Teen rebellion is behavior with a reason
Youth specialist Tim Sanford encourages parents to realize that children always do things for reasons. He explains that many times parents don’t know the real reason behind a teen’s behavior. He says, “God didn’t make us random beings, so our behavior (even rebellious behavior) is stemming from a reason. It’s important to get to the ‘itch’ (core reason) behind the ‘scratch’ (outward behavior or attitude).” Whether dealing with basic issues such as respect or complex issues such as at-risk behavior, parents sometimes struggle to understand the difference between healthy teenage autonomy and blatant teen rebellion. What looks like rebellion may actually be a teen’s natural “itch” for greater independence.
Why is my teen struggling?
In his book Losing Control & Liking It, Sanford offers some explanation about the struggles most parents face with their teens. He writes:
Your teenager is in the process of moving away from you. Therapists have a term for this: developmental individuating. It means your child is doing the following:
- leaving the nest
- launching out
- becoming his own person
- growing independent
- becoming a free moral agent
These phrases sound nice and inviting when they crop up on a psychology test covering the “developmental theories” chapter. But they don’t always sound so positive and gentle when they’re lived out in your family room or kitchen.
Still, the theory is right: Your teenager is separating from you and gravitating toward his or her peer group. This process is normal, natural and necessary. Fight it and you’ll lose. The solution is to work with it as well as you can — by understanding what’s yours to control and what isn’t.
Parenting through the teen years, especially when dealing with rebellion, requires both tenacity and persistence. Following is an excerpt from the Parents’ Guide to the Spiritual Mentoring of Teens:
We’ve talked about the principle of relentless parenting, but how can you apply this concept day in and day out with your teen? Let’s look at seven practical ways you can demonstrate relentlessness:
- Pray, pray, pray.This habit is placed first on the list because that’s exactly where it belongs. The No. 1 strategy for guiding your child through the teen years is to surround him with prayer. Simply put, relentless parents are those who pray relentlessly.Moms and dads of teenagers should heed Paul’s admonition to “pray continually” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). This means consistently, throughout the day, asking God to protect, guide and direct your teen. And don’t forget to include yourself in those prayers. Ask the Lord to give you strength, wisdom and courage as you parent your adolescent.
- Choose to be active and involved. Clinical researcher Dr. Nick Stinnett has conducted extensive studies on what makes strong families. After interviewing thousands of successful families, Stinnett and his colleagues identified six traits of close parent-child relationships. One characteristic is regular participation and involvement with each other. Stinnett says: “Members of strong families are dedicated to promoting each other’s welfare and happiness. They express their commitment to one another — not just in words, but through choosing to invest time and energy. Their commitment to each other is active and obvious.”Those last two concepts are key to any discussion about relentless parenting. Your love and commitment should be active and obvious. Be involved in your teen’s life whenever and however you can. Ask questions about her day. Play racquetball with him on the weekends. Go out to breakfast together. Consistently attend games, school plays, choir concerts, piano recitals and speech competitions in which your teen participates. Be there for all the important events — and even the seemingly unimportant ones.Naturally, choosing to be involved in your child’s life means taking a keen interest in his spiritual life. Provide every opportunity — whether at home, through church or elsewhere — for your teenager’s faith to grow and flourish. More important, present a model of spiritual maturity and passion by living out Christ-like love, humility and servanthood.
- Don’t take no for an answer too easily. Of course, you should respect your teen’s boundaries, but some teenagers say, “I don’t want to talk about it” or “It’s no big deal” because they’re not sure their parents are really interested. Be persistent without being pushy. Assure your teen that you are genuinely interested in, and concerned about, her life and that you’re always available to listen. (It goes without saying that you should, in fact, be accessible and listen attentively when your teen is ready to talk.)
- Emulate our heavenly Father’s steadfast love.God’s love for each of His children is unchanging, enduring and unwavering — regardless of how badly we blew it. Throughout the Old Testament, God declared and demonstrated His unyielding love for the Jews, His chosen people, even when they were rebellious and contemptuous toward Him.
- “Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken” (Isaiah 54:10).
- “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness” (Jeremiah 31:3).
This same theme is repeated dozens of times in the New Testament.
- “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).
- “I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).
- “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).
Let this kind of faithfulness be your model as you express and demonstrate love for your teen. Say to your child often, “There’s nothing you can do that would make me stop loving you.”
- Renew your mercies every day. Christians are fond of quoting the verses “Through the LORD’s mercies we are not consumed. . . . They are new every morning” (Lamentations 3:22-23, NKJV). The promise here, of course, is that God’s mercy toward us is ongoing, continual, daily. As we savor the reassurance offered by this verse, let us also extend this same sort of mercy to our teenage sons and daughters. Every morning should bring a clean slate, a chance to start anew. If last night’s argument was talked out and resolved, leave it behind. If your daughter apologized for the lie she told last week, believe that she’s going to tell the truth today and tomorrow.
- Nurture yourself as you nurture your teen.The famous Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi said, “Fatigue makes cowards of us all.” We might amend this adage slightly to say, “Fatigue makes quitters of us all.” The point is, parents who are chronically depleted and drained of energy can offer little to their teenager. Therefore, it’s vital that you guard your spiritual, emotional and physical health. Do whatever you must to recharge your batteries: Get plenty of rest, set aside time for fun, exercise regularly, pray and meditate on God’s Word.One of the best ways to nurture yourself is by developing a network of supportive friends — ideally, other parents of teens — with whom you can share concerns, learn from one another’s experiences and pray for one another. If you aren’t already part of a group like this or can’t find an existing one to join, take the initiative and start one in your church or community.
- Resolve to never, ever give up.Go the distance, never surrender, stick it out, finish the race, hang in there, be steadfast to the end — whatever terminology you prefer, decide now that you’ll always be there for your teenager. No matter how angry, stressed out, frustrated, disappointed or exhausted you are, resolve to be the best mom or dad you can be. Whether you are preparing for your child’s teen years or are presently in the midst of them, make a commitment — an act of your will — to never give up on your son or daughter.