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Parents: Don’t Solve All Issues

Family Summit Hosts Author, Mark Gregston

Mark Gregston runs a residential counseling center for struggling teens.

The national speaker and author charges parents $60,000 to $70,000 to send their kids to Heartlight Ministries for crisis intervention. Despite the steep price, it doesn’t cover the intensive program’s costs, he said.

Gregston prefers that parents go to his website, listen to his weekly radio show and read his books instead.

“My job is to keep you from coming to Heartlight,” he said Saturday. “I tell people all the time, whatever (books) you can’t afford, I’ll give to you. I don’t care” about making a profit.

Gregston was the featured speaker at The Family Summit, a day-long event at The Summit on Rudisill Boulevard. More than 200 people attended the conference sponsored by Lifeline Youth and Family Services, Crosswinds and The Summit.

As founder and executive director of Heartlight, Gregston has helped more than 2,500 troubled adolescents. The East Texas facility now has 60 teens living in its boarding school.

Despite how it might seem, adolescents don’t want to be rebellious and depressed, he said.

Professional training – and practical experience – has taught Gregston that all behavior is goal-oriented. Often, he said, it’s driven by pain and loss.

Although parents might protest that their family hasn’t experienced a loss, such as a divorce or death of a grandparent, Gregston has found that teens typically don’t share those feelings with parents.

So it’s up to the parents to reach out and regularly ask non-threatening questions, Gregston said.

Moms and dads should find out what’s going on at school and with the teen’s friends by talking with them for at least an hour once a week, he said. Those conversations – which need to be free of parental advice – help families create stronger relationships and increase the chances that an adolescent will share difficult experiences and feelings.

But many parents focus on trying to control the teen’s behavior instead of working on the relationship. They should try to understand and address the pain that behavior is trying to soothe.

To create that nurturing environment, parents need to establish rules and boundaries, Gregston said. They need to give teens responsibility and allow them to fail.

“Most people don’t like that idea,” Gregston said, adding that there’s no better way to foster independence.

When mistakes do happen, the parents need to keep calm and allow the teen to deal with the consequences, whether that’s trying to find money to pay a $400 traffic ticket or spending a night in jail for physically threatening a family member.

“I would have a child arrested in a heartbeat,” he said. “I’d rather have a kid spend a few days in jail than years in prison.”

In the case of a ticket for drunken driving, Gregston said he’d laugh at the news and say to the teen: “Wow! How are you going to pay for that?”

The key, he said, is for parents not to try to solve all of the teen’s problems. And for parents to establish those clear consequences before something happens so they can emotionally distance themselves by remembering “they are actions that (the teen) chose” despite knowing the promised consequences.

But the family counselor doesn’t recommend creating consequences for every little thing. He doesn’t force kids to make their beds. And he doesn’t police what clothing they wear or whether they curse.

“One of the hardest things to do is to let some things go, moms,” he said, putting emphasis on the last word. Dads, he added, are typically focused on just two things: making sure kids don’t get drunk or pregnant.

Mothers, Gregston said, long for greatness for each of their children. But that can lead to nagging about all the little things that don’t don’t fit into the mother’s idealized picture.

“By always fixing things,” he said, “we remind kids that we see them as broken.”

April Slone, the mother of an 11-year-old daughter, was among those who attended The Family Summit. The Pierceton woman is also a trauma therapist for victims of domestic abuse.

After listening to Gregston, she realized that today’s parents who repeat their parents’ strict rules end up increasing the emotional distance they feel with their own child.

Slone admitted, though, that it’s hard to be mindful of picking which issues to crack down on.

“You want to battle everything,” she said.

The idea of laughing at a teen who has received an expensive traffic ticket? Now that, Slone can get on board with.

“I think that’s brilliant,” she said.

The challenge, she added, will be remembering the wisdom of that approach in five years, when her daughter will be legally allowed to drive.

Read the original story here on the Journal Gazette