Never Give Up Parenting a Difficult Teen


Mark Gregston shares advice on dealing with a difficult teen: overcome worry and find peace, seek help with change, learn to recognize progress, adjust your expectations, and keep in mind that teen problems are usually short-lived.

If you’re dealing with a wayward teen, you know how relationally fatigued, emotionally beaten up, and personally worn down you can get. In fact, you may right now be thinking, “I’ve been pushing against this wall forever…I just can’t do it anymore.”  But let me encourage you to never give up…keep parenting, even when the going with your troubled teen gets toughest.

I understand just how confusing and tiring it is.  I’ve spent most of my life working with dozens of struggling teens at a time!  So, here are a few ways I’ve learned to cope…

Overcome Worry and Find Peace

I have learned that in the midst of the worst storms with teenagers, peace is still possible, and peace can spread from you to your teen. It’s infectious! The first step to find peace is to shift from worrying to meditating on God, entrusting the problems — and your teenager — to Him.

Peace is the direct opposite of  worry.  The situation with your teen won’t improve when you worry. In fact, when worry takes control, it usually makes matters worse for everyone. So, where does the tendency to worry come from? Well, we know it doesn’t come from God.  2 Timothy 1:7 says, “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.”

Peace can grow in your heart when sitting in the presence of the Lord, “being still.” It is difficult to accomplish these days, as every minute seems to be filled with the hustle and bustle of 21st century life.  However, when quality time with the Savior is given priority, peace can come amidst the turmoil.

The Lord, your God, is in your midst, a mighty One who will save;

He will rejoice over you with gladness                                                             

He will quiet you with his love. 

He will exult you with loud singing - Zephaniah 3:17 (NIV)

Begin by spending a few minutes daily focusing on your relationship with God and reading His Word. It may mean changing your sleep schedule in order to wake up a little earlier, before everyone else. Or, it may mean you need to take regular breaks away from home to calm down, collect your thoughts and meet with God. You will come to know that God is able to quiet the worry in your heart with His love.

You might also visit someone who is a positive spiritual encouragement; attend a retreat to focus on God, or simply go on relaxing walks. When you do, avoid the distraction of electronic media, which can overpower what God may have to say to you. It is in those quieter moments, alone with God, that He can provide you with a new idea, a new approach for managing your problem with your teen, and a new perspective of resting in Him.

Seek Help with Change

If you could fix the problem with your teen yourself, you would have done so by now.  After all, your best thinking has you where you are at this point, and it doesn’t appear to be working.  So, it could be time to get some help from a pastor, a professional counselor, a medical doctor or a psychiatrist.  Find a support group and don’t be afraid to ask for help.  Try something different, and keep trying.  It may even be that something within you or your spouse needs to change before you will see difference in your teen’s behavior.  If so, be open to whatever change needs to take place.

Learn to Recognize Progress

It’s easy to be so overwhelmed by problems with your teen’s behavior that you fail to recognize any progress. Progress is not “problem solved.” Progress means steady improvement. So, if your child is screaming at you every day, and then only yells at you once every other day – then that’s progress!  Finishing some of his homework, when he previously did no homework, is progress.  Effective parenting requires that you look at the big picture while focusing on just a few problems at a time; then applauding any progress, no matter how small.  Refuse to make your teen’s lack of a complete turnaround to be your constant disappointment. Turnarounds rarely happen overnight.  Instead, applaud every step in the right direction, even if it is a small one.

Change is a personal matter for teens. They bristle at the thought that their parents or authorities are trying to “change them.” They may or may not be comfortable in their own skin, but they’ll fiercely defend who they are now and how they think.   When they feel you are trying to “change them” you’ll have an even bigger battle on your hands.  Instead, recognize progress when it happens, and shift the discussion from “changing them” to the specific things they can do to improve their own future.

Adjust Your Expectations

Huge expectations hardly help anybody.  It is better to realize that parenting teens is more like a marathon amidst a minefield, than a sprint through a flower garden. Chances are high that your teen will not have a smooth run down the road of adolescence, and it is better to expect some difficulties and prepare for them. 

I say this because most of the parents of the kids I help are great parents. The kids I deal with are also usually great kids; they’re just experiencing a blip on the radar screen of their life.  Their spin-off into another realm has caught their parents by surprise, and they are at a loss to know what to do.  I give them advice and help them know how to handle things, but most of all I say to them, “Don’t expect perfection, and don’t quit.”

Keep in Mind that Teen Problems are Usually Short-Lived

Teen problems usually have to do with hormones, immaturity, and brain development. They are fueled by struggles for independence, identity, and the testing of beliefs. But all of this is just a phase!  That’s why, in the midst of the turmoil, you still need to stick with them, even if you don’t feel your teen deserves it. The goal during the battle is to keep your relationship with your teen alive. God doesn’t give up on us when we fail. He gives grace. Are you willing to give your teen the same grace?

Over time, your relationship with your child will change for the better, but only if you don’t quit on them. It is tempting to just give up and let them run (and ruin) their own life, but for the rest of your life, knowing you hung in there will be your rich reward.  So decide right now, “I’ll never, ever quit.”  And through it all, remember this; the wrong idea of God is that He is too great to care.  The right idea of God is that He is too great to fail.



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