words by: Sabrina Schlabach
No one ever said raising kids was easy. In fact, it’s hard. Especially in a world that is redefining absolutes, a culture that teaches self-love above others, and where abuse and trauma are everyday occurrences. Did you know that two-thirds of children report a traumatic instance by age 16? That list includes physical, psychological, or sexual abuse, bullying, domestic violence, national disasters, sudden loss of a loved one, and serious accidents. As adults, we struggle to react in healthy ways, so how can we expect our children to respond positively to these horrific situations?
We’ve all known kids we’ve written off as “obstinate, rebellious, or beyond hope.” Why is it so easy to give up on these kids? Have we ever taken the time to understand why a teen is acting that way? At Heartlight Ministries, founder Mark Gregston says, “I’ve never met a bad kid. These kids are just like anybody else’s. They are good kids; they’re just making poor choices.” Sometimes the consequences of those choices have led teenagers down a rough path; they don’t know how to come back from it and find themselves in a continual downward spiral. Parents don’t know how to pull back from the situation and gain perspective or do anything different, which means the cycle continues.
Heather is your typical all-American teenage girl. She’s beautiful and smart, a kid any parent would be proud of. But over time, she begins to turn to alcohol. Soon Heather drinks alcohol every day and is drunk most of those days. Things she used to love—her youth group, playing sports, family—she has given up and views them with disdain. Heather has been kicked out of every public and Christian school in Denver. Her parents don’t know what to do or how to help. What happened to their once-innocent daughter? Desperate to save Heather’s life, her parents call Heartlight Ministries for help.
Heather’s story is a typical one for teenagers who arrive at Heartlight. The names are different, but all struggle with something: alcoholism, drugs, unhealthy relationships, abuse, addictions, and more.
Heartlight is a Christian boarding school located in east Texas. They help teens aged 13-17 who have made trauma-induced poor choices or have family/environmental issues. Teens consent to live at the boarding school for about one year to receive focused intervention.
For those at Heartlight who work with teenagers, relationships come first. They aren’t strictly an evangel-istic group that says: “If you just get your life committed to Christ, everything will be okay.” Teenagers will see right through that. Actions speak louder than words, and while Christ is a foundational part of their organization, it’s more about helping the kids and their families learn principles to survive and thrive in the world their child will be living in. “I’m one of those guys who thinks you can either raise your kids to live in a zoo, or you can prepare them to survive in the jungle,” said Mark. “Kids need to learn how to survive.”
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Parenting Today’s Teens
Sabrina and her husband live near Ragersville, Ohio, and have been blessed with four spunky children. She values time with her family, loves to bake, and is an avid reader.