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TOUGH GUYS AND DRAMA QUEENSHOW NOT TO GET BLINDSIDED BY YOUR CHILD'S TEEN YEARS PARENT'S GUIDE
By MARK GREGSTON
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2013 Mark L. Gregston
All right reserved.
Chapter OneSession I
INTRODUCTION — LESSONS FROM A DUCK HUNT
I swam competitively for years and even received a full-ride swimming scholarship to the University of Arkansas. I never thought I would come close to death by drowning. I never thought that was possible. Until one fateful duck hunt.
You see, every year I take a group of guys to Arkansas to spend a couple of days duck hunting. Each morning we wake early, put on waders, grab our guns, and head out to wander through waist-deep water in search of the airborne delicacies that we hope will fly close enough to us that we can take them back to the hunting lodge as our afternoon snack. Our guide directed us on safety and in particular told us, "Be extra careful while walking in the water because whatever you do, don't fall."
On this particular morning, I slipped out of the boat into the calm, frigid water in a place where I had never been before. The flooded timberland was no more than three feet deep, and I leaned against a tree hoping that my bulky clothing and the tree's bark would camouflage my presence. That way, I could surprise at least one of the millions of ducks that pass through that part of the Mississippi migration flyway.
Expert swimmer. Good hunter. Shallow water. No big deal. I spotted a duck and took a shot. My targeted duck made a splash, and I started to wade through the murky water to retrieve it. My focus was on the duck, my gun was in my hand, and I was determined to bag my first bird of the morning. It looked like it was going to be an easy task. It rapidly proved otherwise.
With one foot cautiously following the other, I soon realized I was wading through hidden toppled tree limbs, brush, thickets, and broken branches. Still I trudged on, stumbling over the hidden underwater snares, yet convinced I knew what I was doing. Suddenly I tripped on something I hadn't seen in front of me. My foot wedged between two submerged logs, and my effort to pull it out threw me off-balance. As my left side slowly started to tilt into the water, I resolutely tried to keep my eyes focused on the duck (so as not to lose it) and my right hand out of the water (so I wouldn't lose my gun). In a split second, horror stories came to mind of how many a good hunter had drowned when his waders filled with water.
Then the sensation of cold water trickling down my back, covering my waders, woke me to the realization that I was going under. I needed to react quickly or the situation was going to go from bad to worse in a heartbeat.
My focus on something I thought was important (the duck) and my determination to hold on to something I thought was valuable (my gun) were causing me to sink. I had to rethink what was important or it was going to be the death of me. I grabbed a tree with my left arm and thrust my gun under the water with my right, in order to get my balance. As water poured into my waders, I took my focus off the all-important duck, rethought the value of my gun, and embraced something that was secure enough to save my life—the tree. That cold-water experience got my attention.
As soon as I evaluated what was truly important (my life) and let go of what wasn't (the duck and my gun), I was able to loosen my foot, regain my balance, stand up, and take a deep breath. My heart was pounding, my eyes were misty, and my back was wet. As I leaned against that tree, I exhaled a sigh of relief. It wasn't until I was back at the lodge a few hours later that I realized what had really happened in those seemingly quiet waters. Even though I thought I knew what I was doing, I had almost drowned.
In a similar way, parents wade into the unknown waters of their child's adolescent years focusing on what they think is right, holding on to what they believe is valuable, and believing they know what they're doing ... and they all too often end up in a mess.
Parents may begin to coast along as the waters of adolescence approach. Well-meaning moms and dads overestimate their parenting abilities and underestimate the influence of the submerged "branches and logs" of cultural pressure that entangle their families when the teen years arrive.
Perhaps your parenting focus has been on the "bagging the duck" of managing your child's outward behavior when, in fact, your child's life desperately needs to be saved. For example, maybe you've had your heart set on your daughter becoming a great piano player, encouraging her to excel, and pushing her to practice. She is learning piano, but what you may have failed to notice is that she is also experimenting with drugs after school. Or you've been cheering your son at football, dreaming about him getting a college scholarship, unaware that he has started using steroids and is experiencing violent mood swings. I had to let go of my treasured gun to save myself. What might you need to let go of to save your child?
It wasn't easy to pry my foot loose on that fateful day, and I had to let go of something valuable to do it. As parents, you may have to let go of some of your expectations and your plans in order to refocus on the big picture of what is truly important in order to preserve your family and your relationship with your child. The process of learning what is valuable often comes at the most inopportune time and at a high cost.
Most parents have some sort of plan for raising their children and think they are prepared. I made a plan for my duck hunt and thought I was prepared. I was a seasoned hunter. I felt, as many parents feel, that I had done it all before and was competent enough to handle anything that might come my way. When I got out of the boat and stepped into the water, I felt a great sense of confidence that it was going to be a successful day. I had walked through duck hunting water before. But I had never walked in that water before.
If I had a dollar for every time I've heard a parent say, "I never thought my child would ..." or "We had no idea," or "I didn't see it coming," or "I thought we were doing everything we were supposed to," I'd be a rich man. Most parents believe in the goodness of their children and think, "That will never happen to my kid."
I've had more than twenty-five hundred kids live with me at our residential counseling center. It's a year-long program where we have sixty kids at a time stay with us, so we can get to know the kids and parents as we help them work through the struggles of adolescence that have come their way. In my experience with thousands of families and kids, I hold this to be true: if you don't think you'll ever face challenges when your child enters his or her adolescent years, then you don't prepare, and you won't be ready to meet the challenges when your teen needs you the most.
So, to help you be ready for that time, and to help your kids face the challenges they will face as they enter adolescence, this video series has been designed as an avenue to give parents a chance to review their goals, their approach, and their focus as they prepare their children for the adolescent years. Your children can mature into godly, healthy, productive adults, with family bonds remaining strong (or strengthening) against the turbulent waters of the teen years.
This is what I want you to get from this series:
1. An understanding of the current condition of teen culture and the reasons why many teens struggle through their entrance to adolescence.
2. An opportunity to reflect upon your current parenting skills and strategies to see if you can improve.
3. Sound and proven practical advice that will give you some more tools in your toolbox to effectively prepare and parent your teens through their adolescent years and share effective methods that engage your children in relationship.
I believe that if you can accomplish these goals, you will solve most problems with your teen. A common theme I see with parents is that they overestimate their abilities as parents to transition in their teen's adolescent years without any "hitches," and they underestimate the powerful influence this culture can have on their children. I hope you'll let this series be your "cold-water experience" to prepare you to effectively meet and respond to the greater needs of your teens.
I have a small sign on my desk quoting a proverb that reminds me daily of my need to reflect, ponder, wander, question, seek wisdom, evaluate, and re-strategize my thinking for what is set before me. It is a quote that has changed my life: "The way of fools seems right to them ..." And the second part of that proverb? "... but the wise listen to advice" (Prov. 12:15).
I should have listened to our hunting guide and taken him a little more seriously.
1. Parents sometimes hold onto something they consider valuable, when their kids perceive it to be of little or no value.
2. What's important in the elementary school years is not necessarily important in a child's middle and high school years.
3. Parents should work hard to ensure that they have their eyes and heart focused on the right things as their children enter adolescence.
4. Most parents need to learn what's beneath the surface of the seemingly calm waters of adolescence to avoid stumbling and falling when their teens need them the most.
5. Most parents would like to avoid a cold-water experience to wake them up to the real needs of their child.
6. As you enter the teen years with your child, it's important to understand the teen culture, to learn how to reflect upon your current parenting skills, and to add some more tools to your parenting toolbox.
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
1. Can you write out your parenting focus in one sentence?
2. What hidden dangers might lie beneath the surface of the seemingly (by all appearances) calm waters of your child's life?
3. What are you holding onto that you would consider valuable in your parenting goals and strategy with your kids?
4. Is it possible those items you considered to be valuable during your child's elementary school years might not be valuable during the middle and high school years?
5. What "secure tree" would you grab hold of should you "trip" or feel yourself start to "go under"?
6. Do you feel that all parents have to have a "cold-water experience" before they see the need for gaining a deeper understanding of today's culture and wake up to the need for updating their parenting techniques? Has there been anything that's gotten your attention and caused you to refocus on what is important for your family?
7. Do you believe that the calm waters of the elementary school years guarantees smooth sailing during the upcoming teen years?
8. Do your parents know everything that happened in your life during your teenage years? What leads you to believe that you know everything that has happened in the life of your child?
ACTION POINT FOR THE WEEK
While you're eating dinner with your family sometime this next week, ask your preteens, "What's your greatest fear about getting older?" Also ask your teens, "How are the teen years different than your preteen years?" Then, share with them the concerns you have for them as they get older.
Chapter TwoSession 2
WHAT'S SO DIFFERENT ABOUT TODAY'S CULTURE?
Most parents believe that if they just do the right things and protect their kids from all the evils in the world then their children will perform well, stay on track, and not be influenced by the pressures of their culture. Yet many who have held to this belief find their kids leaving the church upon graduation from high school, abandoning what they have been taught, and ignoring what they know to be truth.
The reality is that the culture has changed drastically from when most parents grew up and developed their parenting styles and concepts. Unaware of the effects that today's culture is having on teens, parents become frustrated when their styles don't work, and they see their teens moving further away spiritually and relationally as time passes.
The luring and enticing promises of this culture's message, as well as the alternative lifestyles that are promoted, permitted, publicized, and prevalent, are appealing to teens' normal levels of curiosity in their search for identity. The culture has shifted, and so must parents' styles of engagement with their children.
The place to start is by gaining an understanding of the effects of the current culture on teens, and embracing the idea that most of our kids who have gone astray have been enticed victims rather than willing participants. This realization will change the way that you approach your child and turn your feelings of disappointment into understanding and compassion.
Here's how the culture is affecting our kids and influencing their lifestyles and decision-making:
OVEREXPOSURE TO EVERYTHING
With teens spending almost ten hours a day in front of some type of screen (computer, television, cell phone, electronic reader or tablet, smartphone, portable music player) accessing videos, visiting Internet sites, communicating with peers, searching the Web, listening to music, video chatting with family, playing video games, communicating through tweets, and sending/receiving photographs, is there any question about the increased amount of information that is overloading them? It's called information bombardment, and it is happening at such a rate that teens are exposed to everything imaginable. Can you think of anything that teens haven't seen these days?
Technology and the Internet have changed the face of the world, the way we all live, and the way we engage with one another.
Teens are overexposed to images and words that make lasting impressions, numb the senses, and instill new ideas. And while this exposure has a good many benefits for us all, there's no question that consideration must be given to how it affects our kids.
The sexualization of the culture cannot be attributed to just the presence of 4.2 million pornography sites on the Internet. That's much too easy an answer. Porn has been around for a long time. It has flourished because the culture has become permissive, and images have become accessible. For the teen culture it has an amazing appeal to disconnected girls who desire to have someone pay attention to them and to confused young men who long for ways to express their manhood. Imagery plays a big role in the life of teens, and seductiveness and sensuality just happen to be two of the ways that teens direct attention to themselves.
This overexposure to culturally permissive influences that are no longer controlled by parents, and the permission to explore and engage in alternative lifestyles and ways of thinking, has become the "right" of all teens longing to find themselves in a culturally eclectic atmosphere where anything goes.
LACK OF REAL CONNECTION
Those ten hours spent looking at a screen of some sort have an opportunity cost associated with the activity that very few anticipate. Every hour spent looking at a screen (except for video chatting) is one less hour spent relating face to face with someone else. I would submit to you that this lack of interaction is doing two things to teens. First, teens' lack of genuine relationship with one another fuels their drive to connect, so they go to greater lengths to get noticed and make a statement in hopes that someone will pay attention to them. They long to belong. Second, when social interaction is limited to one-line texting statements that become rapid-fire, chatter-filled responses, communication becomes "more about me than about thee," and the opportunity for "iron to sharpen iron" doesn't happen as it would in face-to-face conversation. As Ecclesiastes 10:10 states, "If the ax is dull and its edge unsharpened, more strength is needed." And that strength is usually shown in a teen's willingness to get "closer to the edge" and engage in more extreme behavior to make a first impression, be accepted, and find peers who are like-minded.
This lack of connection then creates a world where expression is welcomed and encouraged. One doesn't have to listen long to media sources to understand that many are crying out, "Won't someone just listen to me!" as if to find value in the expression of opinions. I'm reminded of the old proverb that states, "Fools find no pleasure in understanding but delight in airing their own opinions" (Prov. 18:2). Texting, social media, tweeting, and YouTube are not bad things. They provide the perfect opportunity for teens to express their opinions. However, when this style of communicating becomes their primary source of interaction, it doesn't take long to understand that the opportunity to engage at a deeper level is many times lost and plays "second fiddle" to their chosen, and oftentimes more convenient, form of communication.
This "great disconnect" among teens has also created a world where appearance becomes a priority, and a comparison mind-set enters a child's thinking. Value of self is determined by how many "friends" one has on social media sites or how many "likes" are given to comments and expressions posted electronically. The concern for "how I look" in front of peers takes center stage, and one's abilities, talents, character, or personality fades into a backdrop that is rarely seen or displayed. Overexposure to what others have through the Internet and media channels fuels a greater sense of entitlement and diminishes the meaning of the word contentment. I see teens spending more time in the shallow end of the "relationship pool," never venturing into deeper waters where value is determined by those attributes that lie beneath the surface. Perhaps you'll notice the priority of appearance in the following scenarios:
* A daughter shows a little more skin and violates her standards of modesty to attract guys or to fit in with other girls her own age.
* Your best friend's son starts using language while texting or posting on social network sites that is unacceptable to parents but welcomed in a teen's world because he wants to appear to be strong, manly, and tough.
* Your pastor's son changes preferences in music and lifestyle because he wants to disconnect with a church group that has high moral expectations and connect with another group of friends who accept him for who he is.
Excerpted from TOUGH GUYS AND DRAMA QUEENS by MARK GREGSTON Copyright © 2013 by Mark L. Gregston . Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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