It may be hard to catch a teen in the mood to talk, but try. That's why being available for casual connection moments is so important.
Troubled Kids
by Jeanette Gardner Littleton
"I don't have to put up with this!" My stepdaughter stomped to her room. A couple of hours later we learned our 18-year-old high school senior had moved out and into a prodigal lifestyle. What are some things we can do when we have troubled kids, either still in the home or out of the home?

  1. Don't be naïve. If you suspect something is up with your child, your instincts might be right. Don't be paranoid, but do be aware of where kids are and who they're with. Also, know what's in your child's bedroom. My husband and I tell our kids, "We respect your privacy, but if we feel a need to inspect your room, we will." Parents need to know the symptoms that may indicate your child is on drugs, suicidal, or involved in illegal behavior. 
  2. Be available. Try to just hang out a lot when the kids are home, even if you need to cut activities to do so. Do your work, reading, or TV watching in an area where the child might pause for some casual talk.
  3. Lower stress levels in the home. When my stepdaughter got violent with me, I changed jobs to end my stressful three-hour daily commute in Chicago traffic. This helped our whole family. We also limit the amount of our kids' activities so they won't feel tired and overwhelmed.
  4. Set boundaries. Some parents turn loose when their kids become teens, but our kids still need rules. Parenting is not a popularity contest. Sure, the kids may protest if you don't let them watch certain movies, or set curfews and limitations. But boundaries can protect them physically, spiritually, and emotionally.
  5. Let kids face the consequences of actions. If your daughter helps trash someone's deck, let her answer to the homeowners or police. If your son skips work to sleep in, hand him the phone when the boss calls instead of making excuses for him. Don't enable kids to continue bad behavior.
  6. Don't give kids "toys" they can't handle. Let your child show he or she is mature enough to follow the guidelines that go with computer usage, cell phones, having a car, or the other "trappings" of life. It's okay to say "no" if your child can't be responsible in these areas, even if other kids have them.
  7. Keep communication lines open. Don't assume your kids know things or think a certain way. Talk to them. It may be hard to catch a teen in the mood to talk, but try. That's why being available for casual connection moments is so important.
  8. Call on God's wisdom. When we learned my younger stepdaughter was leading a secret sinful life, we could only pray, "We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you" (2 Chronicles 20:12). God loves your child even more than you do. Depend on Him through the tough times.
  9. Love your child. Kids won't act like they want to be hugged, kissed, or told, "I love you," but do it anyway. Inside that bravado is someone who's not really confident, grown up, or surly. When you make rules, honestly tell your teen why, and listen to their perspectives. Let them know that while they're in your home, you're responsible to God for them, that you love them, and want to protect them. Let them know you're human and make mistakes, but that you love them more than life.
Parenting any child can be tough. But look to God for grace and guidance, to others for advice and prayer support, and remember tough times come and go. You, and your kids, can make it through stormy seasons, together.

Jeanette Gardner Littleton is author of When Your Teen Goes Astray: Help and Hope from Parents Who've Been There (Beacon Hill Press).

Holiness Today
, January/February 2008
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