Marriage and the Family – Teen Years – Dealing With Rebellion

An excellent article on the difficult subject of teenager rebellion.

Teen years present us with the most questions and fewest answers of all stages in child rearing. Since every situation is different, each solution will be different. Teen years are an awesome blend of childish ways and adult aspirations that can appall the wisest parents. This is never truer than when we are dealing with teens in rebellion. There are no simple solutions. Yet, perhaps we can offer some guidelines to ease the burdens that teen rebellion presents.

Before considering the teen, however, we need to consider parents. If the rebellion is serious, our patience as well as our principles will be tested to the limit. To have any peace, we will need to cling to the Lord more than ever before. We are promised, “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on Thee” (Isa 26:3). In the dark days that teen rebellion brings, dependence on the Lord is our preservation from despair.

While we must look up, we need to guard against looking back. Teen rebellion does not necessarily come from parental mishandling. Rebellion is natural in fallen humanity and will manifest itself unless subdued by the grace of God. The best parenting is not an absolute guarantee that children will live for God. The Lord Himself lamented, “I have nourished and brought up

children, and they have rebelled against Me” (Isa 1:2). Some of the godliest people have had children who have broken their hearts. We cannot be assured that just because we have done all the scriptural Christian things that our children will turn out like other Christian young people whom we know. It is possible to magnify our own failures so that we rob ourselves of peace.

Furthermore, we have to give absolute control of our situation to the Lord. This will not be easy to do. Still, all power is in the Lords hand. He assures us that “All power is given unto Me in heaven and in earth” (Matt 28:18). He has not lost control of our children just because we have. Not a single thing can happen in their lives that goes unnoticed or unattended by God. The Lord has His servants everywhere and He is able to influence our teenagers even when it is impossible for us. He can produce the storm that can bring them to their wits end so that they cry unto Him in their distresses (Ps 107:27-31). We must give them up to Him.

It is sometimes true that failure to properly guide children has produced unhappy results. But we need to be balanced in approaching this difficult and delicate subject. Even in spite of obvious failure, the Lord can do a work of grace in the heart of a rebellious teen. In any case, what has happened in the past cannot be changed and we must deal with the present situation.

If sober, honest reflection determines a need to acknowledge fault, this should be confessed to the Lord and, in some cases, to the children who were wronged by unwise handling. It would be great relief for both parents and children if there were an honest settling of differences that have caused unnecessary rifts between them.

Concerning teen rebellion, we first need to distinguish between true rebellion and normal healthy autonomy. Teen years provide opportunity for the latter experience.

We ought to help our children mature to independence and not resist the normal separation caused by ripening adulthood.

If we are satisfied, however, that we are dealing in fact with rebellion, parents must always work together and not independently. God has given two parents and there is significant strength in the combined perspectives. Isaac and Rebekahs actions as regards Jacob and Esaus future (Gen 27) brought tears, anger, a murder plot, and years of anxiety and separation, and underscore the tragic consequences of working independently in guiding children. Furthermore, acting independently can magnify differences between parents and cause a rift between them that may be hard to heal long after the teen difficulties are resolved.

Secondly, we should not be contentious. This only adds fuel to the fire. The Scriptures remind us, “As coals are to burning coals, and wood to fire; so is a contentious man to kindle strife” (Prov 26: 21). Besides, contention will wear us out. Solomon observed that “If a wise man contendeth with a foolish man, whether he rage or laugh, there is no rest” (Prov 29: 9). Moreover, the Lord taught Elijah that He was not in wind, earthquake or fire, but in the still small voice (1 Kings 19:11-13). It is fruitless to be in conflict with a teen in rebellion.

Nagging is also pointless. Teens generally get the message the first time they hear it. If they have no intention of doing what is right, repeatedly pressing the issue only builds resentment and resolves nothing. Opportunities to give guidance are scarce during rebellion. Only the Lord can provide these. Forbearing until the Lord clearly gives such moments is wisest. The Proverb reminds us that “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver” (Prov 25:11). It is “By long forbearing [that] a prince [is] persuaded, and a soft tongue breaketh the bone” (Prov 25:15).

Life itself is a great instructor, and often the natural consequences of behavior are the best teachers of the futility of rebellious ways. It is positively harmful to continually shield people from the repercussions of their behavior. The principle of Galatians 6:7 applies: “Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” Fear of teens harming themselves sometimes drives us to cushion their fall, but we thus unwittingly prolong their rebellion. They need to learn that they can choose the kicks but they cannot choose the kickbacks.

Difficulty produces experience and maturity. The Psalmist proved this, and records, “Before I was afflicted I went astray: but now have I kept Thy word” (Psalm 119:67). He comments further, “It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn Thy statutes” (Ps 119:71).

On the other hand, there are occasions when we might gain their respect and appreciation by helping them out. We need to remember that “By mercy and truth iniquity is purged” (Prov 16:6). This may also involve accepting the decisions of older teens who are in the position to make their own choices. We do not have to agree with decisions made, but accepting their decisions will show we respect their right to make choices. They will be more willing to respect us if we respect them.

Furthermore, we must decide what are the absolute limits to which we are willing to bend our principles. Once this is clear, we will be able to respond to our teen more rationally. Questions often help us to plot our course better.

We might ask ourselves:

  1. What principles do we consider cardinal and what are only personal preferences?
  2. How much freedom can we allow without disrupting the household?
  3. If we bend our principles, how will it affect our other children?
  4. How much restriction can we place on our teens without hindering their personal development and independence?
  5. If we press them to conform, will we drive them from our home and our lives?
  6. Are we dealing with a young man or a young woman, and does that make a difference?
  7. Can we live with the choices we make if something tragic happens?
  8. Is it better that they rebel within the safety of the home or is it better if they have to make their way on their own?

These questions – and lots more – are worth asking. Each home will have to look to the Lord for answers to questions that arise from their own unique situation.

Finally, we need to leave the door open to welcome a changed heart. The father of the prodigal did not pursue his wayward son, but when he returned, he received him with open arms. Teens should know that while their behavior is rejected, they are not.

Teen years are a stage of developmentjust a stage! The majority of teens will settle down after these years pass. This is not much comfort to those who are still dealing with a rebellious teen, yet it might give a little ray of hope.

As regards this subject, there are also special needs. There are single parents who have a hard enough time with daily living without the extra stresses of a rebellious teen. They will need all the help we can give them. It will mean sacrifice of time and energy, and sometimes the results will be disappointing. Yet the Lord Jesus said, “Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these My brethren, ye have done it unto Me” (Matt 25:40).

There are also parents who, after many years, are still waiting for prodigals to “come home.” We can only say that the Lord alone can sustain when the burden is too heavy to bear. The Psalmist said, “From the end of the earth will I cry unto Thee, when my heart is overwhelmed: lead me to the rock that is higher than I” (Psalm 61:2).

He is still at work in the lives of our loved ones. Every creature is under His watchful eye. “Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings, and not one of them is forgotten before God” (Luke 12:6)? He is working for the salvation of every soul, “God will have all men to be saved,” and for the well being of every wayward believer. We must trust Him to work uniquely in our childrens lives as He is working uniquely in ours. The teen years are often the most turbulent in a lifetime, but the One who calmed the stormy seas and brought peace to the hearts of fearful disciples can do the same for us in our day.