Wandering Off the Path

Do you ever look across the room at your teen and wonder, Who is this kid?

When living with teens in the home, most moms and dads come to a point of confusion when they wonder how their child veered off track and became a virtual stranger.  You can’t figure out what happened to your sweet, compliant fun-loving child!  Sound familiar?

As parents, we have the responsibility and privilege to teach our children how to move from dependence to independence.  But when we allow our kids to make grown-up decisions, they might not always make the right ones.  It shouldn’t shock us when our child experiments with newfound freedoms and struggles to balance successes and failures.

Every child is faced with distractions, temptations, and choices they aren’t prepared to make.  This leads them away from the path we taught them to follow.  And when that happens, they get lost.  Our role as parents is to teach them how to find the way back home.

Families rely on one another.  They look out for one another.  And you can’t have one person in the family lost while the rest of the family is thriving.  It just doesn’t work that way.  Instead, the entire family feels the strain when one member is struggling.  In those moments, families have three options:  to ignore the situation, wait for the teen to find his way back on his own, or go after that teen like a search and rescue team.

So let’s deal with this important reality.  Teens make mistakes.  They’re going to get off the path.  In fact, when I’m driving I get lost all the time, but I have a GPS that helps me get back to the route that leads me to my destination.  Parents, you are that GPS to your kids.  You have the perspective, the sophisticated wisdom, to guide your child safely to their destination.

Unfortunately, very few kids are told how to get back on course.  Instead, parents tend to ridicule, rebuke, or micro-manage a straying teen.  But none of that is very helpful.  When a teen is lost, he or she truly does not know how to get from point A to point B.

When’s the last time you have heard a teen say:  I want to be messed up.  I want to be on the wrong path?  When teens are really lost, deep down they really want to be found.  They are looking for direction, even when body language and attitude doesn’t reflect it.

Rarely, if ever, will a child ask for help when he’s lost.  Sort of like the husband who doesn’t want to pull into the gas station for directions on the family vacation.  Pride keeps us from admitting that we’ve lost our way.

In like manner, the lost teen is afraid of being chastised or having their faults pointed out by friends and family.  They already know their faults.  What our teens need, instead, is reassurance that they can come to you for help to find their way back.

This is what makes your relationship so important.  Parents, even when you are frustrated with your child’s behavior, they need to know that you want them back.  And more than that, they need to know their failures are not a barrier to coming home and talking to you.  In fact, they want to know you will come looking for them with a spirit of compassion, not because of anger or frustration.  Families care about one another, and these are the times they need to know they can be rescued by those they love.

Wandering is not just difficult on the child.  Parents feel it, too.  It’s painful to watch your teen suffering with the consequences of his own poor choices.  When you’re waiting for your child to come home to you, or to come back to the path that is right for his life, it can feel like an eternity.  In those weeks, months, and years, it’s helpful to gather with a small group of parents who understand.  They can reinforce your convictions and share the burden that weighs heavily on your heart.

Eventually, the straying teen begins coming to his senses.  When things don’t materialize for him, the journey home begins.  It always happens in small steps.  So it’s important he sees you as a safe place.  Your family may be the only beacon of hope in his life, and it will allow you to welcome him back and support him through the long journey ahead.

When your child returns, his issues aren’t fully resolved.  The Scriptures say train up a child.  Your child needs boundaries and structure to help him succeed, so if this has been an issue before, you may want to build some new boundaries around him that will help him stay on the right path.  Help your teen understand the boundaries you are setting, as well as the consequences he will face when he chooses not to stay within those boundaries.  There’s a reason why this is a discussion instead of just a list of rules that you give to him.  The relationship of trust you’re building will be one of the key elements for success.

Teens don’t want to be lost.  They want to be found.  Our job as parents is to help our teens know how to find their way back and to embrace them when they return.


Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, located in Hallsville, Texas.  For more information and helpful resources for moms and dads, check out our website.  It’s filled with ideas and tools to help you become a more effective parent.  Go to www.heartlightministries.org.  Or read other articles by Mark, at www.markgregston.com.  You can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.  Hear the Parenting Today’s Teens broadcast on a radio station near you, or download the podcast at www.parentingtodaysteens.org.




Modeling Kindness in an Unkind World

Our world is confusing place for kids.  Nearly every day, our sons and daughters are confronted by some form of bullying, disrespect and a complete disregard for authority.  These conflicting elements create an environment that makes it tough for teens to be kind.  It’s hard to be gentle and meek when you’re constantly fighting against cultural trends and peer pressure.

If you’re like me, you can still remember bad stuff that happened from your teen years.  I was bullied by a group of guys, and whenever the projector of my memory rolls the film on those ugly encounters, I still get emotionally wrapped up with anger.

As a parent, you might be the only authority in your child’s life to model how to engage in kindness.

Good parenting requires weaning our kids away from their childish dependence on us.  It’s a long process of gradually taking away the creature comforts we once provided in order to force our teen to begin operating independently from us.  Whether it’s drawing boundaries for them or coming to their rescue when something goes wrong, as they grow older, we need to employ an intentional plan for creating autonomy.

But when it comes to bullying, we need to take an active role of both protecting our teens and helping them understand the power of kindness and respect.

People in today’s society respond differently to failure than people have in previous generations.  One reason is because we have greater access to information now than ever before.  Technological advancement can be a good thing, but in this regard, it tends to be used for bad things.  When someone fails, whether that’s a friend, a politician, an actor, or someone else, failure is instantaneously broadcasted over the World Wide Web.  Any misstep, miscue, or hiccup can go viral in just a matter of seconds.  Facebook alone allows for one negative comment to be shared with pretty much everyone in your social circle.  This can be devastating for teens, and can cause them to lash out in a similar manner.

The benefit of these methods of communication, though, is that the same can happen with positive comments.  As parents, we have the power to teach our teens how to show kindness in all of their interactions – both online and in person.  The best place to start with this is in our home.  Mom, dad, are you treating one another with love and respect?  How are you showing kindness to the neighbors and others in your community?  How are you treating your kids when they come home from school?

When your teen comes home from school and lashes out at you, it’s generally not disrespect.  It’s spillover from their awful day because our kids don’t have a coping mechanism for what they experience on campus.  When they show frustration, the best way to respond is with respect.  Instead of shooting them down and correcting their actions, ask them to put words to their feelings.  The biggest mistake we can make as a parent is to somehow telegraph to our teen some form of shame for the way they feel.  We cannot change their feelings.  Feelings are feelings.

If your teen rolls his eyes at you, ask him if you did something that caused frustration.  Start a dialogue.  Find out what motivated your child to do something disrespectful, and in doing so, you will accomplish two things.  First, you will identify the root of the frustration, and second, you will model how to deal with conflict and frustration.

This doesn’t mean you are okay with your child showing you disrespect.  I’m not saying you need to become a doormat for your child’s vitriol.  I’m suggesting that you take a deep breath and try to drill down to the root of the problem without letting your own emotions escalate to a point where you cannot have a meaningful exchange with your child.

By showing genuine interest in the cause of their angst, you are surprising your teen with kindness and modeling how to have an adult conversation.  Teens won’t expect you to move closer to them when they act disrespectful to you.  They will expect your relationship to weaken.  But when you engage them in relationship by talking calmly with them, you continue the opportunities to teach them kindness by showing them kindness.

Be prepared.  When your teen finally opens up to you in a safe place, it won’t be easy to hear.  Parenting teens is rarely a tidy process and usually a messy one.

If they blew up and showed disrespect to you, all that pent up emotion came from somewhere.  When you successfully open up the lines of communication, your teen will take advantage of that open door in the future and they will begin to put words to their frustration.  Once they get these emotions off their chest, you can objectively talk about the root cause of their disrespect, and this gives you an occasion to describe appropriate ways to show their feelings to you.

Remember, raising a child who is gentle and kind doesn’t mean we are creating a generation of wimps.  Real men show respect.  Real women are kind.  And a mature teen should never be the recipient, nor the perpetrator, of bullying.

Our teens are heavily influenced by the culture that surrounds them every day.  As parents, we have the golden opportunity to build a culture of kindness and respect in our home that will serve our teens for years to come.


Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, located in Hallsville, Texas.  For more information and helpful resources for moms and dads, check out our website.  It’s filled with ideas and tools to help you become a more effective parent.  Go to www.heartlightministries.org.  Or read other helpful articles by Mark, at www.markgregston.com.  You can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.  Hear the Parenting Today’s Teens broadcast on a radio station near you, or download the podcast at www.parentingtodaysteens.org


Independence and Rebellion, are they twins?

I have been thinking about the above statement recently due to recognizing this not only within myself, but also within my own children.

When my kids were little I basically got to control their lives, I told them when they had to sleep, eat, get up, change their clothing and everything else in between. At that age it was acceptable for me to do that, in order to teach them boundaries and proper skills to navigate in the world around them.

I felt a sense of wellbeing when my kids behaved appropriately, and when I did not have to apologize for them being on this earth, or that I had given birth to them!

As they got older, I let out the “leash” a bit, and allowed them more and more freedom to explore the world around them, but not too much freedom as I did not believe that it would be too good for them. They thrived under that system and slowly grew up into wonderful teenagers who knew the boundaries, and comfortably lived within them.

I have noticed though, that within each of us is this underlying rebellion and desire to do things our own way, in our own time, and no matter the good advice that is given we continue to do it our way, regardless of the consequences.

That is where the theory of Independence and Rebellion comes in.

My children are reaching the age where they will soon be leaving the nest, and so I have seen more and more of the “independence” starting to rise up within them.

Please do not get me wrong, I want them to grow up and leave the nest and start their own lives, but I want them to do it wisely.

That is why I think that the lines may have gotten a bit crossed for them, as I see them wanting to sprout their own wings, but it has come with an element of rebellion attached to it. I am convinced that at this time, they are unclear that what they believe is their “independence” is actually rebellion rising up within them.

It has come with a, “I am old enough now, and you cannot tell me what to do anymore, and even if you do tell me what to do, I won’t listen as I want to forge my own way.” Even if the advice given is for their good it does not matter, they will choose to do it their own way.

This is a bit disconcerting for me as a mother, as I have tried to teach them to be wise, and to choose wisdom, over “I know what I am doing thank you very much!”

Independence is a good thing, and I want my children to be independent and be good citizens but I think sometimes the line between wanting that independence so badly causes a shift towards the rebellion.

I have come to realize though, that my desire for them is that they will not choose rebellion over wisdom. Thinking that their rebellion will make them free, when all it really does is sets them up for further rebellion and the hardening of their hearts.

I realize that as adults we are no different, we think that our independent streak “Doing things my way, by myself and you cannot tell me any different”  is actually working to our benefit, when in fact it is detrimental to us as it leads to bondage and a hard heart.

God desires that we find our independence in him, and that independence actually takes on a whole new look, it is a look of dependence. Surrendering to God and allowing him to teach us the best way to live our lives while we are on this earth.

Job 22:21

 “Submit to God and be at peace with him; in this way prosperity will come to you.”

Proverbs 1:7

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline. 

Dependence on God teaches us, that choosing righteousness is far better than evil and rebellion, because it leads to a life of peaceable living.

Choosing dependence on God will teach us his wisdom, and it does not include us sticking out our tongues saying that we can do it better, but it does show us, that hardening of our hearts will have long term consequences. It does reveal that if we want to live well, then we need to ask God for help and direction.

Wisdom says that drinking too much alcohol will bring you to ruin and if you lie and cheat and steal you will not only face the wrath of people here on this earth, but that God will have to discipline you. Wisdom says it is wiser to not fight and quarrel than it is to go into a situation with both fists swinging; wisdom says that in order for you to maintain a good standard of living, you should work hard and not be lazy.

So I have come to the conclusion that it is easy to mistake being rebellious with independence, as we all have that desire to be free and to live our lives the way we see fit, but I have to admit that I have found more freedom in living my life being dependent on God, than I ever did when I was trying to sail my own boat.

I believe that the way out of this rebellion and into a place of true freedom and dependence upon God, is for us, as believers in Christ Jesus, to first of all repent for the rebellion, then take definitive steps of guarding your heart. The bible teaches us that it is very important to do this as it teaches us that the heart is the center of all that you do, and choose.

Proverbs 4:23

 Watch over your heart with all diligence, For from it flow the springs of life. 

My prayer for my children is that they will learn that true freedom comes from dependence on God and does not lie in rebellion.

My prayer for you is that if you have found yourself in a place where rebellion comes more natural to you than dependence does, that you will take a moment and ask the Lord to forgive you.

Remember always, God who has made us and knows our future, knows what is the very best for us; he has plans for our lives that will bring about great satisfaction for us, and glory for Him.

Why not try today to lay aside the rebellion of self, and ask the lord to help you walk into the freedom of dependence on him.



Where are you placing your trust?

Twice in the last few months, the Lord has brought to my attention, two different verses but they have the very same message, Be careful where you put your trust!

Isaiah 31:1

 Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help, who rely on horses, who trust in the multitude of their chariots and in the great strength of their horsemen, but do not look to the Holy One of Israel, or seek help from the LORD. 

Psalm 20:7

Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God. 

In our modern society it is so easy to be self- reliant, we get to choose where we live, what we eat, how we spend our finances, what jobs we take, whom we marry and the list goes on and on. It is very easy to fall into the thinking of “I need to take care of my own needs, I need to see to my own finances, work myself out of a mess, I need to….”

As Christians though, God wants us, his children to learn to put our whole trust in him, when a situation arises, we are to bring it to him in prayer and then listen and be ready to act and  see how he works it out.

My first response has always been unfortunately, to try and figure out how to solve my own problems, instead of asking for help. This is a pride issue I realize that, and I do struggle not to go there, but so often it is so much easier to trust in my own resourcefulness than to wait on someone else to help me through it.

A great example of my own resourcefulness would be:

 I would like to buy a new TV, but instead of saving for it, and waiting for God to show me the right timing and best deal, I run ahead and get a credit loan and buy it. Circumventing anything that God could have done for me in the process. I would have lost out on the satisfaction of saving diligently, I would have forgone any blessing that might have come had I waited for God’s perfect timing, instead of relying on myself and the almighty credit card.

 I believe that the lord wants me to write a new story in my life, one of dependence on him, for everything, not trusting in myself or relying on others, but truly trusting that he has my best interest at heart and because of that He will help me through everything that I am walking through.

This is easier said than done, but I decided a long time ago that I wanted to surrender my whole heart to the lord and that meant no matter how uncomfortable the journey was I would say yes lord. I think that this is one of those uncomfortable times.

 Personal story:

I once knew a lady, who would always try to work deals for everything, she would sacrifice and go without, in order to achieve her desired result. It was always hard work for her, trying to figure out the fix for the next crisis that happened in her path. I am not sure it ever dawned on her that she did not have to try to manipulate circumstances and people and finances in order to achieve her desired goals.

God says that when we have concerns, needs or anything else to bring it to him,

Philippians 4:6

 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

So as I walk this journey of dependence upon God, to work out all things for my good, and not try to fix and manipulate circumstances I am sure that there will be some triumphs and failures, but I do know that God loves me and will teach me along the way how to walk diligently and trustfully with Him.

I also know that He has blessings on the path of trusting in Him.

If you find yourself relying on your own strength, mental  abilities and other people to rescue you, or give you what you need, my prayer for you is that you will recognize it and repent asking the lord to help you to put your trust where it belongs, completely in him.

Remember, He knows and sees the future, He knows what is best for you always, so therefore he is the most qualified to help you navigate through life.

Trusting in God is essential and it will bring you the most joy and satisfaction in your life.



Is My Teen Using Drugs?

In recent years, the average age of the drug abuser has dropped dramatically.  In fact, we’ve seen shocking evidence that drugs are often consumed by children beginning during their   middle school age years.  Yes, times are changing.  The culture has grown tolerant of experimental drug use at a younger age and kids have access to drugs long before they reach puberty.

 Every parent wants to guard their children from the insidious destruction drugs unleash.  So, how do you know whether your teen is using drugs?  And if they get caught using drugs, how do you help them get back on the right track?

 In today’s brief article, we’ll attempt to answer both of those questions.  Over my years at Heartlight, a therapeutic boarding school for teenagers, I have seen many students come to our program with drug issues.  We have found that drug abuse is always a mask for disguising deeper problems that need to be exposed and dealt with.

 Take the Initiative

 If you have any suspicion that your son or daughter might be using drugs, don’t be shy about snooping around their bedroom and belongings to find out.  At Heartlight, we use a few different approaches to ensure our kids remain safe.  We do random drug testing and also bring in drug dogs to sniff out backpacks, living quarters and typical hiding places.  But the drug test isn’t the first sign we have that tells us that the teen is using.

 Signs of Drug Use

 You know your teen better than anyone else, but even so, if your teen is using drugs they will be part of a culture that helps them hide what they are doing.  Lying, hiding and keeping secrets are all part of the game.  They may also be feeling shame over their drug use.  Whatever the case, they are probably working overtime to keep their new habit a secret from you.

 One common trick is for teenagers to cover up their drug use by consuming counteractive things.  For instance, some vitamins can fool some drug tests, so if your teen has started some new vitamin or supplement, do your homework and find out whether there’s a tie to drugs.  Or you may pick up an unusual odor on their clothes or be using something obnoxious to mask the smell.  Has your teen started using incense and candles or placed dryer sheets in his clothes?  All of these help a teen veil the obvious scent of drugs.

 You might notice a change in your teen’s regular routine.  Has his schoolwork slumped? Has his sleeping pattern changed?  Usually there’s something behind these new behavioral patterns.  Your teen could also exhibit a lack of motivation.  He’s become lazy.  Or he could care less about the things he once enjoyed, like sports, friends or hobbies.

 Teens are created to be relational beings.  Most kids don’t do things because of their friends.  They do things with their friends.  So if friends are using, they may give it a shot.  It’s amazing how many kids say they started using when they were at a sleepover at someone’s house.  If your teen has new friends or has shifted away from other friends, you might begin to suspect their motivation.

 If your teen begins lying to you, he might be using.  Or it could just be a shift in attitude.  Your teen could show aggression, anger, or have unreasonable mood swings.  If you built a strong relationship and have created reasonable boundaries for the people in your household, then when your teen starts using, or breaks any of these boundaries, he may shift blame to someone else or something else.

 Here’s the point.  Even if you have nothing more than a gnawing feeling in your gut, or a parental hunch, I would suggest you  follow your instincts.  If these clues persist, you might start doing random drug tests on your teen.  Maybe not with drug dogs like we use at Heartlight, but they make convenient at-home drug tests (similar to pregnancy tests) that you can administer.  Using them can alienate your teens, but it can hold them accountable.  If you have built the relationship with your teen, the drug tests won’t be punitive.  Instead, it will deter him or her from taking that dangerous step towards drugs.  That’s part of your role as a parent – to build boundaries that your teen is still learning to build on his own.

 Not My Kids!

 Parents, if you’ve found yourself in this unenviable position of discovering drug use in your child, you may feel like a failure.  Look, don’t waste time beating yourself up.  Instead, try to spend your time in more productive expressions of recovery.  Try to help your teen understand what he or she is trying to anesthetize.  Drugs are just one way to find relief from the pressure they feel.  It’s an escape, like video games, hobbies, sports, or any other getaway.

 If you have a solid relationship with your child, it’ll help you when she or he comes home and confesses to a drug problem.  Or you discover their secret.  When the cat’s out of the bag, it’s very important to determine if it’s simple experimentation or a heavy pattern of abuse.  Either way, you’ll want it to stop, but the way you handle it may be different.  If it’s just experimenting, try not to overreact.  If you crush their spirit, your child may not come to you again when life gets difficult and they’ve done something they want to confess.  If your teen comes to you with a heartfelt confession, it’s certainly not the moment to reinforce your standard.  This is when you reinforce the relationship.  You want your children to tell you the truth and come to you.  If it happens again, then you’ve got a problem that requires deeper action.

 Obviously, every situation is different.  And as I write these thoughts to you, I realize there’s so much more to be said and much more to be explored.  But I hope some of the things you read in this article will draw you closer to your teen and to help them be all God intended.

 As a parent, you want good things for your teen.  We all do.  Your relationship with your son or daughter won’t change because they’re using drugs.  You still want the very best for him or her.  Just as God’s relationship with us remains unconditional, we should also remain in relationship with our teen.  No matter what they’ve done or how bad they’ve blown it, your son or daughter desperately needs you to remain in relationship with them.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, located in East Texas.  Call 903-668-2173.  Visit http://www.heartlightministries.org , or to read other articles by Mark, visit http://www.markgregston.com



Is Your Teen Living a Double Life?

The statistics are staggering.  An estimated 9,000 texts are sent by the average teen every month.  You can find 80-billion videos on YouTube.  And a whopping 4.2-million porn sites are accessible online.

 These opportunities open the door for our teens to develop a double life.  There’s one life that’s a performance for mom and dad at home.  And there’s a secret insidious life online.  The two are quite different.

 As a parent, you may feels suspect of your child’s online behavior.  Perhaps you’ve wondered, What if my teen’s gone down this path? 

 The Internet has become an integral part of our daily lives.  It’s a fabulous tool.  You don’t need me to tell you that.  Most likely you have a slew of devices at your disposal to access the web.  In fact, as you’re reading right now, it’s likely you’re looking at a high-tech color screen on a computer, phone or tablet.  And that isn’t a bad thing!  But these good tools can become dangerous when in the hands of a curious unsupervised teen.

 As you know, the Internet has changed dramatically in the last fifteen years.  And part of a parent’s role is to stay on top of the advances.  You should know about chat rooms, Facebook, Twitter, and whatever else is out there.  These destination sites are actually where your teen finds community, acceptance and belonging.

 One of the dangerous trends involves lying about your identity online.  A son or daughter may be tempted to present a fictional self.  After a while, they can have a hard time differentiating between their real self and the one they have imagined.  A wall forms between their real relationships and the fake ones they’ve developed online.  Once this wall takes shape, it’s very difficult to break down.  Every interaction that is reinforced by the fantasy world makes the wall larger.

 This trend makes bullying easier to engage in, as well.  If people don’t know who you truly are, then a teen feels at liberty to speak without a filter.  Bullying becomes nothing than playful sport in this fantasy world.  But the effects are just as bad, if not worse.  Because of the impact of the connections people have online and how easily communication becomes widespread, one negative comment can have hundreds or thousands of readers.  If the weight of one negative comment in the schoolyard is difficult to bear, then a digital cut-down that’s spread to the worldwide web is excruciating.

 Sexting is another major problem.  Teens entice one another into sending inappropriate photos back and forth over their cell phones or computers.  Studies show that 13% of teen girls have sent an inappropriate picture of themselves to someone else.  Most of these girls would never consider handing a printed photo to someone, but somehow the intoxication of their online personality makes sexting acceptable.  And once those photos are sent out, the recipient can easily pass them around to others.

 The fantasy world, bullying and sexting all come out of a kid’s desire to find acceptance.  He or she can portray themselves one way online—no matter what imperfections are going on outside the computer.

 So, when do you step in?  How do you monitor your child’s online behavior?  First of all, make sure your teenage son or daughter understands that you reserve the right to look over their shoulder at any time to see what they’re doing online.  Also, make them aware that you might check on their email communication from time to time.  Second, keep their computer access limited to certain times of day.  And it’s always helpful to have the computer in a place in your home where they are not surfing the web and communicating with friends behind a closed door or in secret.  In monitoring your kids, your intention is to keep them safe.  But there’s a risk, as well, because you do not want to smother your child nor fracture your relationship.

 As they grow older, you need to begin to back off from your supervision.  Obviously, you cannot monitor their online habits into their adult years.  Our role as parents is to help our children grow up and become adults.  It’s a process, and there’s a balance in how much we intervene and how much we allow our children to have independence.

 We can help our children grow through supporting them in making choices and assuming responsibility in their life.  Over time, we need to wean them from our intervention.  This can be tough.  There will be times when you may see things that you would completely disagree with.  Even when this happens, you can let your teen make the decision, but be sure to support him and give him the counsel that he needs in order to make that wise decision.  It’s risky, and not easy to do, but it helps your child learn discernment.  If you take away your teen’s opportunity to exercise discernment, they may lose the opportunity to learn that skill, and they may also distance themselves from you.  If you don’t have a relationship with your teen, you won’t be able to influence their decisions.

 Your teen needs you.  There’s nothing that can take the place of a face-to-face relationship.  Turn off your phone when you talk to your child.  Take time together.  Occasionally mention when you see something on their Facebook page.  Teach discernment when your teen gets older.  And the best way to teach discernment is to be discerning yourself.  You are the most powerful role model that your teen will have.  It’s up to you to role model the power and value of relationship.

 There are differences between how girls and guys react to this issue.  Rachel, a counselor who works alongside me at the residential counseling program, Heartlight, shares how she has seen teens struggle with their perception of what is real and what isn’t during the teen years.  During our weekend broadcast of Parenting Today’s Teens, we’ll talk with Rachel about practical ways that you can help your child maintain his identity throughout his life, especially when faced with the opportunity to develop dual identities through an online persona.

 The digital e-book My Teen and the Internet is available online at www.parentingtodaysteens.org

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, located in East Texas. Call 903-668-2173.  Visit http://www.heartlightministries.org , or to read other articles by Mark, visit http://www.markgregston.com.



Faith without action is dead!

I have been under the false assumption for most of my Christian life that faith is something that I believe about God, or a situation and the work is done. As long as I did not waiver on that faith and stood firm in that then I would be ok. When thoughts of doubt would come, I would quickly push them away believing that I was being a good strong Christian. I did not realize that there was a bit more to faith than that.

I was given a great example of true faith and actions that accompanied it this past week.

I had gone with a friend to visit her mom in hospital, and before I had gone I had asked the lord to prepare my heart for what I was to see, and what he said about the situation. He had led me to various scriptures about faith, and how by people believing him, they were healed from their diseases.

He showed me through scripture that there were various kinds of requests that came to him from the people that he ministered to, some came from people who had the ailment, then others were for a friend or family member with the ailment, and others were out of pure desperation, knowing that if Jesus did not intervene then all hope was lost. The bible says, that Jesus responded, like this, “By your faith you will be healed, he had compassion on the people seeing that they were harassed like sheep without a Shepard.” He responded to the faith of the people who approached him, begging for his intervention in their lives.

All of these people had to act on their faith, they had to make themselves heard over the noise of the crowd, they had to come to him and ask, they had to brave the social stigma’s and believe and ask anyways.  That is what God desires of us, that we will believe and push through and act as if what we have asked for has been given. Just like these people, and Jesus gladly gave them their requests because their actions, of pushing through despite all of the social issues involved.

So with my faith bolstered I went with my friend. While there we encountered some opposition to the faith that we came with but without knowing it, my friend showed me the principle of faith and action put together, will produce a good result.

In the book of James, he is teaching the people that faith and deeds need to go together, now to be honest I have read this many times, and agreed for it to be true, but I guess I never really understood what the lord was trying to get through to us. Read the following scripture and let’s discover together this great treasure that he has for us.

James 2:14-26

 What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him?   Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food.   If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?  In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.  But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.   You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that–and shudder. 

 You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar?  You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend.  You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.  In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction?  As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead. 

I would like to take a moment and concentrate on Abraham, God had asked Abraham to take his son Isaac up to the mountain and sacrifice him, he did not give him a reason, but just asked him to do it. Now you have to remember that Abraham and God had history together at this point, Abraham knew that God was true to his word, he knew that God could be trusted and so if he asked him to sacrifice Isaac, the son of the promise that God had given him, Abraham believed that God could raise him from the dead.

Hebrews 11:17-19

 By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had received the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death. 

Abraham believed that God would deliver his son from harm, so therefore he set off to do what God had told him to do, he took his son to the mountain, had his son carry the fire wood and the flaming stick to burn the sacrifice and when they reached the place wanted the sacrifice made, Abraham built the alter. All the while believing that God had a plan and purpose for it.

For those of you who are familiar with the rest of the story, God did indeed have a plan, and just before he was about to kill his son, they heard a noise in the bush and found a ram, stuck there. They knew that that is what was needed for the sacrifice.

Scripture tells us that God was pleased that Abraham put his faith and his actions together, he believed God would deliver them, so he acted as if that deliverance was already a fact even though it was not yet seen.

That is where the next verse of scripture that God gave my friend and I came in very handy this past week,

Hebrews 11:1-2

 Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.   This is what the ancients were commended for. 

The lord had us repeat this verse over and over this weekend as the evidence before our eyes, says that there is no hope for my friend’s mother, but God tells us to have faith for what we do not see and act on that faith.

This is exactly what my friend did, she could see the evidence, but her faith being stronger than the evidence, kept her from crumbling, and she would speak to her mother with the assurance of life being brought back into her frail body.

That is how we prayed to, with the assurance that God is at work in her mother’s body, raising her up and bringing healing and hope to her.

Oh, don’t get me wrong, the thoughts of “are you nuts, can’t you see what is going on before your eyes” were right there alongside us, but my friend taught me a very valuable lesson, one that I hope to carry with me for the rest of my days;

That even though the evidence in front of you says one thing, our faith and our actions need to speak a different thing if we are to see God’s hand at work.

God honors our faith, when we show him through our actions that we believe him over the reports of man.

This was such a valuable lesson for me, as I discovered that Faith is all about, us seeing through God’s eyes, and believing for his power to work in our situation.  

My prayer for you, is that you too will begin to ask the lord to give you his eyes to see your situation as he sees it.


Helping our Teens Make the Grade

I didn’t excel in academics while in high school.  Academics just didn’t mean anything to me because I was more preoccupied by social interacting and my sport of choice, swimming.  Posting good scores on my report card was for others to do; I was too busy.

 After flunking out of a semester in college, I finally began to grow up and take school seriously.  In fact, I actually began to flourish in college.

 Then I became a dad.  And when Jan and I had our two children, my whole perspective shifted.  We want nothing more than to see our kids excel in school.  We want them to succeed.  And when they’re in grade school, middle school and high school, the only gauge for objectively measuring their success is in academics.  We take their report cards very seriously, don’t we?

 The Balancing Act

 Our teens are faced with a balancing act every day.  Every day is a performance.  Not just in the classroom, but in the hallways, too.  Adolescence is the season when our kids learn to build healthy relationships.  Have you ever seen your son or daughter’s calendar or the number of “friends” they have on Facebook?  They are hard-wired for relationship.  But the balancing act gets difficult because as kids become more connected socially, they tend to become disconnected academically.

 Parents, this is often where we make our biggest mistakes.  When relationships overpower a child’s focus on schoolwork, we sometimes see the grades begin to slip.  Incomplete assignments, poor exams, missed deadlines … these are all red flags.  And for some of us, we tend to overreact.

 If you have taken the time to build a relationship with your teen, then stepping in and helping your teen get back on course can help.  But if the relationship has become weakened, or if it seems like your relationship with your teen is more about his academic performance than who he is—it’s a recipe for conflict.  Lots of kids find themselves pushed into this corner and they decide to push away from academics altogether.  The harder you push, the less your teen wants to have anything to do with you.

 Once a teen loses ground in their studies, it gets harder and harder to catch up.  With every grade that goes down, the student loses the knowledge that they will need to raise those grades later on.  And at that point, it becomes a downward spiral.

 Finding Connection

 Parents, I understand that you want to engage with your teen.  When you feel like there isn’t a hobby or extracurricular activity that you can use to connect with your teen, many parents turn to academics.  But academics is a risky place to have as a sole connection.

 Schools are designed to value academic achievement.  Families are designed to value people.  If these roles are switched, then we may see our teens looking to their peers to find their value as human beings.

 Any encouragement for academic growth should be couched in the arena of relationship.  Parents, it’s healthy to allow your teen to assume responsibility for his or her grades.  It’s not up to you whether your teen graduates.  It’s up to your teen.  You can support them as much as you can, whether that’s through providing tutors, study materials, or just being available for questions when they come up.  But, if you put too much pressure on your teen to get good grades, they can respond by becoming an underachiever (ignoring school or just getting by), or an overachiever (spending too much time on schoolwork and overemphasizing their quest to get good grades).

 Our teens are already facing a lot of pressure.  School puts pressure on our kids.  They face pressures to fit in with other kids.  They are transitioning from childhood to adulthood.  They are in a heavy season for defining their identity.  And they are continually assaulted with images of what our culture says is perfection.

 It’s hard to be a teen right now.  And our kids want to take advantage of this time to discover who they are and to be guided and molded.  But sometimes, our encouragement and guidance may sound like just another pressure.  As a mom or dad of a teen, we need to be very careful on how much pressure we apply to their academic performance because it might be our pressure that pushes our kids right over the edge.

 So, how should we cope with their failures?  This is the hard part.  We naturally want to step in and rescue a child from academic failure.

 Try not to shame them or chastise them if they fail.  Instead, encourage them in the things they are doing well.  Our role as parents is to help our kids know their role in their own life and to help them become acquainted with their God-ordained personality.  We know that we have succeeded as parents if we have helped our children grow up and become independent.  As hard as that is, that means breaking away from us.

 On the upcoming broadcast of Parenting Today’s Teens, we’ll be talking about this subject in-depth.  And from another perspective, I’ll talk to a high school guidance counselor, Wendy Mattner of Harvest Christian Academy, to hear her thoughts for moms and dads.

 Healthy parents give their kids a chance to live, to succeed, to fail, in a safe environment.  We provide a safety net for our kids, so that they know that they can turn to us when they fear failing.  We can encourage them to do well, but if they fail we need to be ready to rely on the relationship we’ve built.  A relationship built not on scores, but on each person’s inherent value.

 ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, located in East Texas.  Call 903-668-2173.  Visit http://www.heartlightministries.org, or to read other articles by Mark, visit http://www.markgregston.com



Setting Aside Traditional Parenting

Ever catch yourself using the same phrases your parents did?  In the heat of the moment, when your son or daughter is giving you fits, you find yourself mimicking the same stuff your parents used with you?  It sounds like this …

 “It’s my way or the highway!” … or …

 “Read my lips!  Are you listening to me?” … or …

 “As long as you’re livin’ under my roof, you’ll obey my rules!”

 Oh, man, you can hardly believe it when these clichés spill out of your mouth!

 There’s a reason why these parental edicts have become clichés.  Parents have used them for decades.  But in today’s culture, forced authority doesn’t get the results we want.  When we pull these tricks, our teens sometimes roll their eyes, sigh heavily and shrug us off.  Wielding our position of authority rarely impresses this generation.

 And what’s true in the home is also true at church.  Tragically, statistics reveal that 85% of our kids are leaving church upon graduating high school.  They’re not engaging in structured relationships as we once did.  Something’s not working.  They’re not buying into our ideals and it hurts deeply when our sons and daughters walk away from the things we hold dear.

 So, what’s the answer?  What are we to do?  Well, let me suggest that some of the traditional tools for parenting need to be retired.  We need to recalibrate our perspective and engage with our teens in a language, a tone, and a manner they can receive.

 Perfection is Impossible

 For starters, let’s resign some of our preconceived convictions and consider a new way.  For instance, we’ve been conditioned to believe that if we employ certain tactics, our kids will emerge as responsible adults.  We can’t rely on that notion anymore.

 The first thing that needs to be debunked is the fairytale that families can attain perfection.  Where did that come from?  No family is perfect.  So quit trying.  It flies in the face of reality, and yet I find so many families working overtime to look, act, and be the perfect family.  Relax.  Deal with failures as opportunities to learn.  But don’t freak out every time your teenager makes a mistake.

 When we set expectations in our home too high, it’s not long before our children figure out they can’t reach our standard.  Our good intentions for sinless perfection will surely backfire.  When things get tough or seem outside of their ability to attain, teens will eventually withdraw, rebel, or even run away.  They tap out.

 Our pristine standards and our spirit of excellence may be genuine, but teens may see these ideals as an impossible goal.

 If your child concludes they cannot possibly live up to your expectations, they have the option to turn to you as a resource and a source of relationship, or to turn away from you as a cause of their frustration.  This is the proverbial fork in the road.  They can turn toward you.  Or away from you.  The home can be a place of refuge or a place where impossible judgments are held against them.  If the latter is the case, they will turn to an arena that is less judgmental.  They usually take the road of least resistance.  Typically, this arena is the prevailing culture.  This could be their sympathetic friends, classmates, or even the input they get from the cynical media.  When our teens turn to these communities for relief, we lose the opportunity to speak into their lives.

 In children’s early years, we create a perfect world for them.  Our kids respond to what we have to say.  We insulate them from consequences.  This would be okay, but then reality hits in middle school and high school when they realize that the world isn’t perfect.  Mom, dad, you won’t always be able to insulate your kids from pain, or even from the natural consequences of their actions.  Nor should you.  The role of a parent is to help your child grow up.  If their world is easy, they won’t need to grow up, and if they are perfect, then they don’t need a Savior.

 Ultimately, it’s not what you do as a parent that counts.  It’s who you are that will help guide your teen.  At this critical juncture in a teen’s life, your relationship will be tested as never before.  Maybe you’re right at this crossroad today.  You feel like your teen is teetering on the brink of turning away or turning toward you.

 Authority Can’t Be Forced

 Today our teens have immediate access to information through television, social media sources and the Internet.  These avenues have unquestionably tainted their perspective on authority.  This is the game-changer in our culture, and parents need to accept the fact that we cannot control the barrage of influence coming from these sources into the hearts and minds of our teens.

 Our teens have more information and faster ways of keeping up with what’s going on in the world than ever before, so they feel like there’s less for parents to teach them.  Their reality is entirely skewed and they react to this lopsided reality through their relationship with you.  Yes, you’re bearing the brunt of information overload from all these sources!  As a result, children think less of the authority figures in their lives, because they believe that they know better and that their understanding of the world through the media is truer than what their parent is saying.

 Again, this is why it’s imperative to persist on developing an authentic relationship with our teens built on trust.  It requires time.  Patience.  Forbearance.

 If you’re looking for creative ways to shift your parenting style toward a more productive outcome, or would just like to learn more about the changing culture and how it affects your teen, be sure to listen to a conversation we had with family coach, Tim Smith.  He’s one of our guests on the next edition of Parenting Today’s Teens.  The broadcast is a half-hour long, and you can find a station near you or simply download the podcast.  You can also find help by getting the Parent Survival Kit from Heartlight.  It’s a box that’s filled with time-tested resources for moms and dads, and it’s available at our web site:  www.parentingtodaysteens.org.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight Ministries, located in Hallsville, Texas.  Call 903-668-2173.  Visit www.heartlightministries.org, or to read other articles by Mark at www.markgregston.com.



 What if My “Ex” Won’t Hold the Kids to the Same Rules?

When families go through a divorce and the kids end up splitting their time between parents (often called co-parenting), it changes the dynamics of the family, as well as the basic interactions between parent and child.  For parents of teens, this shift can be especially difficult as every member of the family tries to re-discover their role.

 Changing Roles of Co-Parents

 Co-parents often find themselves in different roles from those they had during the marriage.  Moms are especially affected by this because the dad is usually the disciplinarian in the family. When Dad leaves, Mom needs to develop a new set of skills.

 Dads are usually the disciplinarian and authoritarian in the household.  They are the ones who build boundaries and structures that give teens the guidelines they need to help moderate their own actions.  Moms usually do great with relationships.  However, when Mom begins to take on the role that Dad used to play, the relationships can be shoved aside in order to ensure the rules and boundaries are in place.  But, Mom—the relationship you have with your teen needs to remain intact!  Don’t abandon the role you played before the divorce, but instead, find a way to support your teen through balancing discipline, boundaries, and relationships.  This is especially important as you walk through this difficult time together.  Your teen will either look to you for support and help—or he’ll look elsewhere.  It’s up to you.

 Interacting with the Other Parent

 Just as your role is changing, your relationship with your ex has changed.  And it will continue to change.  Your ex will do things that you don’t like, and this is going to affect you and your kids.  But it’s up to you to determine how much your response will affect your kids.  No matter how you feel about your ex-spouse, you can’t change them.  People are going to do what they are going to do.  Thankfully, that includes you.  You can change how you respond to your ex, your teen, and your changing role as a parent.

 The boundaries that you set for your teen, and those that your ex sets, will help your child only if you keep your teen in mind first.  Think about your motivation behind setting a boundary—did you do it for your teen or did you do it as a way to get back at your ex?  And think about what you are saying about your ex—at least what you say in front of your teens.  Did you say that to knock the person down? Did you think about how this could affect your teen?  And if your teen pits your ex’s way of running his household against you, stick to your guns!  There’s a reason for the standards you set; remember that reason.  If you can still talk to your ex and clarify the boundaries you are each using, then take advantage of that.  Men—man up and stop using your kids against your ex-wife.  Women—stop using your kids against your ex-husband.  And kids—stop using your parents against each other.

 How Teens Respond

 When teens split their time between two parents, a lot of their reaction to mom and dad comes from the parents’ view of each other.  Stop badmouthing your ex in front of the kids.  What you say will form your child’s view of you, your ex, and your child himself.  But it’s not enough just to put up with the other parent—you need to give your child the structure and support that she needs.  That means setting your own standards and rules, making them clear to your teen, and consistently enforcing them.  It’s not enough just to have a conversation about rules.  Your actions and the way that you enforce the standards will affect how your teen responds to you in the future.

 When I talk to the kids at Heartlight who have experienced co-parenting, they talk about how they respond well to the structure that their parents have given then.  It’s like me; I don’t like stoplights, and I don’t like stop signs, but I’d hate to live without them.  In the moment, your teen may rebel against you, your ex, and the rules each of you have set.  But Mom—stick to it. Dad—stick to it.  Eventually, your child will come back to you. At that point, it will be the relationship that you have built with your teen that will cushion the blow and help them find their way back to you.

 Join us for Parenting Today’s Teens weekend radio broadcast as we explore this further and get the perspective of one teen who is experiencing co-parenting.  We’ll also talk to Tammy Daughtry, a co-parent who, in the search for resources to help her kids and family remain healthy, ended up founding Co-Parenting International and writing the book “Co-Parenting Works: Helping your children thrive after divorce.”  You can listen to Parenting Today’s Teens online, or find a radio station near you, at www.ParentingTodaysTeens.org.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a therapeutic boarding school located in East Texas. Call 903-668-2173. Visit http://www.heartlightministries.org  or to read other articles by Mark, visit http://www.markgregston.com