My wife dragged me to her church for an all-day seminar called “Turbulence Ahead–Parenting Teens Through the Bumpy Years.” I went along, in support of her and in support of her recent “turbulence” with our oldest son, who is 16½ and a handful. But, my initial reaction was that this was a long time to spend on a subject that I know pretty well, which is that raising teens is no picnic.
At the seminar, it was quickly evident that my knowledge on the subject could certainly use a refresher, if not a full-on course. Within minutes, I grabbed the pen that we were given and I began taking notes. I ran out of space and in no time, I filled up the supplied notes sections of the program brochure.
The seminar was led and created by Mark Gregston, who is the host of “Parenting Today’s Teens,” a daily and weekend radio program heard nationally. He is the founder of Heartlight, a residential counseling center for adolescents in crisis and the author of several books. His credentials could fill this column, plus he’s an engaging speaker with a good sense of humor and self-deprecation vs. arrogance that some so-called experts display. As I see myself as a “layman expert,” I was appreciative of this approach and found the seminar enlightening.
At first, I just jotted down some of his powerful and smart quotations such as:
“The investment you make in your kids today pays off with your grand-children tomorrow.”
“The AMA has increased the age of adolescence (from 19) to 23.”
“Our response to situations changes with our understanding of them (re: teens)”
“I think God may have once said: it was so much easier when there were just three billion down there.”
And, one of my favorites which is totally in keeping with one of my own favorite columns, “Best Friend or Best Parent” (http://bit.ly/bestparent) was:
“They (teens) don’t need a peer-ant; they need a parent.”
After the seminar, I went up to Mark and asked permission to do a column inspired by the day’s learning. He graciously said, “Yes” with no conditions. I’ve subsequently gotten his blessing.
This was one of those situations where my wife and I were either constantly jabbing each other with one of those “SEE” jabs or giving each other glaring looks that said, “That’s you!” I had the great opportunity, inadvertently set up by Mark, to make a funny comment about my wife’s Canadian citizenship to which she whacked me on the head with the brochure, to the delight and laughter of everyone.
But, this was not a light event. The subjects and the stakes are real and difficult. It will be impossible to detail all that we learned, but I will attempt to sum up the salient points that get parents off-track with raising their teens, in spite of our best intentions. Below are some of the suggestions imparted to us (my comments are in the parentheses):
— We get sidetracked by things that are unimportant (example – worrying too much about the music our kids listen to, which Mark feels is totally unimportant and makes no difference in the long run).
— Our goal as parents is not to control our teens but to give them control (what a great notion and how valuable it would be if we gave them control vs. coddled and spoiled them!).
— When our teens mess up, we tend to approach it in a very negative manner when, instead, it should be of the “I’m here to help” vein wherein we might have a chance to be heard by them.
— Conflict is a precursor to change (this was one in which I got whacked by my wife but his point is true. We often don’t want to confront our teens; we just hope the problem is really no big deal or will just go away. That’s wrong!).
— Understand that your (parents) best thinking has got you in the situation you find yourself in (so he was suggesting we have to radically alter our thinking and behavior if we want substantive change with our teens).
— Be intentional about your parenting: give them control of their lives, require responsibility from them, establish rules and consequences, and convey a message that you owe them nothing but want to give them everything.
— Give them a message of hope: “There is nothing you can do to make me love you more; there is nothing you can do to make me love you less” (I might quibble with this one since I do think that there are some things that could affect a parent’s love).
As you can see from the above, and as I emphasize, these bullet points are just the tip of the iceberg of the wisdom shared by Mark Gregston. If you’re struggling with your teens, consider utilizing some of his many resources. No, Mark hasn’t paid me nor am I looking for a job with him. In fact, his only income comes just from his residential program for troubled adolescents. All of his other efforts are donated, from his writings and seminars to his radio show. He’s in it for the good he’s doing. And, I did secure his permission to write this column and his approval of it. You can find Mark and his various resources with any Google search, but start here: www.parentingtodaysteens.org.