How You Could be Missing Your Child’s Heart

Written by Mark Gregston.

The story goes that Jesus was invited to come over to a friend’s house to sit down, relax, and swap stories.  One of the hostesses of the get-together was a lady by the name of Martha, and she was your typical type A personality.  The morning of the party, Martha frantically cleaned, cooked, and prepared the house for Jesus and the other guests to arrive.  Then she spent the whole time during the party washing used plates, wiping up spills, refreshing everyone’s drink—basically running around like a chicken with her head cut off!

But Martha’s sister Mary was quite different.  She spent the morning excited to see Jesus.  And when He came, she plopped down and listened to everything He had to say.  As Martha scurried about the house, she noticed her sister Mary relaxing and enjoying herself.  And this got under Martha’s skin BIG time.  There was so much to be done that both sisters ought to be busy playing hostess, right?  After awhile, Martha finally had it, and she demanded of Jesus, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me alone to do all the work?  Tell her to help me.” (Luke 10:40)

Let’s be honest for a minute.  We’ve all had our “Martha-moments.”  Our modern life is busier than ever.  Our schedule is so jam-packed with appointments, events, meetings, deadlines, goals, and pressing expectations that finding a quiet, uneventful evening is a rare luxury.  And this lifestyle spills over to our families and our teens.  Sometimes we’re so concerned with being “Parent-of-the-year,” that we don’t take the time to be a parent in the moment.  We’re so busy teaching our teens the necessities of life, that we don’t hear what they are telling us.

To Martha’s flustered demands (and to our modern schedule) Jesus gave some much-needed advice.  “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about so many things … [but] only one thing is important.  Mary has chosen the better thing, and it will never be taken away from her” (Luke 10: 41,42).

Now, there are some significant lessons we learn from this Bible story about how we use our time and energy.  But allow to explore just one, as it applies to our families.  Think about the passage as it relates to your child’s heart.  We so often get so caught up in the ancillary issues of parenting, that we miss out on what truly matters—a loving relationship with a son or daughter.

Walk a Mile in Your Shoes

So how can we avoid missing the heart of our teen?  It starts with putting yourself in their sneakers (or Uggs) and walking around a bit.  At one of my recent parenting conferences, I had every parent pull out their cell phone.  Then I said, “Text your teen and ask them, ‘do you think I expect you to be perfect?’”  95% of the teens texted mom and dad back with the answer, “Yes.”

No wonder doctors and therapists report that clinical anxiety is at an all-time high among teenagers.  We may not say it aloud, but our actions and schedules may shout unreal expectations to our teens.  We push them to work hard at band practice, football practice, church functions, school events, and whatever else we can cram into a 24-hour period.  Our teens are infected by our frenetic pace of life!  Now, there’s nothing wrong with your teen being involved in activities.  I’m not knocking those things.  But Mom and Dad, put yourself in your son’s place.  With everything going on in his life, when does your teen have time to sit down and have a relaxing conversation with you?  Could the perception be that you love him for what he can do, instead of loving him for who he is?

Make a pie chart of your time with your teen.  How many minutes are spent correcting, versus how much time is spent listening?  Is a big slice of your time spent in the car shuttling teens from activity to activity, or is more time spent at the dinner table or in the backyard talking?  Having that visual evidence of your divided time may help you commit more energy to connecting with the heart of your teen.

Many kids are over-committed and under-nurtured.  Their lives are filled with activities, but they’re missing out on valuable time with mom and dad.  If your teen comes home tired and worn out, it’s time to intervene and help them slow down.  Take a family vacation.  Now, I know that many people will say, “Mark, I can’t afford a vacation!”  But it’s possible you can’t afford not to!  Both you and your busy teen need to take a breath, relax, and spend time making memories that last far longer than any trophies or GPA scores.  Beyond the vacation, make your home a place of rest.  Create an environment where kids can find respite, enjoyment, new experiences, and a sense of value for what matters most.

Last Words

Here’s another exercise to try: If the last things you told your child today were the last words you ever spoke to him or her, would it be something your child would treasure?  Or would your last words be a nagging remark, a sharp criticism, a judgmental reproach?  Look, not everything we tell our kids will necessarily be upbeat.  But let’s make sure the positives far outweigh the negatives.  Compliment your child every day.  Let her know she’s valuable to you.  Tell your son he is not an intrusion in your life.  Tell your daughter that talking with her is the best part of your day.  My friend Chelsea has a powerful phrase she tells her children.  She says, “Even on your messiest day, my life wouldn’t be as good without you. 

Affirmations like that speak right to your child’s heart.  Those loving words from a mom or dad are a million times more valuable than expensive gifts or lavish lifestyles.  We can spend so much time working hard to provide “the good life” for our children, that we forget to give them what they truly need; our time and our affection.

Reorganize Our Schedules

What does your busy schedule look like?  Do you plan your calendar around what needs to happen outside your family, and give your kids the leftovers of your time?  Or do you first pencil in your family, and divvy out the rest of your time to other projects?  Make family your priority, and let other activities fall in behind.  I realize that we’re all busy these days, and we carry the weight of a thousand different responsibilities.  But your family needs your time more than they need anything else.  And we’ll miss those good things with our kids if we spend all of our energy pursuing other goals.  So quit serving on seven different school boards.  Miss your Saturday morning golf game a couple times a month.  You’ll have plenty of time for all those hobbies and interests when your kid is out of the house.  Right now, your teen needs you more.

Here’s my challenge: find one block of time on your calendar that you can give to your kids.  Maybe it’s a weekly date where you and your daughter can eat ice cream and watch a movie together.  Or perhaps you can carve out a couple of hours a week to take a bike ride with your son.  It doesn’t matter what it is as long as it’s you and your child, away from the phone, e-mail, and anything else that would try to steal your attention.

You’ll never hear someone at the end of their life say, “I wish I had spent more time at the office” or “if only my child had more clarinet lessons.”  But you might hear, “I wish I had spent more time with my family.”  Don’t live with the regrets of wasted time.  Throw off the need to be busy 24-7, and grab hold of what Jesus said were “the important things.”  And that includes connecting with your teen’s heart.

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 How You Could be Missing Your Child’s Heart appeared first on Parent Tips from Mark Gregston.

Your Teen’s Selfishness

Written by Mark Gregston.

Your Teen’s SelfishnessWhat 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 responsibility.  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 selfishness nor lessen the consequences.  Doing so will only cause selfishness and immaturity to continue.

It’s a common phrase I use with kids.  “I owe you nothing, but want to give you everything”.  This phrase allows me to communicate a “counter” to their selfishness, and promotes a concept of respect.

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.

Visit www.HeartlightMinistries.org to find out more about the residential counseling center for teens, or call Heartlight directly at 903. 668.2173.  For more information and helpful other resources for moms and dads, visit 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 Your Teen’s Selfishness appeared first on Parent Tips from Mark Gregston.

Your Teen’s Need to Fit In

Written by Mark Gregston.

Your Teen’s Need to Fit InDo 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. Inappropriate 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.

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.

Visit www.HeartlightMinistries.org to find out more about the residential counseling center for teens, or call Heartlight directly at 903. 668.2173.  For more information and helpful other resources for moms and dads, visit 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 Your Teen’s Need to Fit In appeared first on Parent Tips from Mark Gregston.

When Your Teen is Struggling

Written by Mark Gregston.

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

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

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

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

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

Could this Time Be God’s Challenge to You?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aim Higher

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Visit www.HeartlightMinistries.org to find out more about the residential counseling center for teens, or call Heartlight directly at 903. 668.2173.  For more information and helpful other resources for moms and dads, visit 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 When Your Teen is Struggling appeared first on Parent Tips from Mark Gregston.

YOU can provide hope for single moms!

Written by Mark Gregston.

YOU can provide hope for single moms!Rather than give you a parenting tip today, I’m going to ask you to help someone else develop their parenting skills. Between now and June 30, we have a tremendous opportunity to offer practical help and support to a very special group of parents: single moms.

You see, a caring ministry partner has given Heartlight Ministries $20,000 to provide scholarships so that single moms can attend our Families in Crisis Conferences here at the ranch free of charge.

And he has challenged us to match this gift through donations from friends like you by June 30, to raise a grand total of $40,000—enough to send 160 single moms to a weekend of in-depth, personal counseling and support as they tackle the unique challenges of parenting for two.

These scholarships are important because many single moms can’t afford the kind of help their child and family urgently needs, and I doubt there’s a more lonely feeling in the world than being a single mom and seeing your child start to spiral out of control.

The Families in Crisis Conference, held eight times each year, is a weekend full of the practical, plainspoken guidance you’ve come to expect from Heartlight Ministries. We also help every parent see that they don’t have to be ashamed of their struggles and they’re not alone.

With Mother’s Day just around the corner, it’s the perfect time to launch this $20,000 Hope for Moms Challenge Gift to help more of these moms find their way out of what may seem like a hopeless situation. The Families in Crisis Conference has a great track record. In fact, 90 percent of the parents who attend never have to place their child in a program!

One scholarship costs $250, so a gift of just $125 from you would pair with $125 from the Challenge Gift to provide a full scholarship. And every gift by June 30 is important as we seek to give as many moms as possible the help they need. Please partner with me today to take full advantage of this great opportunity to help single moms!

 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.

Visit www.HeartlightMinistries.org to find out more about the residential counseling center for teens, or call Heartlight directly at 903. 668.2173.  For more information and helpful other resources for moms and dads, visit 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 YOU can provide hope for single moms! appeared first on Parent Tips from Mark Gregston.

When An Adult Child Makes Bad Decisions

Written by Mark Gregston.

When An Adult Child Makes Bad DecisionsThe Lord is merciful and gracious; He is slow to get angry and full of unfailing love. He will not constantly accuse us, nor remain angry forever.” Psalm 103:8-9, NLT

When a child becomes an adult and is living on his own, it is no longer within our power to control much in their life. It is, however, within our power to manage our relationship with that child.

“Well, what do we do about Mother’s Day?” a father wanted to know.  You see, he was dealing with an adult teenager whom he had recently asked to leave their home. The son’s life was overrun by self-damaging things and he had no interest in changing. The parents had struggled and prayed long and hard about it, and rightfully concluded that it was time to ask their prodigal to go live somewhere else.

But they didn’t know what to do next. Asking their son to leave home changed everything about the way they thought things would go within their family. They were not prepared for it. In a tear-filled conversation, this father wondered – “Doesn’t inviting my son home for dinner mean we’re back to supporting his poor choices?”

The dilemma for every parent dealing with a child who exchanges a healthy life for an immoral lifestyle is this: how do we manage the day-to-day interactions with that child?

Let me encourage you if you are in a similar situation.  Hang in there, and remain hopeful. Don’t back down.  A good relationship with your child who has reached adulthood doesn’t mean you will never have conflict or always agree with their decisions. For parents it is important to love their older child, even when they continue to make destructive decisions.  Eventually, the child will come to his senses and he needs to know you’ll be there for him on the other side of the struggle.

When dealing with an older child, as with a younger child as well, it is extremely important to practice unconditional love.  It is love that is given across a bridge of friendship that doesn’t end when the older child lives immorally, or chooses poorly. It is a love that provides a way of return to a closer relationship when the child finally returns to right thinking.

How to Practice Unconditional Love with an Older Child

1. Show a true desire to spend time together.

Even if your son or daughter has been asked to leave the house, still invite them to dinner. Send the message that you desire them to remain a part of your family, you intend to spend time together, and make special efforts to do so. Try to engage with them in something they like to do on a regular basis, and lovingly fight to keep your relationship with your child alive.

2. Love well during tough times.

Use your words and actions to send the message, “There is nothing you can do to make me love you more, and nothing you can do to make me love you less.” That doesn’t change just because you’ve enforced some new boundaries. Just as God lovingly and wholeheartedly pursues us, gives us grace, and refuses to let us get away from Him, we can love well, and with compassion when a child is choosing wrong things.

3. Ask questions to open a dialogue.

Ask questions as a way of entering discussion, or lead a conversation with a thought-provoking question. This is also an excellent way to leave a discussion when you are finished.  The right kind of questions (non-offensive ones) will stimulate discussion, and hopefully find some common ground. Eliminate “you” statements and replace them with “who, what, when, where, or how” questions that inspire further thought.

4. Be a servant, but not a doormat, even when it doesn’t fit your schedule and liking.

Remember that no kindness will go unnoticed, even if your teenager doesn’t acknowledge your efforts. Keeping an attitude of kindness and consideration that shows you value others more than yourself will help you find the right ways to serve your child when needed.

5. Don’t lecture. Wait to be invited before sharing your opinion.

One of my favorite scriptures says, “A fool delights in airing his own opinion.”  Before you give your opinion, make sure they’ve asked you for it first. Look to their interests and their needs, and not your limited focus or agenda. Don’t attempt to fix their problems. In other words, just keep quiet.

6. Don’t give in to their wrongdoing.

God does not help us do more wrong. We are never to enable another’s sin, including helping our child continue to do wrong or to develop damaging habits.  Allow God time and space to work in your child’s life, and don’t rescue their wrongdoing.

7.  Be patient.

Adjust your expectations away from a swift fix for your child. You may see change happen quickly, or you may not see a change for years.  It is important to remind yourself that it is God’s job to change someone’s heart, not yours.  Let Him do his work on His timetable while you remain prayerful and available to follow where he leads.

8.  Pray for your child daily and let him know you are praying.

Of course, we practice unconditional love by praying daily for our children, even when they become adults.  And be sure to let them know you are praying for them. They may think you are silly, but when bad times come for them, and they will, they will find comfort in knowing that there is a Higher Power that is petitioned daily on their behalf.

SUMMARY:  Loving unconditionally doesn’t mean you ignore your own beliefs and boundaries, or you fail to allow them to suffer the consequences of their own behavior. It does mean that your love for them isn’t affected by their behavior. You love them no matter what they decide to do or not to do. Making poor decisions or turning their backs to God doesn’t mean they lose your love and relationship as a parent.

Back to the question of the father at the beginning of this article.  I advised him to, “Invite him for dinner on Mother’s Day, just as you would any other member of your family. He knows how you feel about what he is involved in, so don’t bring it up. Use it as an opportunity to love your child, and give him a taste of the character of God.”

We’re all invited to the table, aren’t we?  And we’ve all been lost, haven’t we?  It’s only when we bring the lost to the table that they’ll partake in a meal, a good meal, that will satisfy the hunger they seek to remedy.  I want that to be my table.  What about you?

 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.

Visit www.HeartlightMinistries.org to find out more about the residential counseling center for teens, or call Heartlight directly at 903. 668.2173.  For more information and helpful other resources for moms and dads, visit 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 When An Adult Child Makes Bad Decisions appeared first on Parent Tips from Mark Gregston.

What’s this Teen “Cutting” Thing?

Written by Mark Gregston.

What’s this Teen “Cutting” Thing?Some young people today live in a world that goes “over the edge.” The “edge” of pain doesn’t stop them in their pursuit of eliminating boredom and creating excitement. Piercing, branding, cutting, tattoos, cosmetic surgery, reality shows, and expressive and permissive movies are now a part of the culture. Some say that kids are more “daring” and “extreme.”  I say they’re numb and dissatisfied…and pain is a way for some to remind themselves that they’re still alive, a comment I hear from a number of cutters.  Sadly, finding a kid who “cuts” (a form of self harm) is pretty common today.  A topic that 20 years was unheard of on the radio or in Christian social circles is the focus of many discussions among parents and commonplace among teens.

I used to think that cutting was always a symptom of a greater problem like mental illness, sexual abuse, or other crazy behaviors that sometimes fall into that category of “different” and only understood with an explanation of psychiatric jargon. Some cutting behaviors can be symptomatic of psychiatric or mental illness (e.g. borderline personality disorders, bi-polar or manic depressiveness, and anxiety disorders) but not all are.

Not just “crazy people do crazy things.” Kids that cut themselves come from all walks of life, from all backgrounds, and from every type of family you can think of. What was once confined to mental hospitals has for teens become a new way of coping and has entered the mainstream of discussion among our teens. It’s here, and it doesn’t look like it will disappear any time soon any more than any other inappropriate behavior.

What is Cutting?

Simply put, it’s a cut or many cuts that are self-inflicted. The actual behavior is just the symptom of something else going on in your child’s life. The fact that they “chose” cutting as the behavior to get somewhere else is because it is “available,” “acceptable” (in their world), and it is “achievable.”

All behavior is goal-oriented. Your child’s goal with cutting is coping with whatever is causing stress in his or her life. Cutting is chosen because it has been talked about at school, internet, networking sites or something that others are doing.  Cutting distracts a teen from whatever causes the negative feelings she’s had, and she gets some temporary relief.

Now, you and I probably do a similar “dance,” we just dance to some different music. We go run for an hour. We work out. We go to a movie. We do whatever we do in hopes of feeling something different for a short period of time. Young people are no different. Cutting takes their minds off of their cares.

Cutting is a serious issue, however, and it can lead to a lifetime of shame and despair. For a child to go to such lengths to find relief is scary. So, don’t ignore it. I’ve observed that most that “cut” or “scratch” have expended or tried other ways of negative coping with particular issues and are willing to do just about anything short of suicide to get through whatever they’re dealing with.

SEVERAL TYPES OF CUTTERS

1. The Experimental Cutter

These kids may be cutting for no reason at all. They just want to know what it feels like and, more times than not, just scratch or touch themselves with a hot utensil, learning quickly that what all the fuss is about, is not about them. They walk away and never revisit the “cutting thing” again.

2. The Show-Off Cutter

The one who cuts to show off goes a little further than the one who is captivated by experiment and intrigue. This is one who has the tendency to be a drama queen, perhaps thrive on conflict, and displays self-centeredness in sometimes the oddest of ways. They thrive in negative attention for it is better than no attention. Feeling a lack of positives to display to gain attention, they hope to attract through showing off negatives. The more attention they can get from their actions the better. They happen to pick up cutting because it just happens to be the thing that gains attention.

3. The Shock Cutter

Some cut for the shock factor. They look at you and let you know that you don’t have control over them while they express a strong desire for independence and their own control. People wonder why some kids cut, and my response is always, “It’s got your attention doesn’t it?”

4. The Rebellious Cutter

These cutters differ from the shockers. While shockers usually do it as a cry for something, these are doing something to make you cry. They are bent on causing misery for someone else, and are willing to endure the pain to see the person suffer. It is not self-harm in their eyes…it’s done to harm you, to embarrass you. Their anger is so intense that they would sacrifice themselves to make you miserable. Their actions are dominated by a “screw you” mentality that is deep rooted in anger. It may be a type of thought process that includes the following:

- Mom and Dad, look how you guys have messed up my life…now you’ll pay.

- Why did you allow this to happen to me?

- I’ll show everyone….look what they’ve done to me?

- You think I have it all together? I’ll show you!

5. The Self-Punishment Cutter

This is the type of cutter that becomes a little more serious, a whole lot deeper in the issues, and necessitates a recovery process that demands counseling and help with thinking patterns behind the actions of cutting. It’s a longer process, and this type of cutter, along with those listed below (distraction, coping, guilt & shame, and mental issues) may require hospitalization, other professional help, or intense supervision as one must be kept safe (free from cutting) during the process of counseling and therapy.

6. The Distraction Cutter

It’s hard to imagine pain so great that creating more pain would take the focus off the original pain. This is a common answer that I hear to the question of why teens cut.

7. The Coping Skill Cutter

Several times I have been so mad in my life that I’ve just wanted to punch the wall or put my fist through the wall, or hit something. The anger builds up, the intensity increases and bam, it happens. It’s the same thing when some young people cut. It’s that release of intensity. Some call it anger management with the excuse that “it’s better to hurt myself than someone else”.

8. Mental Issues and Cutting

There are times that cutting is a sign of mental issues. Mental problems are rooted in incorrect thinking patterns that are sometimes displayed in bizarre behaviors. Cutting can be one of those “bizarre behaviors.”

Dealing with Cutters

The key to resolution of any issue is to get to the heart of the issue. And the best way to get to the heart of the issue is through a relationship….one that says to them, “I’ll walk with you through anything, and I’ll stand in front of you if you’re moving to a place that you don’t want to be.” That’s the easy part. The hard part is taking apart the puzzle and seeing the logic, progression, thinking, and habits have moved this cutter to where he/she is.

I would encourage you to consider these thoughts when dealing with a child you find to be a cutter.

1. Don’t panic. If medical attention is needed for your child’s cutting, then get that medical attention immediately. A cut is a cut regardless of how it got there. This should be your first concern. You must do whatever you need to do to insure their safety.

2. Don’t neglect the obvious or be afraid to talk about cutting if you think your child is doing so. Keep asking, in hopes of finding an “open door” for discussion. If that door is closed, it is imperative that you try some new techniques to get the door open or immediately find someone for your son/daughter to talk to. And if your child is not willing, you seek counsel to determine ways to force your child to respond to the situation.

3. Seek counsel. Every child is different, and so is every situation. Unless one has been around cutting and had experience dealing with self-harm issues, or has done so themselves and have worked through their issues, I wouldn’t put too much hope in that person being able to “connect” with your child. Finding the right counselor is key, and driving a couple of hundred miles to meet with them is not asking too much in dealing with a behavior and mindset that is going to require wisdom, tenacity, and gentle but firm intervention.

4. In some cases, apply consequences for cutting when determined to be effective. As I’ve said, not all cutters need to be given “discipline” for cutting. Determine that need based upon the counsel, wisdom, and direction from those who have been involved with cutters and know the steps to resolve.

5. Connect with the cutter in other ways that aren’t surrounded by cutting issues. A parent or youth worker is not using wisdom in pursuing the issues of teens with them without having some type of relationship. Most kids want to know that they’ll continued to be loved even when they mess up. It’s easy to love someone when they’re doing well….its harder when they’re not doing so well. They want to know the latter.

6. Don’t be afraid of having your child on medication. If it is going to help them think better, pull out of their depression, or balance their emotions, then I would encourage it. Medicine is medicine, and it’s beneficial whether its in the arena of dentistry or psychiatry.

7. Develop a system of accountability around your child with family and friends. Most people wait to show the desire to develop relationships with their child after the problems arise. Have the relationship intact before the difficult years arrive. And if you think that you’re child is immune from having issues, or that they aren’t capable of struggle through their teen years, I would suggest that you pull your head out of the sand.

8. Get to the root of the issue. Remember, it’s not the behavior that is the issue. Just getting your child to stop cutting will not solve the problems. Ignore the deeper issues and you’ll find that they’ll pop up disguised as other behaviors.

9. Don’t minimize the problem or think that this really isn’t as big as everyone thinks it is. Cutting is not an attempt at suicide. But, there are those that have committed suicide who have been cutters. Moms and Dads, this is serious stuff and its going to demand serious (and immediate) help. Ignoring the obvious could prove catastrophic.

10. Do whatever you have to do to insure your child’s safety. This may mean that they are supervised 24-7. It may mean that they need to be hospitalized.

Remember, all behavior is goal oriented.  You can stop the cutting and never get to the real issue behind the cutting.  So managing the cutting is essential, getting to the root of the behavior is paramount.

 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.

Visit www.HeartlightMinistries.org to find out more about the residential counseling center for teens, or call Heartlight directly at 903. 668.2173.  For more information and helpful other resources for moms and dads, visit 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 What’s this Teen “Cutting” Thing? appeared first on Parent Tips from Mark Gregston.

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