I was excited to read Tough Guys and Drama Queens by Mark Gregston because, as a pastor of students, I always like to have a good book to recommend to parents. Gregston has spent decades working with teens and he even runs a live-in program where 60 troubled teenagers live for a year while he mentors them.
This book is divided into 3 parts, and Part 1, if it were it’s own book, would be one of the best parenting books I have ever read. Part 1, “What’s so different about today’s culture?” accurately identifies the root causes for many of today’s problems. What many parents think is simply rebellion is the symptom; Gregston identifies what lies beneath the surface, which includes a false sense of reality from the 80 billion videos on YouTube, the 250 million pictures uploaded to Facebook each day, and the lack of leadership evidenced by the 69% of heads of household who play video or computer games regularly.
Teens, Gregston points out, are told that they are all winners when each person on the soccer team gets a trophy, and we wonder why they are so depressed when they face their first rejection in “the real world.” Young men are experts at video games but don’t know how to do laundry because their mothers do it for them.
But as much as I enjoyed Part 1, I was equally disappointed with Part 2, “Practices to avoid.” In chapter 8 he makes the case that “authority cannot be forced,” and while I agree that parents need to constantly evaluate their methods, at the end of the day, parents are the God-given authority in their child’s lives, whether the children like it or not.
When illustrating how to give children more freedom to make their own choices and not being an authoritarian, he says, “When they’re seventeen years old and come downstairs on Sunday morning and say, ‘I don’t want to go to church today,’ don’t shame them and make them feel second-class. Instead, let them know, ‘Sure…why don’t you meet us for lunch so we can spend some time together (p.142)?’” So instead of using their natural authority and making them go to church, Gregston suggests that we should ask our children’s permission to at least have lunch with them.
This lack of authority confused me when I turned the page and found his example of how to lay out a vision for giving more privileges to your teen: “When you’re fourteen you can text no more than sixty texts a day, and we’ll still be watching. And if you ever send an inappropriate picture, we’ll limit your texting. Just texting, no sexting.”
Where do parents suddenly regain their authority to be able to “limit your texting?” And if my daughter ever sends an inappropriate picture to a boy, limiting her texting would be the least of her punishment.
The book ended back on a positive note for me, though, as on page 197 the author encourages parents to drop the many things that pull them away from their families. Even good things, like volunteering in Boy Scouts (if your son is not a Boy Scout), leading small groups, and teaching classes can become harmful if they rob parents of the precious few years they have with their kids. Gregston worded it beautifully when he said, “Tell [the ones you won’t be volunteering for] that you are taking a break to spend time with someone in your family who won’t be with you much longer. The teenage years go quickly, and before you know it, your child will be moving out.”
Overall I really enjoyed this book, and I would recommend it based on the many good points. The author even includes appendices to help with conversation starters and dealing with conflict that can probably be very helpful. I would personally caution the reader to evaluate the author’s methodology, and to be careful about how much of their authority they cede to their children.