Chapter OneMaking the
Teen Years Your
Any adult who behaved the way that teenagers
behave would be judged as certifiably insane.
Ana Freud, Daughter of Sigmund Freud
* * *
One time when Greg was a teenager and our family was driving from Arizona
to Missouri, we saw a clear example of why it's so dangerous to allow
anger to take root in a home. But we also saw how honor can erase anger in
a matter of minutes.
Near the New Mexico state line, Greg and I (Gary) started arguing about
an unresolved conflict. Norma, my wife, was in the back of the camper with
our other two kids, so she couldn't hear us. Greg had taken some money from
Norma's purse to buy a video game. She had given him permission to take
$20, but he'd taken $30. What he called an "advance" on his allowance, I was
calling stealing. We had argued about the details but had gotten nowhere. I
didn't like the fact that Greg wanted to keep this a secret. But he was upset
because he'd returned the extra money and didn't feel his mother needed to
know about it. He was also afraid she'd get angry.
The other problem was that I'd been pretty harsh with my tongue. I'd
blown up during the original discussion at home and called Greg a liar and
a thief. I could tell his feelings were hurt, but I had no idea that anger had
infiltrated his heart. At least I didn't know until we approached New Mexico.
Then, like a volcano, his anger erupted in my face.
As Greg and I argued once again about telling Mom, the discussion
quickly escalated to the point that I had to pull the camper off to the side of
the road. Suddenly, Greg jumped out of the vehicle, hopped a fence, and disappeared
over a hill. As he ran, I could hear him screaming, "I want out of
this family!" Then he was gone.
Teenagers! I thought as I rolled my eyes. Watching all the cars and trucks
that I'd passed earlier roar by, I wondered how long this was going to take.
"This will certainly put us behind schedule!" I yelled to no one in particular.
Since this was my first runaway situation, I didn't know what to do.
Should I wait until he came back? Should I run after him? It was so hot outside
that I was leaning toward staying in the air-conditioned camper. However,
the rest of the family made my decision when they collectively
screamed, "Go get him!"
Now I was really frustrated. Greg was pretty fast. Who knew how far he'd
run by this time?
As I approached the fence Greg had jumped over, I noticed a sign that
read: NO TRESPASSING! DANGER!
Danger? I thought. What could possibly be dangerous out here in the middle
of nowhere? So I climbed over the fence and walked to the top of the hill
behind which Greg had disappeared. Then I quickly realized what made the
sign necessary. Danger was everywhere.
The scene was like something out of the movie Dances with Wolves. An
entire herd of huge buffalo was grazing down below. The thought passed
through my mind that instead of driving to this area in our camper, we
should have traveled in a covered wagon. I had been instantly transported
back into the Old West.
As I scanned the area for Greg, I discovered that he had descended the
far side of the hill and walked about 20 yards into the herd, then suddenly
stopped. I smiled as I thought about how his stubbornness had carried him
far into the herd but not all the way through. His strong will had given way
to fear. Greg now stood face-to-face with a large male buffalo. As they stared
at each other, the buffalo started snorting and stamping his foot, inching
toward Greg. I knew very little about buffalo, but that didn't look good.
Greg was searching for an escape route when his eyes found me. His
expression turned to one of great relief. We still had no idea how to solve his
dilemma, however. I slowly walked down to where he was standing, thinking
the buffalo might charge at any moment. Instead, though, he simply snorted
a few more times and then walked away. Thankfully, my presence must have
confused the great beast.
We later found out just how dangerous buffalo can be. We heard that if
they're frightened, they can run through a wagon load of people in seconds,
scattering their remains. Hearing this disturbing news caused the hair on our
arms to stand straight up!
When we were out of harm's way, Greg and I stood on the other side of
the fence and resolved our conflict. I asked him to explain why he'd run.
"It really hurt when you called me a liar and a thief," Greg choked out,
not looking at me. "I know what I did was wrong, but it really killed me to
hear you say those things. Having them brought up again today only made
it worse. I just wanted to forget the whole thing happened."
Hearing his pain, I realized my sarcasm had deeply hurt my son. I
wanted to say I had just been kidding, but he needed to hear me say I was
sorry. So I asked him to forgive me for attacking him as a person. Then I put
my arms around him and held him for a few seconds. When I could tell he'd
forgiven me, I said, "Watch out-the buffalo is right behind us!" He jumped
about three feet into the air, and then we laughed about our adventure.
Although Greg had been in the wrong for taking the money, I had been
equally wrong for flippantly calling him names. The anger that had developed
in his heart had started to cause serious damage. But once I asked him
to forgive me, the bitterness melted in his heart, and he was able to seek forgiveness
as well. When we got back to the camper, Greg and Norma had a
long talk. Our other two children, Kari and Michael, asked what had happened,
and I simply said, "It's a long story. Greg will tell you later. In the
meantime, let's just say that it will be a while before Greg wants to visit the
buffalo exhibit at the zoo!"
As Norma and I were reminded through that experience with Greg, it's
so important to increase honor and decrease anger in the hearts of our
teenagers. (Seeking forgiveness for the wrong we've done is one of the most
honoring things we can do for one another.) In fact, doing those two things
is the key to making our kids' teen years our best parenting years. What is it
about increasing honor and decreasing anger that is so important in creating
a healthy home? One word: Safety.
Creating a Safe Environment
People are designed to hunger for intimacy and deep connection. God
designed us to connect with others and experience relational intimacy, especially
in the key relationships within our families. This basic desire for intimacy
can feel like a deep yearning.
If you are like us, you long for relationships in which you feel completely
safe. You want to feel free to open up and reveal who you really are, share your
deepest thoughts and dreams, and know that you will be loved, accepted, and
valued-no matter what.
Yet, many of us-especially teenagers-struggle with various aspects of
intimacy because it requires openness, and openness makes us vulnerable.
We're not quite sure what others will say or do or
how they'll use what they learn about us. This is
why a lack of desire to connect-or an avoidance
of intimacy in general-usually is an attempt to
avoid feeling hurt, humiliated, embarrassed, or
just plain uncomfortable.
As a way to lessen the risks involved, we come up with many strategies
to try to connect without getting hurt. We put up walls and try to project an
image we think people will approve of so that when they look at us through
the camera lens, they like what they see. We may keep parts of ourselves
closed and protected. We may ignore or deny how we actually feel. We may
get angry or demanding as a way of distracting ourselves, or our family members,
from our own vulnerability. There are a whole host of options we may
use in an attempt to avoid relational risks. Unfortunately, these strategies usually
limit the quality of the intimacy in our relationships because it's hard for
people to get close to us if we're hiding behind a thick wall or a mask.
In spite of the risks, the potential benefits of an intimate relationship are
many. Intimacy creates the ideal opportunity to: love deeply and be loved;
experience a significant sense of belonging; have a clear sense of purpose in
life; have the ability to make a major difference in another's life; and have a
way of fully expressing the best of who we are. As a result, we will look for
ways to create that experience.
In order for intimacy and deep connection to occur, hearts must be
open. This is why 1 Peter 1:22 says, "Now that you have purified yourselves
by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one
another deeply, from the heart" (NIV).
For a moment, think of all the ways we try to create intimacy in our marriages.
We learn about each other's love languages and emotional needs. We
create romance by buying flowers and cards. We have candlelight dinners.
We go on date nights with our spouse. We attend relationship conferences
and read marriage books. We join small groups and talk about our marriages.
While on some level these things appear reasonable, in reality they are unnecessarily
difficult strategies due to our inherent resistance to the dangers of
An easier approach is to focus significant time, attention, and energy on
creating an environment that feels safe-physically, intellectually, spiritually, and emotionally. As mentioned, people are, by nature, inclined to want to
be open and connect with others. Logically, openness can be understood as
the default setting for human beings. No state of being takes less energy to
maintain than openness that involves being yourself and just relaxing. Maintaining
defenses, walls, and fortresses takes tremendous energy. Working to
get people to see you a certain way, by projecting a certain image, or trying
to get them to like or accept you also requires significant energy. Simply
expressing who you are and "being" does not. As a result, when people feel
truly safe they prefer to be open and use their life energy to live and create
and enjoy life.
When people are together in a state of openness, intimacy naturally
occurs. It doesn't necessarily require work or effort. It may or may not include
words. The mistake many make-knowing that they want to experience intimacy
and that openness is required-is to either throw open their hearts
(which can be reckless) or to try to create intimacy by talking or some other
activity. Either focus makes getting to true intimacy harder than necessary.
The easier approach to intimacy is to focus on creating a safe environment for
yourself, your spouse, and your children. When each person feels safe, you will
be naturally inclined to relax and be open, and intimacy will simply happen.
Focus on Creating Safety
Let us say it again: When people feel safe they are naturally inclined to open their
hearts. Safety will help you create a climate in which you can build open relationships
that will grow and flourish. It will help you build relationships in
which you and the other person will feel cherished, honored, and alive. It will
set a soothing tone that will allow you to feel relaxed in your relationships.
If that sounds like paradise, maybe it's because Eden was a supremely safe
place. Adam and Eve felt no fear there. Before their
sin, they enjoyed an amazingly intimate relationship
with God, themselves, and each other. The couple
felt so close to one another that God described them
as "united into one" (Genesis 2:24). Nothing came
between Adam and Eve-not insecurities, not sharp
differences of opinion, not even clothes! They were
completely open with each other-no walls, no masks, no fear. Their relationship
In your quest to have the "best of the best" in your marriage and family,
we want to encourage you to make creating safety with your teens a top priority.
Start this process by answering some basic questions:
1. 0-10 (with 10 being the most safe), how safe is my marriage for my
spouse and me? For our children?
2. How have I made it unsafe for my spouse? For my children?
3. How do I make it unsafe for me?
4. What do I do in response to feeling unsafe?
When your teenager knows that you are committed to creating a safe
environment, you begin building a foundation for a great relationship. Ideally,
your home should feel like the safest place on earth.
How do you make your home feel safe-like it's the safest place on earth?
By increasing honor and decreasing anger.
Increasing Honor and Decreasing Anger
We (Gary and Greg) feel so strongly about this subject that we decided years
ago to write this book together. When we first wrote this book, I (Greg) was
not long out of the teen years myself, so many of the changes and challenges
were still fresh in my mind. And in the hope of helping you to be a better
parent to your own teen, I'm willing to discuss in these pages some of my
problems and victories during those turbulent years.
In addition to recounting our family's experiences, to help provide the
best information possible, we're going to offer what we've learned from surveying
more than 5,000 former teenagers at our monthly seminar. We asked
those adults to tell us two primary things:
1. What were the best things your parents did for you during your adolescence?
2. What do you wish your parents had done differently?
We have been stunned by the answers we got to these two questions, and
we've sprinkled the results throughout the book.
For now, we'll tell you that both our experience and our research indicate
that increasing honor and decreasing anger in the home are the two main
principles in raising healthy teenagers. Talk about simplifying the struggles of
adolescence! We're convinced that if these two things are dealt with daily, parents
and their teens will find a much more satisfying life together, and teens
will be much more open to their parents' advice. Also, a lot of the pain and
heartache often associated with the teen years will be avoided.
In fact, increasing honor and decreasing anger make up the foundation
of all healthy homes and relationships. Honor fortifies love; anger kills it-if
left unresolved for weeks, months, or even years, anger becomes an acid that
eats away love and maturity in teens as well as adults. That's why everything
we discuss throughout this book will run through these two themes. And
that's why we want parents, teachers, coaches, doctors, youth ministers-anyone
touching the lives of teenagers-to know about the great importance
of honor and anger.