Focus on the Family

Teen Rebellion

by Pam Woody

The topic of teen rebellion usually triggers some kind of emotional response. It can ignite fear in the hearts of parents who have children on the brink of adolescence; it can prompt both defensiveness and despair in the hearts of parents struggling through the teen years; and it can inspire a sigh of relief for parents who now have adult children. Whether your teen is opposing your authority or God's, rebellion is never easy to deal with.

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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:

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.

What can I do during this season?

The realization that your teen is "in the process of moving away from you" carries with it a blend of panic and relief. There's panic in feeling a loss of control, and there's relief in knowing that your teen is in healthy pursuit of an independent adult life. Recognize that you're not alone in your struggles as a parent during this process, and be open to seeking outside support or counsel.

Focus on finding what hurt motivates the rebellion in your teen, then commit to prayer and forgiveness as the first steps in restoration.

Dr. Dobson encourages parents, "Don't panic; stay on your child's team, even when it appears to be a losing team, and give the whole process time to work itself out."

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Relentless Parenting

Teen rebellion requires parental tenacity and persistence.

by Joe White, Jim Weidmann

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:

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Holding Tight When Your Teen Rebels

Parents of prodigals recommend tough and tender parenting.

by Joe White

The worst nightmare of many parents is to have a rebel — a kid who makes her own destructive way through life, ignoring everything she's been taught, refusing to abide by any rules, causing chaos in the lives she touches. The fear is so great that some parents stress over everything their teens do, taking even normal behavior as a sure sign that their kids are headed for the edge of the cliff.

Other parents do the opposite. They ignore obvious warning signs, hoping it's a phase their kids will grow out of. I've talked with moms and dads who couldn't believe the alarms they missed — a pot-smoking son coming home glassy-eyed and wanting to devour every snack in the house, an alcoholic daughter returning on weekend nights and vomiting on the front lawn.

One couple discovered their son had helped a friend break into a truck. Later they would say, "We didn't think our son was capable of anything like that. Now we're finding out, OK, he's done some serious drugs, he's been involved in a crime, he's hanging with a kid we hate. That night started us on the process of determining what we should do with him because it was apparent we had a problem here that was bigger than we were."

No parent wants to live through something like this. But more and more are being forced to these days. They're finding that no matter what they did to raise their children right, it's possible that one or more will rebel.

Don't give up

This is a tough section to write. Tough because there's no easy answer to your situation. Each kid is different and will take his own detours.

That's why each situation needs to be assessed individually. Consulting a pastor or counselor is wise; sometimes more drastic measures need to be taken. When a teen is a threat to himself or others, for example, a place where well-trained professionals can monitor him 24 hours a day may be the best call. There are many good counselors and programs available.

The temptation is to walk away, to throw up your hands and surrender. You wouldn't be alone if you did. Many parents want to give up — and do. Unable to take the pain any longer, they protect themselves by pretending it doesn't matter. Their child screams, "Leave me alone!" and so they just do what he says, removing themselves emotionally from his life.

What these folks don't realize is that even though the teen's every action and word are designed to push the parents away, deep inside he longs for his mom and dad to hang tough, to keep trying — to be there for him no matter what.

Insights from parents

It's one thing for me to tell you what I've learned. What about parents who've watched their kids make bad choices, who've been dragged down the most dangerous detours, who've agonized and cried and prayed — yet somehow survived?

I've talked with moms and dads like these and want to share their insights with you. It's surprising how many of them report learning similar things about what it takes to make it through. Here are some of their hard-won lessons. (For more on this subject, see the book Sticking With Your Teen.)

Loving Your Prodigal

What to do when your teen rebels

by Jeanette Gardner Littleton

"I don't have to put up with this. I'm outa here!" Amber stomped to her room.

I don't remember what the issue was, but a couple of hours later Amber was gone. Several frantic days later, we discovered that our high school senior was living with two older guys.

Amber isn't the first child, and certainly won't be the last, to abandon the values he or she was raised with. Sometimes children question their faith in a way that can be nerve-wracking for parents but is a natural part of growing up and making faith their own. At other times, kids make a series of bad choices but don't walk away from God. Some kids, however, rebel against parents, God and anyone else who gets in their way.

No matter the scenario, it can be a time of stress, anxiety and heartbreak.

What should a parent do when a child goes astray?

Meanwhile, keep the big picture in mind.

As you continue to love and pray for your child, have faith that your child is God's work in progress.

Loving — Even When it Hurts

Tips to help parents through their teen's rebellion

by Tim Kimmel

Isn't it puzzling that kids brought up in loving, Christian homes choose to rebel against their parents, or worse, against God? After all, they've had Jesus' love served up in huge helpings. Many have enjoyed the luxuries of a deep Christian heritage — some since the day they were born. Yet they still turn their backs on truth.

If you are a parent with a rebellious son or daughter, please take heart: God knows what you are going through. In fact, He told us how to handle this dilemma in the story of the prodigal son in Luke 15, which shows us that even God — the perfect Father — has children who rebel.

If you are in the midst of your child's rebellion, here are some things to help you through this season.