If pain were knocking on your door, you wouldn’t welcome him, invite him in, or help him in any way. You would send him to the next neighborhood, reassuring him that he was at the wrong address.
Parents in trouble with their teen call me when they are in pain and need help, but I’ve learned that many are just looking for an affirmation or justification of their own plan or ideas. Sadly, most people only accept advice when they agree with it, when it fits into their own time schedule, and when the outcome is what they predicted.
To illustrate that point, I once worked with a daughter whose father paid for an apartment after she graduated high school. I urged against placing her outside of his home, on her own, for a number of reasons. I did all in my power to convince him against his unwise decision of letting her go before she was ready. Tragically, our worst fear came true, and through a deadly set of circumstances, Kristen lost her life, and the man lost a daughter.
“He who trusts himself is a fool…” Proverbs 28:26a
Another father called asking for my help unraveling his teenager’s rotten behavior. His description of the situation was confusing, his plan of action was weird, and his intent was just a little off. After I listened to him ramble on for 30 minutes, I stopped him and said, “Are you asking for my blessing on your plan, or my counsel? Your best thinking has gotten you into the situation that you’re currently in. So let’s stop following the way you’re thinking and come up with some new ways of handling it.” He then broke down saying, “I think I was at first asking for a blessing, but now I’d like for you to tell me what I need to do.” It was a picture of a foolish man becoming wise.
Parenting a struggling teen will bring you face to face with your worst fears. Fear for the safety and well-being of your child. Fear for their future. Fear of how others will respond to your having a problem to begin with. You may not realize it, but another description of fear is emotional pain.
Parents never expect pain when raising a child. In fact, they do everything in their power to avoid it in their life and the life of their child. Even so, when a problem is ignored because they don’t know how to deal with it, or they hide it for fear of being exposed, or they fail to listen to wise counsel — pain can come to rule in their lives.
To lessen the pain, the tendency is to look for a “quick fix” for the troubled teenager, when in reality, God may be using this painful situation expressly for the purpose of bringing about a change in the parent. Most of the parents I work with say they had to change before any real progress could be made with their teen. When a parent changes, it creates a wonderful model for a child to also recognize his own foolish thinking.
It’s difficult to learn that we don’t always have all the answers. But it is a good lesson to learn. A parent in the midst of pain is in the worst position to correct their own situation, but in the best position to be changed by it. Openly admitting that problems exist, and finding good counsel to work through those issues on the parenting side of the equation, will go a long way toward solving the teen’s issues as well.
I like what CS Lewis said about pain. He said, “I know God wants the best for us. I just wonder how painful it’s going to be.” It reminds me that God’s intention is not to allow us to be in pain for pain’s sake, but that He uses pain for our ultimate good. I know you would never choose the pain of the troubles you are experiencing with your teenager, but believing God has a higher purpose in allowing you to experience it may help you embrace and learn from it.
What your child wants more than anything else is relationship. By God’s divine guidance, He’s either placed the child in your presence or has allowed you to give birth to this child. There is a master plan in the midst of all of it which sometimes gets lost in the dealing with the struggles and difficulties and the issues. There’s something intentional and there are no mistakes in the midst of it. There’s that need for relationships.
Usually a child learning about the depth of relationships comes as a result of conflict. The kids that I’m closest to are the ones that I have fought with the most. The ones that love me the most and I love them the most are the ones that have turned my hair colors and I have wanted to yank it out. It is those that have caused that are the ones that draw the relationships together. Conflict does that. Those relationships that stick together through conflict are closer relationships.
Conflict Can Help Strengthen Your Future Relationships
Those kids that do real well move on, but it’s always funny to me that they’re the ones that we’ve had the conflict with. Your family has gone through a great deal of conflict and struggle, and I think whether it’s God ordained or not, you’re in the midst of it and it has the opportunity of pulling your family together more than you would be pulled together any other way. And if that’s true, then it changes your perspective on relationships. And it’s trying to say, I’m having a relationship with you regardless, and hopefully in that relationship I’m not going to stop if you don’t respond.
I’m having a relationship with you regardless and hopefully in that relationship…I’m not going to stop if you don’t respond.
Sometimes when your child calls and there’s a conflict going on you can enter into the conflict for the sake of destroying something, or you can enter into the conflict for the sake of salvaging something. Saying, there’s something in this that’s better. Why would that happen? What’s going on there? There’s something good here. Rather than the tendency that we all have – that’s moving to the other side of the conflict – which is to separate. I think conflict doesn’t have to separate us – it can join us together.
Communicate a sense of love across a bridge of friendship that doesn’t stop if the teen doesn’t respond or makes a mistake.
Calculate and strategize the amount of time needed to further the relationship that moves beyond “entertaining” into “developing.”
For their best interest, and no matter how nasty things get, I’ll continue to love them and spend time together. Fathers, if you have a daughter, you’ll never spend enough time with your daughter. You can’t do that. In any kind of a group setting, the number one item is always the daughter saying, “I want more time with my Dad.” If you spent 24/7 with your daughter, it would never be enough time. So just know that. But they do want the time together. So when your child comes home, make sure you’re spending time with them. “You and I are going to eat breakfast. Just you and me.” Or just mom and daughter. They need the time.
Find a challenge for the both of you and pursue it with excitement, resources, time, effort, interest, and vigor.
Bike riding, buy a couple of horses, buy some jet skis, buy a boat, go white water rafting. Doesn’t have to be Noah’s Ark, it can be Billy Bob’s barge. It doesn’t have to be some Christian thing. Go ride horses in Montana. Those trips are far cheaper than having to enroll your teen in a program like Heartlight. Go do some things that are out of the ordinary. Learn to scuba dive together. Go snorkeling down in the Grand Caymans. Go camping – buy some good camping gear – you can always turn around and sell it. Buy anything used. And then sell it used. You won’t lose any money on it. Do something that’s different.
You must establish patterns of doing things while you’re still working so that these patterns are in place when you retire. It doesn’t work to put off things to do until you retire if you haven’t been doing them. Take advantage of the time now. Start doing something now that’s different. Don’t think that you can’t learn. Start doing something with your child. Buy tickets to go see something that you can’t afford. That’s what kids remember when they’ve grown up and don’t live with you any more. You’re going to want shared experiences to come back and be the foundation of your relationship.
Opportunities for Discussion
Look for opportunities to lead into a discussion where the wisdom of a parent can be communicated along a common focal point.
Go to a movie once a week. Make sure that movie is appropriate. Movies that we see here, we want to follow up with some kind of discussion so they can talk about it.
There’s experiences to learn by listening and talking with older folks. That’s history. It’s wonderful when they share stories. Look for opportunities for discussion.
Develop a Sense of Humor
Learn to laugh, share the good jokes, lighten up, do some fun things, be impetuous, and smile a little more.
Some of you are sour, bitter, up tight all the time. Get on the Internet and find some jokes and have a joke night. Everybody come to the table sharing a joke, even if it’s just a shade off color, just a little bit, just enough that’s it’s funny. Everyone needs to share a joke so the whole group can laugh.
Play paint ball. Group laughed so hard it hurt. Find something the kids can laugh about and have fun. Go into a video store and find something country. It’s fresh, relational, good, clean stuff. It’s finding those things that are good and laughing about it. Everybody tells a joke at home with everyone trying to outdo one another. Pull some stunts. Create a sense of humor. Have fun. This is developed. You aren’t born with stuff like that. The goofiness of who you are – kids will enjoy that goofiness. Live it up and enjoy this with your kids in some way. Develop a sense of humor.
Sharing of Thoughts
Look for those times that you are invited to share your thoughts…not just throwing out your ideas for the sake of filling silence.
Sometimes it’s okay just to sit and watch a movie, go to sleep at night, good night, and it was a relaxing time. Go fishing somewhere. This could be a monumental time in the life of your child – spending time with his Dad and loved it. (Dad may feel the day is wasted, but child has it etched in his memory. Share the thoughts. Kids enjoy it when they just sit around and do nothing with their parent(s), enjoy just sitting back and looking at the stars. Go to an observatory and go look at Saturn. Make that a deal – I want you to see Saturn. Take blankets and go out and see the stars in the middle of the night. You may see a meteor shower. (Turn off all the lights possible). Play music while you’re watching the stars and talk about the stars.
That the God of the Heavens even thinks about you is an amazing thing. Start a fire and sleep outside. These are manufactured times and they just don’t happen all at once. Learn a special song and sing to your child in front of an audience. Come up with ideas that you’ve got to make happen for that special time with your child. Share your thoughts during those times and look for them. Even when they don’t want to do it. Build up to it, “when we get home, we’re going to do this.” Every Sunday is my night and your night. We’re going to do something. You don’t get to go out with or get to do anything. If you do, we’re going to cut off one of your toes. But it ain’t going to happen. You have those times for that.
Opportunities to See You “In Action”
Take them to work, share your frustrations, hurts, and longings. Enter their world. And always keep an invitation open for them to come into yours.
In some way, they need to see what you do and what you deal with and the frustrations – so that can feel that there’s some identity with you at the same time. Tell them how you deal with problems. How you seek God’s guidance. How you don’t have all the answers.
Don’t forget who this child was, who he is, or who he will become. The benchmark is the joy at birth…not at the struggles and difficulties.
Get an image of your child, say at age 2. Your child is the same image when you brought them home or if you adopted them. When you got them there and you looked at them and said this is an unbelievable baby – it’s the same child. And they’re made up the same and they’re the same purpose they were created for that day. It may be covered up with stuff, but it’s the same one. If you keep that in mind, whatever circumstances there are surrounding the child, it is there for a reason. So it’s really a coming along side rather than a standing in front of or always having to feel behind. It is being with them at those times.
Seek right things for the right reasons, confront with calmness, and correct with firmness…with a love that seeks their best interest.
Let them know where they can go, and where they can’t. And be firm about that. You walk here, and you’re in trouble. But you can have the freedom to do whatever you want here. But you go here and that’s it. Unacceptable behavior has to be dealt with on the spot.
You don’t want to say, “I will never support that.” You’re setting yourself up for failure, cause you may have to eat your words. “It’s your choice.” There are no limits in that, because you’re at the age when you can make your own decision. But when they’re living at home and they’re with you, establish that – and set some boundaries around yourself. We’re not going to do this. We not going to be involved in this. We’re not going to continue to enable inappropriate behavior in our home.
Display a Firm Commitment to God, Family, and Others.
Display your own beliefs by your actions.
“At all times share the gospel, other times use words.” –St Francis of Assisi
Put it into words. Don’t just say it. Words mean very little. Let your actions speak louder than words.
And so the issue is not enforcing the rules, though that is necessary. The issue is how do I maintain a relationship with my teen? A relationship that doesn’t stop if they don’t respond (and they won’t). A relationship that loves them through the tough times, and always shows them the character of God, for you are His earthly model.
Teens today seem much more demanding than recent generations. That’s relatively new, but what’s not new is that teens are also less mature today. Add the two together and what you get is kids who expect their parents to be a walking, breathing ATM machine.
Parents who continually meet the financial demands of a teen fail to realize that they are unwittingly postponing their teen’s development into a responsible and mature adult. That’s because generosity and a parent’s desire to provide for their child often gets misinterpreted by the teen, leading them believe that this provisional lifestyle will continue endlessly. They want more and more and appreciate it less and less.
It echoes the attitudes of the Prodigal Son found in scripture, with one difference. Today’s prodigals don’t leave home. In fact, they are comfortable at home because they can continue a self-centered and lavish lifestyle right under their parent’s noses, with no real-life consequences to help them come to their senses.
Don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing inherently wrong for parents (and grandparents) to want to do great things for their children. But when the teen years come along and the child has not learned how to to earn and manage their own money, then the over indulgent parent is unintentionally cutting short their teen’s ability to make it out in the real world.
I hear from parents every day who want to place their teenager in our Heartlight Residential program for troubled teenagers. Many of these kids come homes where parents have lavished on them everything they ever wanted and required nothing of them in return.
We have little ability to change the materialistic world in which our teens live. But I have no doubt of our ability to change what we will and won’t give a child.
So, my recommendation is this. Let the demanding teenager know that it’s time to take more responsibility for what they want or need. Tell them that good ol’ mom and dad will help them make good buying choices and may provide ways for them to earn money, but they will no longer give them everything they want.
I’m usually pretty straight forward with a teen in such a conversation. I’ll say, “Thanks for telling me what you want. But I need you to know something. Every time you ask, I get a feeling that it’s more of a demand than a request. I just want to let you know that as your parent I owe you nothing, but I want to give you everything. For right now, my greatest gift to you would be to help you learn how to make make and manage your own money.”
This immediately lets your child know they need to lower their expectations about what you will provide, and allows them to begin assuming responsibility for what they want.
For instance, “Honey, your asking for a cell phone is important to you, and I know you would really like to have it. It’s important for me to allow you to take responsibility for it, so let’s talk about what you can do to make it happen. I’m willing to help you find an inexpensive way to have a cell phone, and you’ll need that since you’ll be paying for it.”
But if your child is still young, you can head off such “entitled” attitudes. Begin early to teach them financial responsibility. For instance, when they are 13 they can begin to manage a checking account and pay for minor expenses like lunch money out of a weekly allowance. When they are 15 they can get themselves out of bed for school, do their own laundry, clean their own room, learn how to cook for themselves, and get a summer job to cover some of their own wants and needs. When they’re 16 and can drive, an after-school or weekend job will help them pay for gas, auto insurance and other needs.
Let alone keeping idle hands busy and out of trouble, starting sooner to teach your teen how to work to make money will give them a greater feeling of independence and self-confidence and prepare them for the day in the future when they tell you they are starting out on their own.
Happy Thanksgiving! Now is the time to be thankful! Try this Thanksgiving exercise with your family as you celebrate the holiday.
- Ask each member of the family to write down three blessings on individual pieces of paper.
- Place the small notes under each dish on the table.
- Whichever member of the family picks up the dish first, must read the blessing aloud, then say what they would like to be thankful for in the next year.
- Enjoy the spirit of the conversation as you come together for a special Thanksgiving dinner and look past the struggles to remember the joyful moments of the past year.
What have you done today to help your teenager grow in maturity?
Some parents feed their teen’s selfishness into adult years by continuing to rotate their life around them. I tell parents that at age 15 it is time for them to begin aggressively helping their teen get over a selfish mindset.
Instead of always wanting to be “served” by mom and dad, older teens need to do things for themselves and also learn to serve others. After all, they are potentially only a few short years away from having to live totally unselfishly as parents themselves.
Scripture says,“Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought….” (Romans 12:3 – NIV). This is a good principle to teach to your teens at this stage, since selfishness is just that — thinking more highly of oneself than others (including you). Should this selfishness be allowed to grow during the teen it years will only accentuate into other problems after they leave home.
So how do you put an end to your teen’s selfishness?
First, you need to put on the brakes! Stop doing everything for your teen. Quit jumping every time he says “frog.” His control over your life and the life of others in your family is to cease, beginning now. Review the negative habit patterns you established in your home in the early years, and let it be known in a gentle way that you’ll no longer be doing a lot of the things that you had been doing to help them as a younger child.
Break the news to them in this way:
- I’ll no longer be doing your laundry.
- I’ll no longer get you out of bed in the morning.
- I’ll no longer accept childish whining from you.
- I’ll not be doing what should be your chores, like cleaning your room or bathroom.
- I’ll no longer nag you about what you need to accomplish.
- I’ll no longer pay for gas or give you spending money unless you earn it.
Get my point? You have got to stop doing some things, so that your child can start learning to do some of these things for themselves. You stop to get out of the way, so he or she can start.
If you don’t do this, your teen is not being required to grow up. And I see a great number of kids today that remain immature into early adulthood. That happens not because of forces of nature or culture, but because parents enable it.
So the first step is to just stop. Can you do that? And I mean both parents, not just one.
The second step then is to have a discussion with them about why stopping. It doesn’t have to be a deep philosophical discussion about their need to learn responsibilty. I would leave it as a simple, “Because you now have the ability to do it for yourself and I don’t want to do it anymore!” Any comments beyond that will only stir up further fruitless discussion. Let your teen know that you’re not doing “it” (whatever “it” is) because you don’t want to do “it” any more. You’ll be amazed how it will put him in a position of not being so demanding of you, and will put you in a position of not having to do everything for them.
Sometimes it is best to let teenagers know that they will have to start these new responsibilities “this summer,” or, “when school starts,” or, “when you turn 15,” or, “the first of the year.” That way you prepare them for the change that is coming. Don’t drop it on them overnight. Maybe even work with side by side them for couple of weeks as you make the transition, but be clear when your assistance will stop and that you’ll not do it yourself during the transition period. They have to help.
Again, here’s what to tell them:
- They’ll be doing their own laundry and if not, they’ll have nothing to wear.
- The alarm clock you are putting in their room is so they can wake themselves and get to school on time. If not, they’ll get in trouble at school.
- That you expect respectful talk and no more childish whining.
- That you’ll help in emergencies, such as typing their homework if their fingers are broken (use a little humor). This is something one adult would do for another if they needed the help.
- That you’re not going to nag them any more. You’ll ask once and that’s it. Then, they’ll have to suffer the consequences if they don’t do it in a timely fashion.
- That they’ll have to begin earning some money to pay for their own gas for the car. You may pay for the insurance and some upkeep; but that’s it.
- That they’ll have to clean their own room. If they want to live in a dump, that’s their choice. If they want a clean bathroom, you’ll purchase the cleaning materials, but that’s all. They’ll have to change burned out light bulbs, wash towels, and scrub their own toilet. Say you can’t do those things for them because you can’t breathe when you’re in their room for the smell of the dirty shoes, socks and shorts.
I’m sure that when you present these things to your son or daughter, you’ll get to see their selfishness in action. They won’t like it and may even throw a tantrum. If so, then it only says that you should have started this process sooner. They’ll drop the ball a few times and have to suffer the consequences as a result, but be sure not to rescue them from their selfhishness nor lessen the consequences. Doing so will only cause selfishness and immaturity to continue.
Sometimes, we feel that the only way we can be a good parent is to be in control of our teenager and prevent them from making mistakes. And that’s not true. A good parent gradually gives control back to the teenager and helps them learn through the decisions they make.
And when the teen displays immaturity and irresponsibility, or makes a really bad decision, we parents are often too quick to snatch back control and clamp down even harder on the rules. In those situations, protecting our teen from making any more mistakes may be doing more harm than good.
“The problem with over-control is this: while a major responsibility of good parenting is certainly to control and protect, they must make room for their child to make mistakes. Over-controlled children are subject to dependency, enmeshment conflicts and difficulty setting and keeping firm boundaries. They also have problems taking risks and being creative.” — Dr. Henry Cloud
So, my advice is to gradually allow your teenager to have some control, and avoid taking it back…
- Let them assume more and more responsibility
- Encourage them to make thoughtful decisions
- Set reasonable boundaries
- Let them learn from their mistakes and don’t soften the blow
- Spend more time in discussion rather than dictation
- Offer sound advice, if they want it
- Avoid saying “I told you so.”
Control shouldn’t be without limits…
Like training wheels on a bicycle, give your child some control over their “ride” in life, but have some basic safeguards in place. These are the same kind of limits we as adults experience. For instance, there is a limit on your credit card. Why do you think credit card companies do that? Once you prove yourself, they raise the limits. But it’s still giving you control of your own spending. In every area of life we have limits, and it is just as important for your teen to learn how to incorporate living within certain limits as they make decisions on their own.
Limits and the easing of control for an older teen can usually go like this. “Yes, you can take the car, but you can have no more than one other teen in the car, and have it back here by 11PM.” You don’t have to go into all the factual details, like studies have shown that having other teenagers in the car is a major cause of accidents for teenage drivers, and that most accidents for teens happen late at night. Simply make it known (and stick to it) that if your simple rules aren’t followed, then the next time they need it, the car won’t be available to them.
Lack of limits has the tendency to produce a child that is selfish, independent, demanding and aggressively controlling.
Teenagers will go wild if they aren’t given some boundaries. Moral and ethical boundaries don’t change from adolescence to adulthood, and neither should your expectations of your teen’s behavior. What I’m referring to is giving them control over more and more decisions about things like budgeting money, education, clothing, and transportation, not over whether or not it is time to abandon civilized behavior. While they are living at home, or even at college while their tuition is being paid for by you, you can expect them to be living within reasonable moral boundaries, or they’ll lose some of the privileges you are providing. Consequences of breaking those estabnlished boundaries should be clear and understood up front, and enforced without wavering.
Giving control means allowing your teen to learn from bad decisions…
Giving control to your teen means they’ll begin learning from making small mistakes, but only if you allow those mistake to hurt a bit. For example, if your teenage boy takes his gas money and decides to blow it all on the latest music CD, then you’re not helping him by giving him more gas money. He needs to learn to set aside gas money and never use it for anything else. Softening the blow will only lead them to making the same mistakes again and again.
By the way, your teen will rarely come right out and say that they made a bad decision. If you’re waiting for it, don’t hold your breath. In fact, they may defend their decision with all their might, all along knowing it was bad. It simply is not in their nature to go around talking about their mistakes, nor to suggest that they were wrong, but they will have learned from the mistake nonetheless.
And, take note of this. Never use the old “I told you so” phrase with them when they make a mistake. If you’re tempted to, bite your tongue, because “I told you so” tends to undermine the learning experience (and it makes an adult sound childish, too). If you offered your sage advice (which is the reasonable thing for any parent to do) and they didn’t heed it, then it is best to keep that to yourself. They may only “fess up” that they should have taken your advice after years have gone by, or when they become a parent themselves.
A job well done…
When the time comes for our children to enter adulthood and make tough decisions on their own, we hope that we have given them ample time and opportunity to learn from making smaller decisions. As in everything else in life, good decision-making takes practice. If they have had some control over their own decisions earlier on, and they’ve learned from making wrong decisions, then we’ve done our job of teaching them.
Most teenagers say that they want to be out on their own when they turn 18 and make all their own decisions. But the fact is, they usually have difficulty becoming independent. They secretly wish to avoid the kind of responsibilities they see their parents have for as long as possible. The tendency, then, is that we’ll have to nudge them out of the nest in some way, and the best way to do that is to get them started early making their own decisions and learning to do so within the limits.
Do you recall some stupid things you did as a teenager? I do, and I’m sure you do, too. I guess that’s why many of us parents work overtime to help our teenagers avoid such embarrassment. But unfortunately, these life lessons cannot be learned any other way. Experiencing and becoming embarrassed by our own immaturity can do far more to help us reach maturity than anything else.
For many teenagers, the need to fit in can lead them to do some of the most immature things they’ll ever do in their entire life. They’ll mimic dress, language, musical preferences, attitudes and even the high risk activities of their peers just to fit in.
It can be highly confusing and shocking for parents because of the sudden changes in their child’s appearance and demeanor. Overnight it may appear that their child is forsaking everything they’ve ever been taught.
It is natural then for parents to seek ways to protect their child from these “bad influences.” They may go about pulling their teen out of that crowd, out of that school or out of that church. Or, they may even consider moving the entire family to a new town.
If your teen is being influenced to head down the wrong path, be sure to seek wise counsel and take care to look for any hidden reasons for the change. Could there be deeper psychological or medical issues, or underlying abuse, bullying, or a loss that could be causing this behavior? Could drugs be involved? Or, could the child not be getting enough acceptance at home, so they seek it elsewhere?
If the odd behavior is simply your teen trying to fit in, then don’t overreact. Most teens are not actually being rebellious and it’s best not to label them that way. They are just in a healthy pursuit of independence and personal validation. Innapproapriate dress, talking back, or other disrespectful or unlawful behavior is never acceptable and should be corrected, but don’t think your teen has “gone bad” just because he or she is making efforts to fit in.
As your teen gets older, I have found that it is best to mostly stand on the sidelines of the maturing game and offer wise coaching when the time is right. Stand your ground in regard to your household rules, but let your teen’s own choices, good or bad, be their teacher. Some day they’ll look back and realize that the group they were hanging with were totally immature. They’ll realize that they, too, looked like a dork, sounded like an idiot, and acted like a jerk when they were with that crowd.
We parents need to learn to “let go” when kids get into the upper teens. Don’t worry, their good and bad choices will eventually validate the concepts and values that we’ve taught them all along. It may be hard to watch it happening, but with a little exposure to some hardship resulting from bad decisions, your teen will learn how to apply the moral and ethical principles you’ve taught them, and will mature because they “see a need for it.”
So, if your teen is older and you’ve taught them good principles their entire life, put away your fix-it kit, hide the training wheels, and pray that God will bring about good influences and teach important lessons in your child’s life through every decision they make. Most of all, don’t force your teen to choose between fitting in at home versus only fitting in outside your home. There should never be a question that they fit in at home and are unconditionally loved by their family.