Boundaries for Your Teen

Written by Mark Gregston.

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

Consider the letter I received just the other day…

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

Troubled… –California

My Response…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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