The Battle for Control

 Have you ever found yourself in the middle of a fight with your teen, thinking:  how can we be seeing this so differently?  Why can’t my teen understand that I’m doing this to protect him? 

 Often, when we argue with our teens, we are fighting for two different things.  Parents fight for protection.  Teens fight for control.

 As a parent, we have a tendency to control our kids to protect them.  It makes sense.  We want to ensure that our kids have the best opportunities for life.  But in that protection, our high-control techniques keep them from exercising muscle that will actually strengthen their character in the long run.

 It’s like getting a new car.  When you pull your new wheels into the driveway, it looks gorgeous.  It’s clean, sleek, and perfect.  And then, you drive it.  After you put on a couple thousand miles, it gets dings in the door and scratches in the paint.  The shine wears off.  You have the choice to keep the car in perfect condition, but you would need to keep it in the garage to do so.

 The way we control our kids is similar.  If you keep them away from the world, they won’t experience the pain and hurt that normally comes with everyday life.  But keeping your kids isolated in the garage has an inherent problem:  someday they will be forced to drive out into the world.  Do you really want the first time your child gets hurt or makes a mistake to be when they are away from you?  Whether that’s away at college, or when their primary relationship is with a boyfriend or girlfriend, the mistakes they make will be a lot more costly if they aren’t in relationship with you.

 Adolescence is about the transition teens make from childhood to adulthood.  In order to allow this to happen, they need to have opportunities to make choices in their lives.  Teens really want three things:  to make decisions about themselves, to feel like they’re in control, and to have opportunities to prove their maturity and to show you that they can do it.  It’s not a surprise that they want these things.  When your kids were young, they learned about growing up.  They used you as their model and formed their own hopes and expectations for adulthood on what they saw in you.  Now that they are teens, they are breaking away from having their identity tied so tightly to you as their parent, and because of this, they encounter this struggle for control.

 As a parent, when you don’t allow your teens to have opportunities for control, they can respond with rebellious behavior.  Sometimes, they withdraw from opportunities.  They may become aloof or lazy and will just coast through life.  Other times, teens can fight for control through making choices without your counsel, or will intentionally rebel against how you have counseled them.  At some point, you aren’t going to be able to influence your teen.  Whether your teen is out of the area for college, the military, or a job, your ability to speak into your child’s life will decrease.  When this happens, what you have done up until that point will be the primary source of guidance that your teen will have to reflect on – so it’s wise to make the most of the time you have with them right now.

 If you aren’t sure whether you are controlling your teen’s life, ask them!  Hey, I’m sure your son or daughter will be brutally honest when you simply ask the question.  And an open line of communication is one of the most important things you can do to strengthen your relationship with your teen.  Whether or not your teen thinks you are controlling, give them more things to be responsible for.  Think about chores around the house, and responsibilities they have in school or extracurricular activities.  Every piece of life is an opportunity to give your child a chance to grow his own ability to apply the lessons you have taught them.  If you are controlling every aspect of your child’s life, later on, they will not know how to respond to the things that life throws at them.

 As you give your child more opportunities for responsibility, be ready to support them in both success and in failure.  Having your teen become more responsible may be exciting to you in the beginning, but if you don’t build that sense of trust between you and your teen that you will be there when they fail, the responsibility you give them will end up demoralizing and frustrating them.

 With the right balance of responsibility and opportunity, your child can begin to build a sense of independence and character needed to transition from adolescence to adulthood.  On this weekend’s Parenting Today’s Teens broadcast, we will talk to pastor and father of four, Joey O’Connor.  Joey shares his perspective on this matter and I’m confident you will appreciate his insight.

 It’s hard to think about your teen growing up.  We like the young and innocent phase, and it’s a little threatening when our children begin to emerge as young adults.  At times, when your teen makes goofy choices or makes stupid mistakes, you will be tempted to seize control so that you can protect them.  The secret is finding a healthy balance to allowing freedom while building trust with your teen.

 As parents, let’s do our best to stop controlling and start inviting our teens to greater levels of responsibility.  The rewards will be rich as we watch them develop into responsible and independent adults.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR 

 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.

 

 

Healing the Wounds Surrounding Cutting

When the pain in life gets too hard, too overwhelming, teens may take it out on themselves with drastic measures.  While many kids will respond with symptoms of low self-esteem, depression, or withdrawing from the family, other teens will try to mask the pain by cutting, a form of self harm.

 In my ministry at Heartlight, I have seen dozens of self-inflicted injuries.  Some have used a razors to make slices in their arms.  Others use small pieces of glass or even paper clips to “scratch” themselves.  I’ve seen some rub their skin with an pencil erasure till it bleeds and others use a curling iron to burn themselves.  Whatever method they choose to employ, it’s usually very painful.

 Tragically, in our culture today this type of bizarre behavior is no longer a rare occurrence.  While it used to be considered a sign of mental illness, now kids openly talk about it with one another.  For any parent with a child who chooses to inflict this kind of self-pain, the question is obvious:  what can we do about it? 

 Causes of Cutting

 This world is difficult for our kids.  They are bombarded by so many conflicting messages and pressures that they have a hard time coping with daily life.  And when the anxiety, emotions, and tension go up, teens look for a way out.  When adequate coping skills are absent, Often, that way out is through self-harm.

 I’ve always believed that all behavior is goal-oriented.  If they’re doing it, they’re getting something out of it.  What we need to focus on is finding out why the teen is cutting so that we can focus on the real issue.  Teens inflict harm on themselves for a couple of primary reasons.  One is that they are dealing with bigger issues.  The other is to get attention.

 Some teens use cutting as a distraction from other problems in life.  They think:  If I cut, I can focus on that greater pain, and the pain I am feeling from another side of life won’t seem as painful. 

 Another reason teens cut is to get rid of boredom or create excitement.  Today’s teens are more bored than ever before.  With every kind of technological entertainment at their disposal, they are lost in a state of monotony.  So, kids are really pushing the envelope to create some kind of thrill.  They love an adrenaline rush.  They look around and see what their peers expect of them, and they fall into conformity, even if it’s painful, because they want to be accepted.  They may also try it just to show off or shock somebody.  Cutting is one way they think that they can get the attention and acceptance they crave.

 Some teens will cut just because they’re curious to find out how it feels and what the infliction will evoke with their parents and friends.  I’ve noticed that those that show off their markings or scars are usually ones that “show” as a badge or an expression of need for attention.  Those that hide their self harm usually “cut” or “burn” out of escalated emotion, then hide their deeds because they’re embarrassed that they couldn’t adequately “handle” the situation.

 Other teens may be using cutting to punish themselves.  They do so to discipline themselves for stupid or foolish decisions, as a way to purge themselves of the feelings of self-contempt.  It can also be a symptomatic sign of mental illness.  This is one reason why it’s so important to understand why your teen is cutting – so that you can address it appropriately and get the help you need.

 Intervening

 If a teen is cutting for show, they can quit right now.  I’ve always said if you scratch yourself and it hurts, then don’t do it.  Pretty basic stuff.  For example, there have been times when I wanted to smash my fist through a wall out of anger.  And if I did it, I’d feel better.  For a moment.  My hand would be broken, but it felt good to release all that emotion for a minute.  But if a child is cutting because of a deeper issue in their life, you’ll need to address it because no brief exhilaration will ever be enough to disguise their emotional pain.

 Parents, if your teen is cutting, don’t panic.  It’s hard to see your child inflicting these injuries on himself, but seek counsel before over- reacting (unless they need medical attention, then get it right away of course).

 Take the time to get to the root of the issue.  Don’t pretend like the problem isn’t there, or make light of it.  Find a counselor who has dealt with cutters.  Make sure that you work through the issues with your teen, but be sure to spend time together that’s not focused on the issue, either.  Don’t forget that cutting is indicative of something behind the scenes that you cannot see.  You have to stop the cutting issue, but you also need to address the deeper issue.

Cutting tends to grow into greater problems, and can even become addictive.  This e-newsletter article only serves to introduce you to the basic issues behind cutting.  If you’re in a situation that needs to be addressed right away, I implore you to find professional help.

You can also find out more about Heartlight or request the booklet “The Phenomenon of Cutting” 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.

 

 

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.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR 

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.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR 

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

 

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

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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.

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

When It’s Time to Act

For parents, there is no worse feeling than watching your child spin out of control while nothing you do seems to make any difference.  If your teenager’s behavior is giving you feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, and fear, I would like to offer you some suggestions.

 First, stop what you are doing and start a new way of thinking in regard to how you are handling the situation.  Albert Einstein defined insanity as “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”  If your home is feeling a little insane these days, perhaps you need to change how it operates.

 Start in a new direction by first talking to others, like your friends, pastor, youth minister, your parents, your child’s teachers, and the rest of the family.  You need to gain wisdom and a sense of reality regarding the situation.  Are you blowing it out of proportion, or perhaps not even noticing how bad it has become?  Is your teenager just acting out at home, or are they behaving even worse when away from home?  People around you will know, and they can help you gain perspective.

 Accepting the reality of the problem is difficult for some parents.  They won’t acknowledge it because to them it would be accepting responsibility for failure.  Others tend to see just the good and believe no wrong in their children.  They are blinded to what everyone around them can already see; that is, until it becomes a full blown crisis or tragedy.  So when you come to a right “realization,” don’t hesitate to begin your search for a resolution by validating your suspicions with those around you.  They know what’s going on and will be glad that you finally see the light.

 WHAT IS AN “OUT OF CONTROL TEEN”? An out of control teenager is one who doesn’t appear to have the internal ability to function within established boundaries and rules of the home or society. Their behaviors, if allowed to continue, could have dangerous or grave consequences for them physically, for their future, or for your family.

 When Is It Time to Act?

 I’m sure you wish this situation wasn’t at your doorstep.  But it is, so you have to act on your child’s behalf.  And no matter how lonely it might be, or how difficult it might appear; no matter what your child’s response, you must act quickly.

 STEP ONE:  INVESTIGATE

 It is critical to ask questions to get to the root of what is causing your child’s change in behavior.  Is he depressed?  Is he being bullied, abused, or using drugs or alcohol?  Has a major loss happened in your family recently?  Most of the time, parents find out way too late about underlying causes of a child’s behavior.  Communication is key at this time.  If the lines of communication are down, then re-establish them—forcing communication if need be.  Require time from your child to discuss how they’re doing before you pay their next car insurance bill, give them gas money, or hand over the keys to the car.  Determine to establish the lines of communication and make sure you ask lots of questions.

 Find out how your child is acting outside of the home.  Talk to your child’s teachers and coaches, kids at church, your own parents, your siblings, their siblings, your friends, their friends, their youth minister and just about anyone who has had contact with your child.  See if they have any insights into why your child’s behavior has changed.  In fact, if your teen’s friends show up at your home, don’t be afraid to ask them what’s going on.  Some will be honest, as they might be just as concerned as well.  Just make sure you ask questions, and ask everyone to be honest with you.

 STEP TWO:  SET BOUNDARIES

 Establish and communicate clear boundaries for behavior by all members of your family (not just your wayward teen).  Determine what you hold to be true and the principles upon which you will base your rules for living.  Communicate and live by these boundaries, rather than “shooting from the hip” every time something comes up.  Make a policy and procedure manual for your home, so everyone knows what to expect.  Spend some time determining how you want to live and put some feet to it to ensure that all understand those boundaries.

 STEP THREE:  ESTABLISH AND ENFORCE CONSEQUENCES

 Once boundaries are in place, there must be reasonable consequences for inappropriate behavior, and they must be enforced, or your credibility goes right out the window.  And keep in mind that they must be enforced for all members of the family, not just your teen, so they don’t feel singled out.

 Parents today tend to be so relational that they find it hard to send a strong message to “not go this way” for fear of losing their relationship.  But what most parents don’t understand is that kids do want direction, correction and help in moving through the transition to adulthood.  Tom Landry once said, “A coach makes people do things they don’t want to do so they can get to a place where they do want to be.”  Parents must do the same for their children.

 STEP FOUR:  GET OUTSIDE HELP

 “He who asks is a fool for five minutes, but he who does not ask remains a fool forever.”  — Chinese Proverb

 Perhaps your child’s issues are deeper and they’ll need professional counseling or medication to get through it.  And maybe you’ll need counseling to get through it as well.  Find a good Christian counselor that specializes in teen behavior, and trust what they recommend.  If you’re going to pick and choose the counsel you receive, then you’ll more than likely just continue to do what you want, and your child will continue to spin out of control.  Don’t let old beliefs about medicine control your new decisions that have to be made for your child.  If your child is depressed or anxious, has ADD, or OCD, can’t sleep at night, is bi-polar, or has a true mental condition that demands medication, don’t let your outdated boundaries prevent your child from getting help from something that is essential to their well being.

 Hospitalization may even be needed if you feel that your child is a danger to himself or herself.  Extreme cutting, eating disorders, bizarre behavior, extreme depression, suicidal thoughts, or excessive drug or alcohol abuse are just a few of the symptoms that might warrant hospitalization.  Don’t hesitate to hospitalize your child just because you don’t know what it is.  It’s better to be safe than sorry.

 When Nothing is Working

 In the event that your teen is running away or otherwise hitting bottom, and counseling is going nowhere, you may need to place your teen in a therapeutic program outside of your home for a time.  This is not the time to spend mulling over where your parenting has gone wrong.  It’s time for action, when your child could damage his life and possibly make choices with grave consequences.  After you’ve had time to get good counsel (hopefully from quite a few people) and you’ve had some time to think it through, start to put an intervention plan into action.

 A therapeutic program or facility away from home will get them away from their peers, drugs and other influences.  It will give the whole family a time of rest and regrouping.  It will offer the teen a fresh perspective and a concentrated, focused way of dealing with their issues.  Yes, it’s a “last ditch” effort, to be initiated when all other options and attempts to help your child have been exhausted, but for some kids, it can be a lifesaver.  Over the past 20 years, some 3,000 kids have come to live with us a Heartlight (http://www.heartlightministries.org) for 9 to 12 months at a time.  We daily work with them in a relational way to change their thinking and ambitions to more positive pursuits.

 All therapeutic programs are not the same, and there is very little regulation or standards in therapeutic care for youth.  So do your homework.  Check out each program’s professional references.  Call the local Better Business Bureau to see if there have been any complaints.  Get a list and call the parents who have had their child in the program recently.  If the program won’t allow you to call parents, then that may be a sign to look elsewhere.  And make sure the list they supply is made up of real parents, not just people trained to convince you to enroll in that program.

 A therapeutic program isn’t an easy or inexpensive option for parents.  It can cost tens of thousands of dollars.  No doubt, it will be one of the hardest decisions you’ll ever have to make.  But one statement I hear from kids and from their parents over and over is this:  “If I (they) didn’t come to Heartlight, I think I (they) would have been dead or in prison by now.”

 It’s a harsh reality to send a child off to be cared for elsewhere.  But that reality pales when you consider the possibilities or outcomes of your child’s current behavior and how such behavior could ruin his or her life.  What you are giving him or her is something that can’t be found in the current home setting.  You are loving them in a way that perhaps you haven’t loved them before.  It’s tough to think that they’ll have to miss some of their time in the local high school, and may never graduate there.  But it’s a good decision if it will save your child.

 Don’t ignore what is happening in your family.  Though you undoubtedly hope it will just go away, it won’t likely do so without a major change in the way your home operates, or placement of the teen in a therapeutic program away from home, especially if the behavior has already been going on for many months.  And if you think the problem will disappear when your child turns 18, think again.  It won’t disappear; it will likely get worse and linger well into adulthood if it is not dealt with earlier.  Just envision the chaos in your home from having your teenager still living with you at age 35, either because they continue to be addicted to drugs or they can’t find a job because they were arrested and have a record.  That’s a reality in more homes today than you might imagine.

 Consider this … if God’s timing is perfect, and I believe it is, these issues are happening at this time in your life for a reason.  So take advantage of it, and do what you need to do.  And know that this time of trouble will one day be over.  II Corinthian 4:17 states, “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.”  I would put an emphasis on “momentary.”

 This struggle may last awhile, but it won’t last long – not if you take the necessary steps to correct it now.

 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