Why Teens Seek the Wrong Crowd
By Mark Gregston
Does your teenager feel valued and significant in your home? If not, they'll look for value and acceptance somewhere else. There are plenty of people who can make them feel valued, but mostly from the wrong crowd and with the wrong motives.
There are four things you can offer your teenager to make them feel valued: your unconditional love, your experience, your time, and your wisdom. Each of these builds value. Being valued makes a teenager feel like they belong; they are accepted and they are therefore at peace with the world. Being valued builds their self-esteem and helps them have the confidence to say "No" to their peers. Being valued helps a teenager want to maintain their own sense of value and not accept anything less.
When I talk about ways to instill value, you'll notice that I'll never mention using "your money" or "your faith" to instill value. Material and spiritual things are needed and certainly valuable, but they don't build the kind of value that only a parent's attention and love can offer. They are, in fact, often used as crutches by parents not interested in instilling real value in their children. Nearly every teen that has come through our Heartlight counseling program has either been given an abundance of material goods or spiritual guidance in their lifetime, or both, but for some reason they didn't feel valued by both of their birth parents, so they crashed in the teen years.
Four Ways to Make Your Teen Feel Valued
1. Make sure there is structure and rules.
Structure says, "You are the one I am concerned about…and I value you enough to work with you and love you through the times you step out of line." Discipline is all about them, and even though no teen outwardly likes it, it says you value them enough to help them.
When kids come to Heartlight and meet me, they really don't like me at first. But eventually they come around to respect me because I don't mince words or give them wiggle room on the rules, but I also strive to develop a relationship with them and avoid making them feel like heels when they do make a mistake. They understand that my goal is to help them, not badger or demean them. As a result, I can't tell you how many calls I receive from kids who have graduated our program, and the college graduations, weddings, and funerals I've attended or lead because these kids wanted me to remain in their life, even years later.
2. Ask questions and collaborate with them.
When parents convey that what their teen has to say is important, it also conveys value. We parents share our opinions far too often in the teen years because we don't want our teens to make the same mistakes we did. But we need to back off and offer our wisdom only when they ask. And though we may be shocked or not like what they are saying, we need to listen to what they have to say anyway. They're probably just thinking out loud, and doing so in their immature way. They may just be echoing what their friends said — not really buying into it themselves. If you react too harshly, it can sometimes cement that idea in their mind and cause them to go that direction. So, be sure to talk with your teen and do so mostly with your eyes and ears, not your mouth.
3. Give grace.
Grace is an act of kindness. It is offering them something that's undeserved. It affirms them with a message that says, "I love you when you are doing well, but I will also love you when you aren't." I recommend that all parents memorize this key statement: "There is nothing you can do to make me love you more. And there is nothing you can do to make me love you any less." Share it with your child on a regular basis. Post it on your refrigerator door, attach it to the bathroom mirror, write it in soap on the windshield of their car. You cannot deliver this message to your teen too often. They need to hear it every day.
4. Give of your time.
If you are giving part of your valuable time to your teen, they'll feel important and valued. In my counseling, the most often mentioned desire of teen girls is, "I want more time with my dad." They want time together, even if they don't act like they do. Whether you are a mom or a dad, take your teen to lunch, grab a snack after school, attend all games or school events, find things you can do together, and communicate with them online. Send daily text messages to say "Hi" or "I love you." Make sure your teen knows your desire to be involved in his or her life. Do it, or they'll seek validation from someone else, and that can lead to bigger problems than you ever want to have with your teen.
Here is the bottom line…it's important for your teen to know that they needn't look or act a specific way, or perform at a certain level in order to maintain your love. Your relationship with them won't stop if they mess up, and your love will survive tough times. Having a relationship that offers significance and value means remaining involved in their daily life and accepting their growing need for independence.
For all of us, value and security comes from knowing we are valued by God and our family. Your teen needs to sense that they "belong" and are valued regardless of what they do. Giving a sense of value is the most valuable gift you'll ever give your children…and it's free! So give it away, freely.
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Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, national radio host, and the founder of Heartlight, a residential counseling opportunity for struggling adolescents, where he lives with 50 high schoolers. Learn more at www.heartlightministries.org. Mark's blog can be read at www.markgregston.com or he can be followed on Facebook and Twitter. His radio programs can be heard at www.parentingtodaysteens.org.
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