The teenage years in most families are usually filled with much turmoil. The battle that goes on between teens and their parents can be extremely intense and discouraging at times. Both parent and teen wonder to themselves, what is happening to our family? Why is there so much conflict? Will our relationship survive these final years together? Your priority must be to attempt to understand what your teen is thinking and what you can practically do to keep the conflicts to a minimum. I want to encourage you to begin by reading the story the story of the “Prodigal Son” and the turmoil and conflict in this relationship (Luke 15:10-20). This story will mirror your relationship with God, and how you must relate to your teens.
I. The characteristics of a teenager
A. Teens are maturing intellectually and are beginning to think and reason through issues independent of parental guidance. The Prodigal Son came to his own conclusion of what he believed he needed to do, and simply informed his father (Luke 15:12). The decisions your teens are making are new territory for them, and this creates anxiety for you and confusion for them. Sometimes your teens will seem almost irrational in their decision making.
B. They are striving for independence from you in all areas of their life (Luke 15:12-13). This is the natural maturing process at work, whereby they are seeking their own identity. They realize they are growing up and they want to make their own decisions.
C. They are beginning to question the basis and reality of their faith. Does God really exist? Does Christ truly live in me? Do I really believe what my parents believe? These questions bring more confusion. They are not content to believe simply because they are told to believe.
D. Teens are also not as teachable as they were in earlier years, because of their desire for independence from you and their desire to think for themselves. This adds further struggle to the relationship between parent and teen.
E. Most teenagers are very impatient and self-willed. Remember the request of the prodigal son: "Give me my portion of the goods" (Luke 15:12-13). The implication in the text is – I want it now!
F. Teens are maturing physically which brings on sexual desires and the attraction for the opposite sex. These thoughts and desires are very new for them and they struggle with how to address these issues.
When you add all these ingredients together, you have the very real possibility of an explosive relationship between you and your teen.
II. What are teens looking for from parents?
A. They want to be treated not just as “kids” anymore, but as young adults. They realize that they are not “kids” anymore, but parents do not always recognize this truth. You must speak to them respectfully and treat them as you would any other person in the Body of Christ.
B. They are looking for their own independence and identity. This is why they try on a certain behavior one day, and another the next. They are attempting to determine what works for them and what does not. They will even try on sinful behavior, just to see if it is really as bad as their parents have told them that it is. This is what the prodigal son did (Luke 15:13). You must verbally assure your teens that life and all its decisions are now in their power. The decisions they make; they will have to live with the rest of their lives. This communicates that you acknowledge their independence and freedom to choose as a young adult. Let them also know you are there to give your counsel if they want it. This is also a means of showing respect for them.
C. They need love, forgiveness, and your support when they fail (Luke 15:20-24). As a parent, don’t you need support when you fail? If they do not find this support at home they will go looking for it in the world. Remember, Jesus even acknowledged that the world loves its own (John 15:19). I assure you, the world will love and accept your teen.
D. They are looking for a loving and concerned counselor, not a dictator. Remember, Jesus never went into a rage and dictated to people. Responding correctly with your teen is difficult, because they bounce back and forth from desiring to be independent, to questioning if they really know what to do, and then back again to listening to you. Be there to listen and gently counsel. Do not give long lectures. Teens hate this. Give short encouragements and ideas for them to consider, while encouraging them to make up their own minds over the issue. I call this the 30 second lecture! Why is speaking to them in this manner so important? If you verbally go on and on telling your son or daughter what they should do, you will see their eyes glaze over and they will start looking off into space. They will just shut you out because they believe you are treating them like a child.
How do you give a 30 second lecture? Reserve your comments to two to three sentences, and say it just once. Always end with this statement, “But, it is up to you. You have to make the decision because it is your life. You are not a child anymore and you will have to live with the consequences of your decisions. I will be praying for you.” When Jesus taught publically He would have lengthy instructions, but when He ministered privately to individuals He was usually very brief (Mark 5:18-20; Mark 5:30-34; John 8:1-11; Luke 12:13-15).
III. Why do teenagers rebel?
A. Teenagers are sinners, and they sometimes handle their confusion and desire for independence in the wrong way.
B. Parents are sinners too. They usually forget what it was like to be a teenager. When parents do not understand what is happening to their teen, they usually take personal every attempt at independence, and the battle only increases. Therefore, if either the parent or the teen are not walking in the Spirit there will be conflict (Gal. 5:16).
IV. Errors in disciplining teenagers
A. Resorting to the rod instead of reason and persuasion (Is. 1:18).
B. Using the external pressures of anger, yelling, ultimatums, or manipulation (James 1:20).
C. Withdrawing your love, friendship, or communication to force them to change. This is what David did with Absalom and it backfired (2 Sam. 13:37-39).
D. Failing to acknowledge your fault when you have been too extreme or have exploded in anger.
V. Methods to use in disciplining
A. Verbal reproof and reason (Prov. 17:10) (Prov. 15:32) (Is. 1:18).
B. Loss of privileges or restriction (Jer. 5:25).
C. Let the natural consequences of their actions be their discipline. Example: If they are given detention for tardiness at school or for some misbehavior, do not give them more discipline at home (Luke 15:11-21).
D. Restitution (Luke 19:8). See also Part 3 of this series.
VI. Methods for teaching and devotions
A. Use the same methods as described in Part 3 of this series. You must begin teaching them on a more adult level.
B. Try devotional books that are age appropriate.
C. Use every spontaneous question as an opportunity to explain God's Word and His ways.
D. Read through a chapter of proverbs from the Living Bible at breakfast or dinner.
E. Share something personal from your own time alone with God. What did He teach you? Share that with your family at your breakfast or dinner table.
F. Be an example in your devotions, church attendance, and your attitude at home. Your example is the most important instruction you can give. They are watching what you do in comparison with what you say (1 Tim. 4:12).
VII. How should you deal with a rebellious teenager?
A. Stop contention before it starts. You must keep a cool head. Avoid angry confrontations that only drive you further apart (Prov. 17:14; Prov. 20:3). Refuse to get into a shouting match with them. Remember, the wrath of man will never work the righteousness of God (James 1:20). In addition, you will say things that you will regret latter. Do not say to them in anger, "I can hardly wait until you're gone."
B. Listen to their concerns. Keep the communication lines open so you will not become isolated from each other (James 1:19).
C. Do not give long lectures. It is better to give short encouragements or reproofs (30 second lectures). If you do not keep these conversations short, your teens think you are trying to control them. Remember, they see your lectures as you treating them “like a kid.”
D. If there have been any conflicts between you and your teen, be sure to confess any fault you have had in the past or present. Ask for their forgiveness. This causes reconciliation to occur and also causes them to respect you (James 5:16; Matt. 7:5). If you refuse to ask their forgiveness, these unreconciled issues will drive you further apart, and only gives them an excuse for further rebellion. Unreconciled issues are usually a major cause of continued conflict.
E. Remember, your teens are testing the boundaries. Be sure that you have clearly established and communicated your limits to them. Constantly re-evaluate on a regular basis to see if you are being too strict, too loose, or too overprotective. Overprotection is not letting them do things only because of your fears. Overprotection will hinder their growth to maturity. Sometimes you have to let them fail. It's like not letting a baby walk when they are ready to take those first steps, only because you are afraid they will fall.
F. Try to say “yes” to their requests as often as possible when things are going well between you. This takes some of the edge off the times you must say no. Therefore, if the issue is minor, don’t sweat the small stuff.
G. Allow them to make as many decisions as possible over their own lives. Pressure from you will only cause them to rebel (Rom. 14:5). Allow them to choose their own styles and tastes in clothes and hobbies when these are not in conflict with God's Word.
H. Stay as involved with your teens as much as you can. Spend time with them on a one-on-one basis. This communicates that you consider them important and special. This also fosters your time together around relationship, not rules. Remember that rules without a relationship will always equal rebellion. To disciple, influence, or lead others you must be with them. This was the plan of Jesus (Mark 1:17).
I. Praise their wise and mature decisions. This communicates your acknowledgment of their independence and growing maturity (Ps. 72:15).
J. When your teens threaten to rebel and say they are going to do whatever they please, call their bluff. Explain to them that this is not a mature attitude, and you can be just as tough in your resolve. God can be just as stubborn as anyone (Luke 20:8; John 13:8; Ps. 18:25-26 = the word shrewd in this passage means to oppose with wisdom). Resist and oppose the rebellion in every way you can, without getting into a physical confrontation. Explain to them that the longer they rebel the more restriction they will get. If you do not call their bluff over rebellion, ultimately, you will lose total control. However, you also need to always stop during these times to re-evaluate where or if you need to release a little more freedom to them.
K. When things calm down reconfirm your love to them. Put your arm around them or hug them. Demonstrate your love (1 John 3:18).
L. Do not verbally compare your teenagers one against another. "Why can't you be more like your brother?" This only infuriates a teen to more anger and rebellion (2 Cor. 10:12). Children always think parents love one child more than another. This statement only confirms their suspicions and will cause additional sibling rivalry and jealously. Remember, the major mistake Jacob made in his parenting was showing favoritism to Joseph (Gen. 37).
M. Treat your teen with respect. Speak respectfully, knock before entering their room, and do not embarrass them in front of others (Matt. 7:12). Do not talk down to them like they are a child.
N. Ask God for the love, patience, and endurance you need to get through this period in their lives. It will pass. In the mean time, you want your relationship to survive. Remember, anyone can love an obedient teenager who is demonstrating love and respect toward you. The test is to love the rebellious or prodigal teen, and to continue to speak kindly and respectfully to them, which enables the relationship to survive. All of us were rebellious once and our heavenly Father patiently loved and reached out to us. You must do the same.
VIII. Will teens rebel even after you have loved, trained, and disciplined them correctly?
A. Yes! The children of Israel were loved, nurtured, and disciplined correctly by God and they still rebelled: "I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against Me" (Is. 1:2). Their rebellion was the result of their self-will and sinful nature. This is also why some teens from godly homes rebel too.
B. Isn't there a guarantee in Prov. 22:6, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it?” This verse must be taken in the context of the rest of the Scripture which also teaches the free will of man. Your children are not robots. God will not force them to obey His will; they must choose to follow Christ themselves. The entire book of Proverbs encourages young people to heed the instruction of their father and to choose what is right. Scripture also acknowledges that some will refuse to do this (Prov. 10:1; 8; 17; Prov. 13:1; Prov. 17:21). Note the responsibility that is placed on the children in these verses, not the parents. Proverbs 22:6 has been greatly misinterpreted even as another passage in the New Testament, Acts 16:31. The promise to the jailer was not that if he believed, then his whole family would automatically be saved too. The promise was that his whole family could be saved in the same manner that he was, through faith. Peter taught the same: “The promise is to you and your children, and to all who are afar off” (Acts 2:38-39).
C. The kings of Israel reveal a multitude of examples which reveal the individual choice of children contrary to their parent’s lifestyle. It is interesting that the children of many ungodly kings chose to follow the Lord, and many of the children of the godly kings chose to reject Him. Examples: The ungodly King Amon had a godly son, King Josiah (2 Chron. 33:21-34:2). The ungodly King Ahaz had a godly son, King Hezekiah (2 Chron. 28:1-4; 29:1-2). The opposite is also true. The godly King Jotham produced the ungodly King Ahaz (2 Chron. 27:1-28:4). Godly King Hezekiah brought forth the ungodly Manasseh (2 Chron. 29-33). However, godly kings also raised godly sons (Uzziah & Jotham) (2 Chron. 26-27). Also, ungodly kings raised ungodly sons (Jehoram & Ahaziah) (2 Chron. 21-22). What do all these examples teach you? It reveals that the example, training, and influence of the parent are important, but in the end, the children must choose for themselves whether or not they will follow the Lord. The Scripture acknowledges this concept of personal decision-making on the part of children. In Ezekiel 18:4-14, the Scripture assumes that the godly will bear ungodly children. The bottom line here is, do your best and then commit your children to the Lord. Pray for them continually and trust God to work in their lives as He has in yours.
D. The bottom line: Why does Jesus tell the story of the Prodigal Son, if this does not happen? The story reveals a rebellious child was a very common occurrence in the time of Jesus. This rebellious son grew up in a home with a loving Father. Jesus only used stories that all could relate to and understand. Therefore, you too may have a rebellious son or daughter.
IX. How do you let your teens go?
A. Recognize this is the biblical goal of your parenting. You must let them go. It's the oldest principle in the book. Children are meant to leave the home, your control, and ultimately cleave to their spouse (Gen. 2:24). Your job is to prepare them to leave. If you refuse to prepare and allow them to mature and ultimately leave your home, you are fighting against God's plan.
B. Verbalize to your teens your intention is to gradually give them more and more freedom and responsibility as they grow older each year. You must repeat this statement over and over, especially when they are chomping at the bit for more freedom. This at least satisfies them intellectually that they will not be “a child” forever. Then set up practical goals for them to take on each year. Ask them to show you that they have the maturity to handle the increased freedom. Have them wash their own clothes, take care of the family car, get their own checking account. Ask them to regularly check in with you for accountability.
C. Recognize that you are not called to be the lord of their lives, God is. They have not been given to you so they could live out your own unfulfilled desires or expectations. Do not set goals for them that you have determined, and then try to manipulate them to fulfill these goals. You must help them discern their gifts, talents, and abilities. Help your teens to see what they are good at, and encourage them in that direction. Enable them to see where they can make a difference in this world (1 Tim. 4:14-15).
D. Be supportive of their decisions, remembering it is their life. If they make bad choices this is part of the learning process. The Prodigal Son had to learn for himself that he had made the wrong decision. He also realized by himself that he was unsatisfied. No one came and told him these things (Luke 15:14-17). When he came to the understanding of what he had done, he then made the correct decision to return home (Luke 15:18-19). This is the maturing process.
E. When they ask for advice, always give it with the postscript, "But, this is your decision" (Rom. 14:5). Whether or not they take the advice is their choice. Remind them they have to live with their choices, so encourage them to make good ones.
G. When your teens want you to make the decision for them, refuse. Explain to them that if you did decide for them, you would only be hindering them.
H. Give them the decision-making tools and then step back and pray for them. Explain to them how you make decisions using the wisdom of the Word of God.
I. Do not bail them out of the consequences of their bad decisions. Again, the father did not say to the Prodigal Son, "Here, I will replace your lost inheritance." The natural consequences are one of God's best tools to teach and mature your teenager. Do not take this tool out of God’s hand. Remember how the natural consequences of losing all, worked on the Prodigal Son and started the process of his return (Luke 15:14).
J. Be loving and gracious when your teenager or young adult comes home after failure of any kind. Do not say, "I told you so!" or "I hope you learned your lesson!" Make sure love is the first thing they sense. You can discuss the issues later. Concentrate on what they have learned from the failure, rather than condemning them for their foolish decision (Luke 6:37; Eph. 4:32).