by Dr. Tom Vogel
(For Parents and Leaders of Teens)
For the parents of rebellious teenagers, life is not fun. Every day is a burden. Every phone call stirs fear and the question, “What did he do now?” Those parents go to bed worn out and weary, asking themselves, “Why?” The very presence of their rebellious teen creates tension that one could almost cut with a knife. If it continues, Mom and Dad usually give up and accept the rebellious state of the relationship. They try to minimize the results of the rebellion until their teen reaches maturity and moves out to live his own lifestyle. The relationship becomes forever strained, and seldom in adulthood do the generations create a close, warm relationship. The best time to solve the problem of rebellious teenagers is early. It is somewhat like cancer, in that early detection and treatment increases cure rates and survival.
My wife and I have not had to deal with the problem of rebellious teenagers personally; however, I have worked with many parents who have. I am giving my best advice, but it is not foolproof. Apply whatever you can use.
- Parents Are Part of the Problem.
Always a part of the problem can be traced back to Mom and Dad. Few parents are willing or able to admit this. Counseling sessions are often fruitless because it is hard to admit to the pastor that we are not what we ought to be. It is imperative that we take a long, hard look at ourselves.
- We Are Part of the Solution.
If we are part of the problem, then we are part of the solution. If our part in the problem is identified, then it is imperative that we take corrective action. We do this whether or not our rebellious teenager changes anything. Right is right, and if Mom and Dad changing their ways or attitudes is right, then do it. You cannot expect your teenager to do what you are unwilling to do.
- Lower Your Expectations.
Don’t insist on a teenager giving up his rebellious ways overnight or even in a week or two. A cancer patient will rejoice when the tumor shrinks even a little bit. A day without a verbal fight can be a reason for hope. The problems did not develop overnight; they probably won’t go away overnight.
- Pray for Your Teenager.
Pray diligently for your rebellious teen. Don’t make a big deal of it to your teen, just do it without fanfare. It would be a good idea to fast also. Skip lunch. The hunger will keep you in a state of prayerfulness. The prayer time will bring you closer to God as well as bring you closer to your teen.
- Accept the Way They Are.
I said accept them, not their sin. Give your teenager unconditional love no matter what their condition. Their peers accept them the way they are—sin and all. Why can’t we accept them and love them in spite of their sin? It is very hard to separate the sin from the sinner. But it is Christlikeness to do so.
- Take Back Their Time.
Rebellious teenagers always spend more time away from home than others. Create activities that will separate them from their other rebellious friends. Don’t force these upon the teen. Compete for their time. Make the activities so “cool” they will willingly be a part of the family. Don’t get angry if they are slow to accept your offers. Just be more creative.
- Try Being Nice.
In daily conversation, treat your teenager like he is the boss’ kid. Your reputation, your job, your next pay raise may be determined by how much the boss’ kids like you. When sarcastic comments come your way, ignore them. When you are ignored, pretend like you didn’t notice; you are trying to win over your teen, not subdue him.
- Make Yourself an Asset.
Your teen needs you. The younger the teenager, the more he needs you. Use those needs to your advantage. If he needs a ride, offer one. If he asks for a ride, give him one no matter how inconvenient. And when he climbs in the car, don’t lecture him all the way to your destination. Light talk is best such as, “I remember when I was your age …” (Fun story; not making a point)
- Surprise Your Teen Once in a While.
Don’t get yourself in a rut. Plan something special like a trip to the store to buy a new dress. Tell the teen how much she can spend and let her choose it. Decide you like it no matter how ugly you think it is. Have some fun with your teenager.
- Spend Time Training Them.
Sometimes I found it helpful to announce a training session. This was especially true when my teens looked forward to an event, such as learning to drive. Other times, it was best to come in the back door. Sometimes as I drove to church, I told a story from my youth. At other times, I used a trip to a museum or an historical spot to teach a truth from history.
Always, my purpose was to prepare my children for independence. One reason why teenagers get rebellious is because Mom and Dad try to hold on to their children. Your purpose is to train for independence. Time spent in training is also time spent in fellowship.
- Quit Nagging.
Your rebellious teenager is not what he should be or could be. He or she may be rebellious to the point of being obnoxious. A teen’s behavior and attitude may even be repulsive. In spite of all of this negative behavior, keep your mouth shut and quit nagging.