Tough Guys and Drama Queens: How Not to Get Blindsided by Your Child's Teen Years

Tough Guys and Drama Queens: How Not to Get Blindsided by Your Child's Teen Years

by Mark Gregston


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Are you ready for your child's teen years?

If you've ever lain awake at night wondering what might be around the corner of your child's adolescence, this book is for you! After more than thirty-eight years of working with more than 2,500 years, Mark Gregston, founder of heartlight, a Christian residential counseling center, introduces Tough Guys and Drama Queensa must-read "how-to" book for parents of pre-teens and teens with time-tested, biblical techniques to guide you through these unavoidably challenging years.

Mark helps parents realize that some natural parenting approaches are actually counter-productive and therefore totally ineffective.In place of those, he offers tried and true wisdom on the vital importance of relationship, forgiveness, and explains how conflict is actually the precursor to change.

Everyday your child is bombarded by highly sexualized culture and over-exposed to words and images that can influence them beyond your reach.your connection to them during these years is critical as is your response to tough issues such as appearance, performance, authority and respect, boundaries, and many more.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780849947292
Publisher: Nelson, Thomas, Inc.
Publication date: 07/09/2012
Pages: 217
Sales rank: 503,242
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.38(h) x 0.63(d)

About the Author

Mark Gregston has been helping parents and teens for 38 years. He is the founder and executive director of Heartlight, a residential counseling center for teens, which has helped more than 2,500 struggling adolescents. Mark spends 90 percent of his weekends teaching, and also hosts the Parenting Today's Teens radio program. Mark is happily married with two children, three grandchildren, one dog, and too many horses.

Read an Excerpt



Thomas Nelson

Copyright © 2012 Mark L. Gregston
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8499-4729-2

Chapter One

Overexposure to Everything

When I first met Amy I thought that the introduction would be no different from any of the other twenty-five hundred teens who have lived with us in our residential program at Heartlight Ministries. She was like many of the other teens who have lived on our campus; great parents, loving home, solid upbringing, opportunities for travel and vacations galore, attended a good school, and active in youth group and church. But there was one difference that was hard to believe: she was just fourteen.

Amy looked a lot older than she actually was, but her eyes said differently. As her parents explained Amy's recent actions and decisions that had brought her to the point of needing to participate in our program, I watched Amy's response. Her head drooped, her eyes filled with tears, her chin quivered, and her face showed a hint of embarrassment as her mom and dad told me of her poor choices. It was easy to tell that she was scared and wasn't just some spoiled, rebellious kid who needed correction. She was a little girl who had been exposed to way too much for a girl her age—and overexposed to areas no parent wants their sons or daughters to even know about at such a young age.

Amy would have eventually been exposed to all the behaviors that brought her to us—alcohol, drug use, alternative lifestyles, her own sexuality—in due time, perhaps in her later teen years, during college, during her first job, or after she got married. But she had been "overexposed" to these things far too young, when she didn't have the maturity or responsible mind-set to navigate her way through these difficult areas. What fourteen-year-old does?

This overexposure was killing Amy. She later told me that if she had not come to Heartlight Ministries and spent time working through these issues while living on our campus, she thinks she would have been dead. Truth is, this overexposure is killing our teens ... their hopes and aspirations, parent's desires for them, and keeping them from becoming the young men and women they have the potential to be.

Here's a story picture of what I think is happening to teens today.

Most parents have played a simple game of catch in the yard, tossing a ball with the gentleness and ease of allowing a child to learn new and needed skills to catch a ball. In time, the child is handed a bat and begins to learn to swing at the ball that is pitched ever-so-easy to ensure that they connect the bat with the ball. It's an easy game that is usually full of laughter and joy as a child learns to hit what has been pitched to him or her.

Now here's what overexposure looks like.

A child is standing ready to take a chance to swing and hit something that is being pitched. As she stands with anticipation and excitement that she'll be able to "knock it out of the park," she smiles ear-to-ear for the new experience to earn the applause and cheering of parents, siblings, and grandparents.

But instead of that gentle toss of a ball that matches her age-appropriate ability to hit with a bat, multiple balls start flying toward her with an intensity that is far above her ability to swing or her agility to get out of the way. As a continual barrage of balls pelts her, her lovable smile quickly turns to tears. The last thing on her mind now is hitting a ball; she is only thinking of self-preservation and protection, turning away from something she thought would be fun and hiding from the onslaught of pain that keeps coming. What was to be this child's next step, taken with applause from those around her, has turned into a nightmare that eventually breaks the heart of this little girl who thought she was ready to take her first swing.

Because of the pain of overexposure, the little girl's innocence coming into the opportunity was lost. She is now not quite as trusting as she once was when others want to pitch her a ball. She's weary and hesitant to step up to the plate. She feels like a failure, a loser, and one who won't ever be able to live up to people's expectations. So she withdraws, gives up hope, leans on her own understanding of her small world, and swears she'll never trust or get hurt again. Her new behaviors are now aimed at filling her losses, compensating for her embarrassment, and keeping her pain from happening again.

This is what overexposure looks like. This type of response is what I saw on Amy's face the first time I met her.

Amy is not unlike many other teens. She is growing up in a culture that exposes our children to influences that are counter to what most parents want deeply for their child. Adolescents today would have to be completely isolated to avoid the culture's power to affect and sway their moral judgment. And you and I know it—most of us have commented about how glad we are not to have to grow up in today's teen culture. Our teens are victims of this culture and they feel its impact every day. And if parents don't change their parenting style to withstand the effects of the current cultural influence, I fear our teens will leave the batter's box, abandoning the values and principles that parents hoped to instill in their children.

Here are some areas of overexposure that shape the way our kids think, act, and perceive the truths their parents present to them.

Information Bombardment

The vast amount of written information swells at an increasing rate every day. In the 1930s, written information doubled every thirty years. In the 1970s and 1980s, that amount of information doubled every eleven years. Today, codified information doubles every eleven hours. That means that you can end your workday being half as wise as you were when you woke up that morning! The amount of information available today far exceeds one's ability to contain it all. Intellectual prowess is now defined not by one's capacity to retain information, but by one's ability to search and find information.

How does this affect kids today?

Where there used to be one answer from research, there are now many to choose from. There isn't just one encyclopedia on the shelf that will give an answer to questions; there are hundreds and hundreds of resources online that provide answers at a click of a mouse.

In response to this barrage of data, many teens are wondering, Which source is correct? Who should I trust? With so much to pick from, which do I choose? My parents are not the only source of wisdom and answers. If I don't like one answer, I can find another. I can find information to justify whatever I want to believe.

Overexposure of Images and Words

The explosion of the number of videos and photos available to our teens is astronomical, and digital photography has placed cameras in everyone's hands. So many activities and habits that were once unseen are now viewed publicly, and competition to post images of trysts, travels, and talents has created a world of social networking where imagery and bragging rights are the measures of one's value and influence.

Facebook currently has 250 million pictures uploaded each day, and growing daily. There are over 4.2 million pornographic sites on the Internet. YouTube contains over 80 billion videos. And 69 percent of American heads of households play computer and video games. With these ever-growing statistics, I can't help but wonder how we spend our time. Anything viewed or spoken has influence. And influence that once came from relationships and trusted friends has now been superseded by imagery and voyeurism, and from attention-seeking and self-promoting acquaintances.

Profanity that was once taboo in society is now commonplace and widely accepted. (Why, if I had said things to my dad that I hear teens saying to theirs today, I would have been knocked halfway into next week!) Abusive and obscene song lyrics, televised images of violence and death, and videos of once-forbidden topics and illicit images have not only invaded our information and entertainment systems, but they have changed the social standard of acceptance. The offensive, unthinkable, and unmentionable are no longer off-limits, and the boundaries of images and words have been so expanded that very few blush or turn their heads in embarrassment when encountered.

And the effect of this seismic shift of values on teens? It has changed the world we live in, even if our kids don't understand or acknowledge the differences in the world they are growing up in and the one you and I did. Their world is different, so their responses are different. What was abnormal to our generation has become their normal. What was unacceptable to us has become acceptable to them. Our blushing has become their humor. Because of repeated overexposure, teens have become numb to images and words that once aroused and offended people. They don't understand why parents make such a big deal over something that, in their world, is ordinary. They dislike when parents question their standards and interpret their parents' attempt to curb their digital intake and verbal output as an effort to curb their social interaction.

Sexualization of a Culture

Sex sells. It entices, it attracts, and 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. And in a world of pornographic influence, prominent images, media stimuli, and marketing schemes, a permissive culture is created where seduction is a fad and exploring one's sexual curiosity is encouraged. Abstaining from or delaying sexual interactions is discouraged in a culture in which the invitation to participate has been replaced by an expectation to be involved.

Another effect of this constant sexual exposure in the life of kids is that their curiosity is piqued, often causing them to experiment sexually at an earlier age. The perfect storm has formed where middle school guys exposed to porn and middle school girls confronting their sexuality has collided, and the dark clouds of sexual experimentation have eliminated the sunshine of innocence, causing kids to grow up way too soon. The resulting storm damage caused by this early overexposure is that sexual activity confuses and clouds thinking patterns at an early age.

Too often, well-intentioned parents give in to the culture's sexual permissiveness. Well-meaning parents, in their attempt to make sure their child fits in or isn't eliminated from social circles, sometimes allow sexualized music, style of clothing, videos, and discussions to trump modesty, sexual boundaries, and moral standards. It seems as though many kids who grew up in the 1980s and were told to "Just say no!" are having a hard time shifting the application of that phrase to their parenting style.

Granted, in country terms, it's "a tough row to hoe" for parents to balance a child's need to have friends with the child's desire to maintain moral principles and modesty in the process. It's an especially hard path for kids to walk when parents permit an anything-goes mentality to erode their own parental influence.

Whenever parents or teens embrace the mind-set that one's physical appearance and sexuality are a measure of their value, then the true desires of the heart are missed and emptiness is filled with unhealthy pursuits that take teens down a path that is usually met with a dead end—or worse.

And here's what I encountered with my fourth-grade grand-daughter—it starts early.

I love spending time with my grandchildren. Their innocence, the beauty of their laughter, and their childlike joy have an amazing way of making my heart jump when they call out "Papa!" It's the same feeling I get when they send me texts telling me how much they love me, or when they leave messages on my phone to ask how I'm doing and end with "I love you!" It's sweet, but even this grandpa knows that eventually a shift will occur in my young grandchildren's life signaling an end to their innocence and usher in a more challenging time that is the next stage of life.

I'm blessed to have my grandkids live close by. The older one in fourth grade, Maile, asked me to bring her lunch and eat with her at her school so that she could consume something other than what was being served at the school cafeteria. She also wanted me to meet one of her teachers who had read some of my books and wanted to show me her world. It was a time that I simply consider sweet. So this fifty-six-year-old grandpa decided to enter her fourth grade world, as I wasn't about to miss this opportunity.

As I was leaving the school, she gave me a hug, told me she loved me, and asked if I could pick her up after school to get an ice cream cone. The beauty of the moment felt like a slow-motion movie. Then, out of left field, I was blindsided by a young classmate of Maile's who ran up and yelled inquisitively, "Hey, Maile! Do you want to have sex with Chad?" In that moment, I wanted to do something to that punk that I never think about unless I'm on a hunting trip. She was embarrassed, he ran off, and my blood began to boil. I asked her, "That happen often?" She just sighed loudly. Needless to say, it gave us something to talk about that day over ice cream.

I indeed walked on her turf that day. Now in fifth grade, Maile's world is a mixture of two influences: one that has been created by her parents, and one that is being sculptured by powers outside her home. One world of the sweet innocence of life is beginning to bash up against this world of exposure. The conflict between these worlds has begun and I don't think she even knows it. Perhaps that's why older folks enjoy the goodness and purity of those pre-middle-school years so much and take advantage of every chance to spend time touching a life unscathed by the cruelness of the world.

Now I'm not an anti-world kind of guy. I do believe that evil exists, but I also believe that the good guys eventually win. I also believe in Satan and his influence, but I don't see demons and oppression around every corner. I understand the nature of sin and equally understand the depravity of man. But I love this world, and I love those in it. And all the stuff (a simple term that could be expressed more accurately with barnyard slang) that is encountered is just that—stuff that we, as parents, need to help our children navigate through the cultural jungle of complexity and confusion. My granddaughter, like all other fifth graders, now has awareness of that other world of influence and will soon become conscious that a new set of skills is required to help her steer through the maze of choices in middle school and throughout her high school years.

That world that once only consisted of riding bikes, nature hikes, playing with a dog, drawing chalk pictures on the driveway, dancing in the living room, coloring pictures worthy of hanging on the refrigerator, watching cartoons, doing gymnastics, playing on soccer teams, and having her first experience on a plane, at the beach, or staying at a hotel, has shifted gears. My prayer for my granddaughter is no different from the prayers of every other parent and grandparent who has kids this age: that she would survive the upcoming years with relationships intact with me, with God, and with great friends. And I pray that she would be prepared for the life that is laid before her.

My anger aimed at the young man who blindsided me was misplaced. My angst should not have been directed toward him, as he was also a victim of a culture that was spewing venom all over our young people. If anger is an emotional response to not getting what one wants, then my feelings that day were more centered on something that I wanted ... and what I didn't want. At the core of my frustration, I didn't want things to change for my granddaughter. And at the heart of that core, I didn't want the world to change for me. That change meant that a new stage of life was beginning and what was to come would require more of me in my relationship with Maile. That afternoon, between the time of eating lunch at her school and having an ice cream cone following a day of learning, something changed. And what changed was me. I realized that now that she not only wanted to spend time with me; she needed to spend time with me to help her maneuver through the new world she was entering.

The culture that you and I observe our preteens and teens living in today is far different than the one you and I grew up in. And I'll bet you've thought what so many parents (and grandparents) have pondered: I'm glad I don't have to grow up in today's teen culture. It's tough. It's confusing. And it can have some pretty dramatic and life-controlling consequences.


Excerpted from TOUGH GUYS AND DRAMA QUEENS by MARK L. GREGSTON Copyright © 2012 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.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix

Introduction: What Duck Hunting Taught Me about Adolescence xi

Part 1 What's So Different about Today's Culture?

Chapter 1 Overexposure to Everything 3

Chapter 2 Lack of Real Connection 17

Chapter 3 Overresponsible Parents, Irresponsible Kids 27

Chapter 4 No One Gets Respect 37

Chapter 5 Loss of Gender Differences 45

Chapter 6 Living with Constant Uncertainty 53

Part 2 Parenting Practices to Avoid

Chapter 7 Perfection Is Impossible 63

Chapter 8 Authority Cannot Be Forced 71

Chapter 9 Judging Builds Walls 81

Part 3 Parenting Practices That Really Work

Chapter 10 Relating Is More Important than Winning 93

Chapter 11 Ask Questions to Create Connections 107

Chapter 12 Stop Controlling and Start Trusting 117

Chapter 13 Foster Independence 127

Chapter 14 Add Clear Boundaries and Subtract Strictness 137

Chapter 15 See Conflict as a Precursor to Change 149

Chapter 16 Pick Your Battles Wisely 159

Chapter 17 Love When You Don't Feel Like It 167

Chapter 18 Offer Freedom to Make Mistakes 175

Chapter 19 Forgive When It's Hard 183

Chapter 20 Take a Regular Break 191

Conclusion: Family-The Permanent Harbor in a Constant Storm 199

Appendix A Conversation Starters 205

Appendix B How to Discuss Conflict 211

Notes 215

About the Author 217

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