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

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8 Qualities of a Good Parent

Written by Mark Gregston.


I never met a mom or dad whose goal was to be a bad parent. From the moment we hold that little bundle of joy in our arms, we dedicate our lives to guiding, protecting and loving our kid to the best of our ability. Unfortunately, when the hospital hands the baby over, they don’t include a how-to guide on being a good parent. We have to figure it out as we go along. And when our kid reaches adolescence, that’s when our parenting knowledge is really put to the test.

As a parent and grandparent in my own family, and as a counselor to thousands of teens over the years, I’ve made my fair share of mistakes. But I’ve also learned a lot. Let me share with you what I think are the 8 most essential qualities we need as parents.

#1—A Thick Skin

Here’s the honest truth—that kid you love will say things and do things that will upset you. Our children have the capacity to hurt us in ways other people cannot. But as parents, we need to learn not to take everything our teen says and does personally. Chalk it up to hormones, growing up, private struggles, or teen angst … and move on. Developing a thick skin allows you to have a clear, rational mind when you deal with your child, instead of operating under emotions of pain or hurt.

#2—A Soft Heart

Having thick skin doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have a soft heart for our kids. In order to be the best parent we can be, we need to show compassion, empathy and love, even when our kids are at their worst. We should always be looking to understand where our teens are coming from, and building bridges to their hearts.

#3—Trust in God

Mom and Dad—although you are responsible for your children, God doesn’t leave them up to you entirely. Isn’t that good news? God is working on your son or your daughter, and we can trust that He will finish what He started. There’s a sense of relief and freedom in knowing that though we love our kids, God loves them even more. Nothing that happens to our family is outside of God’s control. And He is working everything for our good.

#4—A Grasp of the Future

Every parent needs to have a solid grasp on the future. It’s knowing that every bump in the road, every hurdle on the path, every storm on our journey is only temporary. It might be tough right now. But tomorrow is a new day and there is hope right around the corner. You can approach every season in your life as a mom or dad as a new chapter in your autobiography. Eventually, you’ll flip the page. These struggles and hard times will end. So keep reading—the best is yet to come.

#5—A Desire to Connect

In my experience, teens trust and relate to people who carve out the time to have a relationship with them. If you want to connect with your kids and be invited to speak into their lives, you have to enter their world. In order to further your relationship with your teen, laugh with him. Talk with her. Play video games with your son. Share your heart with your daughter. Get to know what your teens find funny, what makes them sad, what makes them angry, what inspires them the most, and anything else that makes them unique. Trust me, Mom and Dad—your teen wants to connect with you! Take the time to foster a deep relationship with your child.

#6—A Listening Ear

How do you know if you have the essential quality of a listening ear? Ask yourself these questions … Am I lecturing less, and listening more? Am I asking good questions, or am I supplying all the answers? Am I giving my teenager a chance to speak, or am I dominating the conversation? If we want our kids to talk with us more, we have to be better about hearing what they have to say. Would you want to open up to someone who consistently offered their own opinions and viewpoints without pausing to hear yours? Neither do our kids!

#7—The Ability to Laugh

Parenting is hard.  There’s no way around it.  That’s why we need a strong sense of humor to make it through adolescence.  I’m sure the gaping hole in the drywall from that living room wrestling match didn’t look so funny when it happened.  But develop the ability to laugh, make jokes, and see the fun in parenting.  The wall can be repaired, but the emotional damage from an uneasy or tense home is not easily fixed.  The atmosphere you create in your house is a magnet that can either draw your kids in, or push them out the door.  So make your home a place where laughter is encouraged, joy is found, and fun is had regardless of the circumstances.  Use humor to sidestep some of the pains, hurts and disappointments of parenting, and you and your teen will be happier for it.

#8—A Knowledge of Your Own Beliefs

To survive the perils of the teenage years, mom and dad need to know what they believe and plan accordingly.  You can’t wait till your daughter is standing at the door with her boyfriend to decide what the dating guidelines will be for your home.  Why wait until your teenage son sleeps in on a Sunday, to tell him that he has to attend church?  Regularly sitting down to discuss and develop your beliefs about the various issues you’ll encounter with your teen is an essential skill for parents. Sooner or later you’ll have to deal with concerns about music, dating, schoolwork and finances, to name just a few.  Planning ahead allows you to communicate guidelines to your kids early and often.  Then, when the issue comes up, everyone knows the rules and expectations for the home. After deciding and communicating your beliefs, stand your ground. Don’t waver. Your teen may not be happy with the consequences, but he will respect you for holding to your beliefs. Be loving, but be consistent in how you communicate, explain and uphold the rules of the house.

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Could You Be the Prodigal?

Written by Mark Gregston.


In a world where parents indulge their kids with everything they want, it would seem that these kids would be especially grateful.  Instead, a generation has become selfish, self-centered and unprepared for real life.

A dictionary definition of a “prodigal” is “one who spends or gives lavishly and foolishly.” You may think your teenager is acting like a prodigal these days, but have you considered that according to this definition, you may be the prodigal yourself?

Many parents lavishly and foolishly give material things to their kids. Some say it is their “right” to spoil their kids — and there is truth to that.  The truth is not as much regarding the parent’s rights, but that, yes, it will spoil their kids. Unbridled spending on kids can lead to selfish attitudes and feelings of entitlement on the part of the teen.  And such kids are in for a rude awakening when real life comes calling.

Sometimes a parent is being extra generous out of an “I’m giving my child what I lacked as a child” attitude. Or, perhaps the gifts are being used as leverage to improve the attitudes and cooperation of the teenager. In either case, the kids on the receiving end can become pretty comfortable with such generosity.  It can lead to immaturity, irresponsibility, selfishness and a hard time understanding finances and the obligations of real life when they become adults. In other words, spoiled kids later become spoiled adults.

I know it’s tough for loving parents to limit their giving of material things to their children, especially when they have it to give. But they may want to keep it in check to prevent the kind of damage that I see every day in some of the teens who are sent to our Heartlight residential program. For them it can take months of therapy and doing without material things to bring them back down to earth.

The biblical story of the Prodigal in Luke 15 wonderfully illustrates such a turnabout in thinking for a pampered, selfish child who suddenly faced the realities of life.

In Luke 15:12 the son in the story says, “Father, give me my share of the estate.” For whatever reason, this young man had a “give me” sense of entitlement that was pretty demanding. It was probably because he never had a need for anything for as long as he had lived. The family was obviously wealthy.

So, as was the custom in those days, the father went ahead and gave him his portion of the estate. The son gleefully took it all and moved away.  But he had soon spent his entire inheritance, all of it, on riotous living.  What a great lesson in finance!  Though he was given so much, he lost it all in a very short period of time.

Then, half-starved and thinking that his golddigger friends would help him out in his time of need, he found out differently. In Luke 15:16 it says, “…but no one gave him anything.” Whether they were acting as selfish as he was, or just fed up with him, their denials told him that he needed to do something different from now on, or else he wouldn’t survive. The very next verse brings it all home.

In Luke 15:17 it says, “…he came to his senses…”  He saw the light.  When the money ran out and everyone stopped feeding this young man’s foolishness, he faced some pretty important decisions in his life.  It helped him realize his predicament and he quickly discovered what life is all about, perhaps for the very first time.

The point is…it took a very traumatic experience for him to come to his senses. Before he could get past his prodigal mindset, he had to hit rock bottom. Then he finally began thinking more clearly about finances and about the basic necessities of life.

Could you be the one responsible for your own teen becoming a prodigal?  Moreover, could you be the one acting like a prodigal yourself?  You are if you are catering to your teen’s every financial want or need without teaching them the value of work and how to wisely manage their own money.  Perhaps it’s time to take a look at your finances and begin to limit your giving to your teen, before it contributes to them becoming a prodigal.

By the way, a good way to counteract selfishness and financial foolishness in a teen is to teach them to give of themselves and a portion of their finances to others who are in need.  Take them down to the local mission to volunteer in the food line.  Require that they help an elderly friend or a shut-in neighbor once a week.  Take them on a short-term mission trip to a place in the world where kids have nothing. When they interact with others who are helpless and in desperate need, they soon realize (without having to hit rock bottom themselves), how important it is to manage their own life and their money.

If you’re an adult prodigal, you may want to shift gears to lavish upon your kids every good thing they need in life, not everything they want.  One good thing they despereately need is to learn how to make money and manage finances on their own. They’ll have to go without all the goodies you’ve financed in the past, but it’s a lesson they’ll thank you for one day.

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Parents on a Different Page, but Same Chapter

Written by Mark Gregston.

Same Page

Raising teens is hard enough when parents agree on how a child should be parented. But confusion flourishes and relationships flounder when moms and dads can’t seem to get on the same parenting page. During adolescence, kids need a cohesive and focused team approach from Mom and Dad, whether the entire family is living in the same house or not.

This doesn’t mean you have to change your parenting personality. I parent different than my wife.  My wife’s personality is different than mine. And it works! The two styles combined provide a varied approach to our kids, who have their own personalities. There are times in our kids’ lives that my type of parenting works best, and there are times when hers does. But make no mistake—above and beyond our parenting styles, my wife and I work together for the same purpose, and that’s to raise healthy and mature kids.

If you and your spouse aren’t on the same parenting page, there’s going to trouble. Here’s an example. If one of you is focused on pleasing a teen and making him happy all the time, and the other is focused on preparing him for the next stage of life, you’ll end up with a teen who remains immature, and tends to favor the parent who is taking them along the path of least resistance. The other parent becomes the “bad guy” and the teen is not prepared to handle the challenges that will soon be before him. Keep parenting at cross-purposes, and somewhere along the teen-timeline, relationships will be damaged, spouses will be hurt, and lessons will be lost.

So how do you ensure you and your spouse are working as a team?

Watch The Criticism

Since none of us are perfect, there will always be something your spouse did, or didn’t do, that could be cause for complaints. But before you criticize your mate, ask yourself if it will help or hurt your partnership. Too often, moms and dads start seeing each other as adversaries instead of teammates. If your spouse has dropped the ball or fumbled a pass while raising your teen, you don’t have to point it out or assign blame. I can guarantee that you’ll drop the ball a few times as well! Instead, learn how to honestly express the strains and struggles you are feeling towards your spouse without pointing the finger. And if your spouse slips up and directs some blame your way, don’t counterattack. We all get carried away with our words sometimes. Instead, tackle your marital struggles and disagreements with a bedrock commitment to respect and unity. You will not only improve your relationship with your spouse, you will also give your teen a powerful example to follow. My friend DeeDee Mayer says that one of the great benefits of marriage is: “To know and be known as a human being and be loved anyway.”

Agree Even If You Don’t

Moms and Dads will never see eye-to-eye on every parenting issue. But you can agree to work together and speak with one voice and one message to your teens. Agree to talk through disagreements over what is important for your child. When you differ on what the parenting focus should be in your home, some sacrifice from both parents may be necessary in order to reach an agreement. But having a unified front can bring about some big results in your teens. So agree to be united in your parenting. Agree about which “hills to die on”, what’s major, what’s minor, what’s important, what’s not. And if you can’t come to an agreement, then seek counsel from someone you both look up to, and continue to respect each other, especially in front of your kids.

Focus On Your Marriage

My wife and I have been weather-tested when it comes to raising teenagers. But even now, with adult kids, we still tussle over the advice we give to our kids and we still struggle to give each other the grace to make mistakes sometimes. When my twenty-five year old announced his divorce, for instance, Jan and I didn’t see eye-to-eye on what to do, or how to talk with our son. We were confused and hurting, and it took its toll on our marriage. We started drifting apart, setting up emotional foxholes and hunkering down alone. It took the grace of God to snap us out of the funk and get us back together and focused. We realized we needed each other to survive, and working through the pain by ourselves was not an option.

I know this may surprise you, but your relationship with your spouse is more important than your relationship with your child. So this next piece of advice is mandatory: take time every day to give attention to your spouse. Take a break from the rest of your family to go on a date. Write him a love note. Surprise her with flowers. Go away for the weekend. Cultivate a healthy marriage. Nurture each other for a little while and you will soon see how refreshed and re-energized you feel. You’ll work better as a team, and your kids will see a powerful model of a husband and wife who are devoted to each other and are on the same page.

Be Patient

If you’ve been married for a while, you’ve likely realized by now that you can’t change your spouse. The only person you can change is you. Raising teens as a united team takes time. It’s a daily process. We need to display patience and grace with each other in order to make it work. That may require us to give up some of our opinions for the sake of unity. But let me tell you—it’s so worth it!

Parents, if you are approaching the teen years with your kids, start preparing ahead of time. Begin having those conversations to ensure that you are on the same page, and that the foundations of your marriage are strong.  The steps you take today will guard your marriage from the problems that can come during adolescence. And if you have teens in your home now, perhaps the best thing you can do for your teen right now is to turn your attention toward your marriage, and strengthen the parenting team.

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