Tackling Adolescent Rebellion

How do we deal with a defiant teenager? For some reason, our son has recently gone off the deep end. He's skipping out on school, drinking, smoking, and making all kinds of dangerously bad decisions. Nothing we say makes any difference in his behavior. The last straw came when we had to bail him out of jail on a charge of drunk driving and disturbing the peace. Where do we go from here?

One thing’s certain: you don’t back down. If the situation is as bad as you’ve painted it, it’s time to take definite action, and not merely for the sake of your own peace of mind. One teenager who decides to run wild can rock a lot of boats in the community. Social workers, doctors, lawyers, police and clergy may all be in the loop. Meanwhile, Mom and Dad are obliged to endure an avalanche of pain, frustration, guilt, and expense. We suggest you try to nip this problem in the bud by following these strategies:

First, take the bull by the horns

Don’t tolerate flagrant disrespect, destruction of your home or other property, criminal activity or abuse from one of your children. Drastic action may be necessary to keep this type of behavior from tearing your family to shreds. Use your allies, including other parents, counselors, clergy and the police.

If more conservative measures aren’t working, you may need to consider informing your son that he cannot remain under your roof if these acts continue. Write out specific behaviors on the part of your son that would indicate he is saying, “Mom, Dad, you need to find me another place to live.” Prior to presenting these to him, research and identify possible residential programs.

Living at home at this point should then become a privilege to be earned on your terms, with some critical minimum requirements: no drugs, no booze, no stealing, no sex, and no verbal or physical abuse of anyone in the family.

Second, if he’s arrested again, it might be wise to let him cool his heels in jail for a while

Depending on the circumstances, don’t feel obligated to bail him out right away. We realize this would be a painful decision, but it could work to your advantage and his benefit if it gives him a chance to experience the real-life consequences of his bad decisions and to come to his senses.

Third, don’t live with false guilt

Perhaps you have made mistakes (who hasn’t?) in raising your prodigal. But even moms and dads who work diligently to “bring up a child in the way he should go” (Proverbs 22:6) can find themselves in the midst of a parenting nightmare.

Each child is an independent being with a free will. Only he can decide whether he will proceed in the “way he should go” or “depart from it.” Remember that this passage of Scripture is not an ironclad guarantee but a statement of the way things generally happen.

Fourth, don’t underestimate the depth of your son’s emotions

Serious problems like this are usually something more than just a “phase.” Extreme behavior of this kind is often a manifestation of real suffering and inner turmoil. By all means seek professional help, and if possible try to engage your adolescent in the process of determining what type of counselor or program would be most appropriate in the current situation.

For help, call the new Life Treatment Centers (1-800-NEW LIFE) or a treatment center near you. If you need referrals, call us. Focus on the Family’s Counseling department will be happy to provide them.

Above all, pray without ceasing, and don’t give up

Even if you have to allow your son to reap the bitter harvest of his choices, continue praying for his safety and return to sanity. More often than not, even the most die-hard prodigals eventually get tired of the pigsty. He’ll probably come trudging home in time if you give the Lord a chance to work on his heart.

As we’ve already mentioned, our staff counselors can provide you with referrals to specialists practicing in your area. They would also be more than happy to discuss your concerns with you over the phone. If this sounds like an option you’d like to pursue, call for a free consultation. They’ll be pleased to assist you in any way they can.


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