Focus on the Family

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.)