, and begin to set out boundaries that give them responsibility and cause them to act upon them. And when the next new thing comes along, learn to adjust the boundaries in ways that help them continue to recognize their need to be mature, responsible, and own up to the consequences of their choices.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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

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

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

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

The post Parents of Teens Must Adapt appeared first on Parent Tips from Mark Gregston.

Independence Day Getting Later for Today’s Teens

Written by Mark Gregston.

The definition of “independence” is different for the 18-year-olds of today. Fact is, fewer work or go on to college right out of high school.  More remain dependent on Mom and Dad, who house and support them for longer than parents have done so in the past.  Independence day for these kids seems to be coming later and later in life.

These kids aren’t all selfish, immature, and overly-dependent. But what I do see is a generation that seems to be taking longer to grow up, and doesn’t mind living off of Mom and Dad for as long as they are able. Somewhere between my generation — where we couldn’t wait to get out of our parent’s house — and this generation that seems content to remain at home, there’s been a definite shift in what kids consider to be “independence.”

When I was 16, a rocker named Alice Cooper came out with a song called “I’m Eighteen” (did I just “date” myself?) It was complete with Alice Cooper’s style of ranting and yelling about the freedom of life at age 18. I remember some of the words, and I chuckle whenever I hear some of the kids here at Heartlight share how they can’t wait until they are 18, because then no one can tell them what to do. What a surprise they’re in for!

As I remember, the song glorifies the life of an 18-year-old who lives without any plans and is a boy and a man at the same time. “I don’t know what I want…I just have to get away…I’ve gotta get out of this place.” My memory of the song merely affirms that 18-year-olds back then were just as confused as they are today. This is one thing that hasn’t changed. What has changed is their desire to stay at home.

All of my observations tell me that the relationships teens have with parents today are better than the relationships between parents and teens from years back. That’s great, but at the same time it is those relationships and a life of ease that have made it less desirable for kids to successfully become independent soon after reaching age 18. Other kids will move out for a time, then move right back when they learn how much easier it was living at home.

In the cycle of life there is a natural progression for a child to graduate from high school and “commence” to begin a new life or responsibility and work. Teens have in the past desired to get established in a new environment and find their own way in life as quickly as possible. Most parents would call it a healthy transition from dependence to independence, from training to reality, from the nest to flight, from childhood into adulthood.

But for some, this normal transition scares teenagers into a numbing state of, “I don’t know what to do now, and I’m afraid.” They haven’t a clue as to what the next step in life is.  So, parents, it’s sometimes okay to give your 18-year-old time to get ready and to help them in every way possible to get to that point. Some young people need an extra ”time on the vine” to ripen.

Others have all the “tools” to become independent and live on their own but they are just being lazy or defiant and need to be asked to leave the home.  Such a teen is like the baby bird that can fly, but sits in the nest with its mouth open because it is easier to be fed by its mother than to go out seeking food on its own.  Eventually the baby bird gets so fat it can’t even fly, and it is stuck in the nest for the rest of its life. I know that you love your teen, but do you really want them in your nest forever?

It is up to you to discern when they are able to make it on their own. But just because they are 18 it doesn’t mean they are prepared for leaving home.  Sometimes a well-intentioned parent will go too far the other way and “push” the teen out too soon, and into a world of harm that they aren’t prepared for.  If the teen is  immature too irresponsible to make good choices on their own, parental guidance and structure for awhile longer may not be a bad idea, for their sake.

While an older teen is still living at home and not off to college, a wise parent will establish some timelines and rules for that generous arrangement.  For instance, they’ll require the teen to attend a local junior college or trade school, or to work to make money and share in the household expenses. Or, they’ll encourage the teen to grow into maturity through time in the military or working in a volunteer position such as time on the mission field.  After all, it is their maturity, not the amount of education they receive that insures a greater chance of success in adulthood.

And by all means, living in the parent’s home doesn’t mean they can sit all day playing video games or, watching videos, or hanging around with their friends. And it doesn’t mean that your household rules are no longer in effect.  If they cannot abide by the rules and keep themselves productive with work or school and make successful steps toward a life of responsibility, then it’s time for them to leave home after all, since there is nothing more you can do for a defiant teen who is now a defiant adult.

The bottom line is this…once a healthy teen graduates from high school and turns 18, they should also graduate into a different lifestyle of taking on personal responsibility.  A parent can either encourage this transition, or they can discourage it by continuing to treat the teen as a needy child.  A life that’s too easy for the teen will only prove to prolong their childhood well into adulthood.  If they need more time before being “let go,” there’s nothing wrong with the scenario of the parent offering the home as a continued short-term base, as long as the teen is making steps toward personal responsibility and maturity.  In time, they’ll gain confidence and naturally want to move out and move on.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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

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

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

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

The post Independence Day Getting Later for Today’s Teens appeared first on Parent Tips from Mark Gregston.

Connecting With Your Teen

Written by Mark Gregston.

One would think it is becoming easier to connect with our teenagers today with all of the newer, faster, and easier ways to communicate. We have Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, SKYPE, cell phones, text messaging and voicemail. But are they really doing anything to improve your parental communications?

Lately I was in a conversation where plenty of information was transferred, lips were moving, my ears were working, but there really wasn’t a connection. I asked a young teenager in our Heartlight residential counseling program how she was doing. It was a simple question in passing, and I expected a simple answer. Instead, the young lady proceeded to tell me everything about herself, everything she ever did, everything she ever accomplished, everywhere she had ever traveled and every talent she had.

She reported how she could play the guitar, the cello, the violin, the piano, the harp, the drums, the trumpet, the bass guitar, the flute, the clarinet, and the tuba. She told me about all the things she likes to do, and all the things she doesn’t like to do. She talked about how she is a swimmer, a gymnast, a dancer, an equestrian, a pianist, a volleyball queen, and a lacrosse player.

She “shared” how she was homecoming queen, the “most likely to succeed” in her class, winter ball queen, spring fling queen, and strawberry festival queen. She told me what she wanted to be, and what she did not want to be. She told me all her hopes and dreams, and all her disappointments and failures in one breathless dissertation.

You get the picture, right? All I did was ask her how she was doing! She responded like a Chatty doll on steroids, an energy bunny with a mouth instead of a drum — one that kept on going, never stopping to hear a response or to ask me anything.

I quickly realized that this one-way “conversation” was a desperate cover-up of what was going on inside her. She wanted me to know she is worth something and she plead her case based on her accomplishments.

I was saddened because I could see that this young lady really wanted to participate in a meaningful discussion, but the more she talked about herself and her achievements, the more she hid what was really on her mind. She did well at talking, but failed completely at connecting and communicating. It was like a one-way sales pitch without the closer.

When she took a breath, I finally got a chance to wedge in a better question that might open a real dialogue. Her demeanor completely changed when I asked, “What’s been the most difficult thing that has happened in your life?” Her chattering stopped, her eyes whelped up with tears, and she replied, “When my Dad died and I felt all alone.”

Suddenly, there was silence. I stood looking at her for a few seconds and instead of trying to come up with the right words to say, I just gave her a hug. She wanted to talk, but I encouraged her, “Hey, hey, hey….you don’t need to say anything.” Her mother, also standing by, began to talk in an attempt to ease the awkwardness of the situation. I quietly motioned and said to her mom,”Shhhhh….we’re communicating.”

Finally, a real connection was made. Finally, we could talk about the most important things in her life — her real self, not just her accomplishments.

The point is this . . . talking with or to your teenager does not necessarily mean you’re communicating. In fact, too much talk can actually 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? I encourage you to stop the chatter, look for issues that need to dealt with under the surface, and connect with your teen in a truly meaningful way.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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

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

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

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

The post Connecting With Your Teen appeared first on Parent Tips from Mark Gregston.

Boundaries for Your Teen

Written by Mark Gregston.

Boundaries for Your TeenIt is never an easy “enlightenment” to find out that your teen has been doing things that are hardly acceptable, and it can be completely devastating when the truth comes out. Most parents are appalled. They just “can’t believe” that their child would “ever do such a thing.”

Consider the letter I received just the other day…

“Saturday night our 15-year old son informed us he felt guilty because he has been smoking pot and lying about it for the last six months. He confessed to our Assistant Pastor, whom he respects, and who encouraged our son to tell us. As you can well imagine, this has been quite a blow. My heart has been broken. I can’t stop crying. I never, ever thought I’d go down this road with him. We agree our son needs discipline, but I fear my husband will be too harsh, and it will cause my son to further rebel. What is the right thing to do here??

Troubled… –California

My Response…

You might be dealing with just an ice cube, or you might have just touched on the tip of the iceberg. Until you dive in, you won’t be able to tell the difference between the two. In the first place, try to remain calm. You have many things working in your favor in dealing with your son, such as:

  • He confessed, so you didn’t have to “find it out” or make any “new discoveries.”
  • He said he feels guilty about what he was doing.
  • He respects someone outside the family and felt comfortable telling them, and then you.
  • He’s been grounded in scriptural principles regarding his character

It is good that you are trying to get a handle on the issue. And you are wise to carefully consider the discipline that you are about to take. But, before you take the plunge, here’s something to think about. Sometimes parents are quick to hand out discipline or punishment — like grounding, extraction from social interaction, or taking away privileges or possessions. Discipline is good, but taking away something won’t always solve the problem entirely. It is only half of the solution for a teenager, who wants to also be treated more like an adult, not a child.

Remember that smoking pot may be an attempt to numb the hurt he feels.  When he is using such drugs, the hurt temporarily goes away.  Don’t add to those hurts by going “overboard” with the disciplines you hand down or by telling him how disappointed you are in him.  Fortifying your household boundaries, adding some new healthy boundaries, and strengthening your relationship will provide better results.

Boundaries are simply limits set around behavior to try to change the direction a child is going. They define what you will and won’t accept, and should come from what you believe is right for your teen at this stage in his life and for your family.

Boundaries include what your son already knows, what you’ve taught him all his life, and they are why he is feeling guilty about smoking pot. But sometimes teens get confused by which boundaries are “childhood” boundaries and which are lifelong boundaries.  For instance, holding mom’s hand as you walk across the street is a childhood boundary.  Avoiding illegal or immoral activity is a lifelong boundary.  The goal, then, is to make it clear to your teen which boundaries are now appropriate for him, according to the values you hold dear and just common sense (you may have noticed that teens don’t always have a lot of common sense).

Some healthy new boundaries could also include requiring your son to meet regularly with your Assistant Pastor, the one that he respects. Call and ask if that person is willing to meet your son for the next six weeks in order to talk through any underlying issues that are fueling his behavior or the feelings that led him to try pot in the first place. Tell your son you expect him to participate fully, and that during this time you will limit his other activities and contact with friends, specifically those that encouraged smoking pot.

Another positive boundary is to tell him that you will be testing him for drug use at home, using simple urine tests that you can buy at your local pharmacy. Tell him that any positive signs of drug use will result in a further plan of action.  Knowing you’ll test him for drugs periodically will help him avoid the pressure of using pot (or worse) when he is with friends or at school. In other words, he’ll be able to say to them, “I can’t, because my parents are testing me and I’ll be in real trouble if the test comes out positive.”

As you develop healthy boundaries, make it a point for both you and your husband to spend time with your son on a regularly scheduled basis. Set up a weekly breakfast or dinner with just him. Be sure to mostly listen, not talk. Begin and end your discussion with making sure he understand that there is nothing he can do to make you love him more, and there’s nothing he can do to make you love him less. Don’t be afraid to ask him the hard questions.

Your goal should be to establish a solid relationship, encourage ongoing discussions, and as a result, other things he is struggling with will be revealed. Often a teen is acting out due to deeper issues. Is he struggling with his sexuality, or are bullies threatening him at school, or does he feel intimidated by his peers into doing the same wrong things they are doing, or could he be struggling with depression or low self-esteem?  Ask him if he needs your help, or the help of anyone else. Seek professional help if needed.

The bottom line is to avoid lecturing and begin listening and observing. Teenagers simply don’t respond to lecturing and it may take awhile for them to open up to you, but keep trying. And don’t let the disappointment you feel cause you to pass judgment or condemn him, because he probably already feels badly enough, even if he doesn’t outwardly show it. Remember, this isn’t about you, your reputation, or your parenting skills. It is about him.

Move from disappointment and judgment to compassion, but make it clear what the boundaries are.

Take advantage of the opportunity before you to keep the relationship open and alive. Stand your ground concerning the boundaries, and add some new boundaries, but strive to get through it all with your relationship intact. Then your son will learn to respect the healthy boundaries you’ve put into place in his life, and in the future will continue to come to you whenever he is struggling.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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

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

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

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

The post Boundaries for Your Teen appeared first on Parent Tips from Mark Gregston.

Teens and Alcohol: A Dangerous Mixture

Written by Mark Gregston.

Eric was not a bad kid.  He didn’t mean to hurt anyone.  For Eric, drinking wasn’t a serious issue.  Sure, he was under age, but he had been drinking alcohol since he was fifteen.  It was simply a way to hang out with friends and socialize.  And at eighteen, Eric felt he was mature enough to handle his alcohol.

After working at a Jimmy Buffett concert, Eric hopped into his car to go home.  He had been drinking all day with his friends; a perk of working a “parrot-head” show.  As he got into the driver’s seat, Eric felt fine.  Invincible.  Indestructible.  But somewhere between the concert venue and his parent’s house, Eric blacked out.  The next thing he knew, Eric was waking up in a hospital bed with his mom and dad standing over him.  From what the investigators could piece together, Eric had passed out from drinking, swerved into the middle of the road, and hit another car head-on.  Eric had broken every bone in his face, and had to undergo a long facial-reconstruction surgery.

When he returned from the O.R., Eric’s mom and a hospital psychologist were waiting for him.  Although Eric’s injuries were painful, they were not the most terrible consequence of his actions that night.  The car he had plowed into contained four people.  One was a little five-year-old boy named C.J., who passed away at the hospital shortly after the accident.  Not only had Eric put his own life in danger by drinking and driving; he had taken a life in the process.  Devastated, Eric spent the next five years in prison, wrestling with his guilt.  But he stepped out of prison a free man; not only physically but spiritually.  He had recommitted his life to the Lord and dedicated himself to making amends by sharing his story with other at-risk teens.

Now, you could brush this lesson off by thinking, “This will never happen to my teen.”  But can we address the giant pink elephant in the room?  Statistically, your teen will drink alcohol in high school.  Some parents know it.  Some don’t want to admit it.  According to recent national studies, 11% of the alcohol consumed in the United States is consumed by underage kids.  The Youth Risk Behavior Survey found that among high school students, 39% admitted to drinking some amount of alcohol within the last thirty days.  8% of those students drove after drinking alcohol, and more than 24% said they rode with a driver who had been drinking alcohol.

With that in mind, are you still willing to believe your child won’t be offered or even start drinking alcohol in their teen years?  With all the kindness and Christian charity this Texan can muster, can I say:  That’s just crazy!

I am a teen advocate.  My career revolves around helping teens and their parents deal with serious issues, and I have seen too many broken hearts and wounded lives as a result of teen alcohol use to take it casually.  A teen’s maturity level is simply not developed enough to make good decisions regarding alcohol. The physical changes they are undergoing in their brains and bodies mean they cannot properly assess the impact drinking is having on them.  Regardless of your position on alcohol use by adults (and I know many good people who draw that line in different places), we all agree that teens and alcohol is a dangerous mixture.

So how can a parent prevent their teen from having a story like Eric’s?  How can we protect our teens and help them say “No!” to alcohol?

KNOW THE STORY

Before we can ever address the problem of teen drinking, it helps to know why a teen drinks.  If you find out your son or daughter is drinking, take a moment to uncover the bigger story.  In my experience, many teens drink to fit in.  It’s the feeling of camaraderie and community that leads even good kids, who have strong beliefs and values otherwise, to pick up a bottle.  In some cases, teens drink to erase painful memories.  My wife was sexually abused for years, without anyone finding out.  Those images are replayed over and over in a child’s mind, and sometimes they are looking for a way to make those agonizing movies stop.  Worried or anxious teens may use alcohol in order to sleep.  Some kids drink because they are frustrated, feel like failures, or are angry.  Of course, I’ve talked to teens who were simply curious about alcohol or enjoyed the feeling of being drunk.  But you’ll never know why your child may be drinking if you don’t ask.

ASK QUESTIONS

Uncovering the reasons behind teen drinking requires moms and dads to ask questions.  But notice I did not say interrogate.  You’re not asking questions to prove your case and bring down the hammer.  You want to ask questions so you can understand your child better.  Ask your child questions like “Do any of your friends drink?” “Have you been pressured to drink?” “What do you think about alcohol?” If they respond by saying they tried it, I encourage you to thank them for being honest and work with them to understand why it isn’t a good idea for teens to drink.

Several of the teens at Heartlight are here primarily because of issues that come from drinking. I asked one of them the other day why she started drinking, and she said, “Because my friends were drinking.” In order to fit in, this sixteen-year-old girl began using alcohol despite what her parents had taught her and the fact that her older brother had died in a drunk driving accident.  She went on to say, “I was scared to say no.  I didn’t want to be the outsider.”

The best strategy for preventing teens from experimenting with alcohol is to have an ongoing conversation with them about drinking.  This isn’t something that can be mentioned once and then left alone.  Keep the dialogue going.  Keep asking questions.  And if you have suspicions, don’t be afraid to ask your child directly, “Are you drinking?

SET BELIEFS AND CONSEQUENCES

Preventing or dealing with teen alcohol use doesn’t end with asking good questions.  The next step is to communicate your beliefs on the subject and set concrete consequences should your child step outside the lines.  Concerned parents need to lay down clear and firm boundaries in this area.  Your child needs to know what the consequences will be before they use alcohol.  For example, you might tell them that they will lose their car if you learn they have been drinking and driving.  And if they get arrested for a DUI, you won’t provide bail for them.  That may sound harsh, but consider the alternatives.  What will happen if they hit and kill someone while driving drunk?  Teens don’t think about those possibilities when they drink.  In their minds, they’re untouchable and invincible.  It’s our job to make them aware that they are not!

You can tell your 16-year-old son, “When you are 21, whether you drink is up to you. Right now, though, it is up to me to make sure you don’t drink. I’m going to draw the line and hold that line to protect you.”  Your teen may not like the boundaries you set (although he’ll probably appreciate it more than he would ever admit), but he needs them, if for no other reason than to tell his peers the dire consequences if he is caught.  And even if your teen doesn’t have a problem with alcohol, set these guidelines and consequences now, so that everyone in the family is on the same page.

Teenage alcohol use is an issue that needs to be addressed head-on.  You may think “my teen will never become an alcoholic, or get arrested for driving under the influence, or get pregnant because she was too drunk to care.”  But it happens, and it may happen to your child.  I don’t say this to scare you.  I say it to prepare you.  When it comes to alcohol use by teens today, passive (“Don’t ask, don’t tell”) parenting certainly won’t protect your teen.  Permissive (“Let’s allow kids to drink at home”) parenting can actually encourage it.  So it is up to you to practice proactive (“No alcohol until age 21″) parenting, and hold the line.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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

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

For more information and helpful resources for moms and dads, check out our Parenting Today’s Teens website at www.ParentingTodaysTeens.org, It’s filled with ideas and tools to help you become a more effective parent. Here you will also find a station near you where you can listen to the Parenting Today’s Teens radio broadcast, or download the podcast of the most recent programs.

The post Teens and Alcohol: A Dangerous Mixture appeared first on Parent Tips from Mark Gregston.

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