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How to Love Your Teen through Rebellion--and Not Take it Personally

Perhaps ignorance is bliss, and there is some solace in not knowing what’s ahead in the parenting journey; particularly teenage rebellion.

Oh, we hear the stories from friends with older kids. But it’s easy to deny that we may experience similar struggles. How could the young, impressionable children we know and love morph into such different creatures? It’s called human development and, if we are honest with ourselves, we have all encountered similar struggles for independence our own teens face. 

The challenge comes in trying not to take their rebellion personally. After all, we have invested time and energy into teaching them life-giving truths in word and action. When they turn away from us, we feel betrayed. Here are some things to keep in mind as you navigate the struggle.

The Brain is Still Developing

Scientific research indicates that brain development continues until our mid-twenties. Hence, expecting teens to have a full understanding of the consequences of their choices is challenging. Dr. Cara Patterson suggests talking with your teen about their brain development. They can’t know what they don’t know. 

Affirming what science has revealed, she says, “In middle school or high school, the part of your brain that takes over decision making is the part that is ruled by motivations, feelings, friends.” 

The frontal and prefrontal lobes are the last to develop. These parts of the brain are responsible for judgment, insight, impulse control and executive functioning. Understanding this truth may not eliminate conflicts but it helps us parents recognize the possible root of their teen’s rebellion. 

This helps us to look past their shortcomings and love our teens as a work in progress, as we all are—and to realize that their struggles are beyond anything we actually have control over. To take their still-developing brain personally would just be silly. 

Your Teen’s Mental Health Affects Choices

The teen years are naturally stressful: academic pressures, participation in sports teams, college preparation, social dynamics, and discerning identity can collude to make the brain feel like a pressure cooker. In addition, teens today face added stresses fueled by social media, the prevalence of substance addiction, school shootings, and an increasing lack of personal connections.

According to the National Alliance of Mental Illness, mental health conditions are common among teens and young adults. 50% of all lifetime mental illnesses develop by age 14 and 75% develop by age 24.  Furthermore, increased reports of adolescent depression and anxiety show that mental health significantly affects teens. 

When your world feels as though it is spinning out of control, making sound decisions becomes difficult. Seeking appropriate methods of intervention is necessary. Proactive conversations with your teen can keep communication lines open and promote awareness. Understanding the biological source of behaviors can free parents from feeling that they are at fault.

Remember Your Own Teen Struggles

Think back to your own teen years. Who offered unconditional mercy and grace to you? Apostle Paul reminds us: “All praise to the God and Father of our Master, Jesus the Messiah! Father of all mercy! God of all healing counsel! He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us. We have plenty of hard times that come from following the Messiah, but no more so than the good times of his healing comfort—we get a full measure of that, too.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-5, MSG)

Offering grace and mercy to our kids when they mess up, speaks of the power of redemption. We are reminded of our own experiences in which we have also reacted out of fear and confusion. Really, we find that we share much more in common with our teens than we realize. Understanding the root of the rebellion and responding with mercy liberates us from holding onto a burden of despair.

Listen to Your Child

Parenting someone yearning for independence yet still needing guidance is challenging. Before raising my own children, I worked as a Family Pastor. Helping teens and parents navigate through troubling waters was a frequent aspect of my job. Hearing both sides of a conflict gave me insight into where the root of the problem may lie. In cases involving rebellion, it often appeared that a battle for control often fueled the problem.

I once heard Wayne Rice, author of numerous books on youth ministry, share about his own personal conflict with his teenage son regarding church attendance. His son did not enjoy the church home of their family, so Sunday mornings became a struggle to get him to attend worship.

 One day, his son was invited to a friend’s church. Wayne’s son was interested but it presented a dilemma: their family wouldn’t all be part of the same church. Wayne and his son came to an agreement. His son could attend the other church as long as he brought back the bulletin and gave feedback on his experience.

 It wasn’t the outcome that Wayne originally had desired, but he and his son agreed on the ultimate goal which was to be part of a church community.

We as parents need to check in with ourselves to determine whether the rules we implement come out of a place of love or a place of fear. Inviting your teen into the conversation can help prevent a power struggle. (For help with teens who may have specific behavioral challenges, Collaborative Problem Solving may be helpful).

Develop a Posture of Forgiveness

The story of the Prodigal Son resonates with us on many levels. We can see ourselves in each of the characters depending on our place in life. It is important to recognize the significance of Jesus framing the story in this context. He shared stories from real life. Isn’t it affirming that other parents also dealt with rebellious children?

Putting ourselves in the feet of the father, we learn a couple of things. First, the son chose to run away. It wasn’t under the father’s control. As painful as that was, the father waited.

 Second, he does something unexpected in response to his child’s actions: he runs toward the son in a posture of forgiveness before he has confessed his sin (Luke 15:11-32). Biblical scholar N.T. Wright, in his book, The Lord and His Prayer, says,” …in Jesus’ world, the more senior you were in community, the less likely you were to walk fast. It shows a lack of dignity.” Yet, the Father did just that. He continues, “This man is running to greet someone; someone who has put a curse on him, who has brought disgrace on the whole family.”

How can we, as parents, offer that same posture of grace to them that God has offered to us? By doing so, we surrender the temptation to hold onto our anger and hurt from their rebellion.

Parents Are Called to Their Part... but Teens will Make Their Own Choices

 “Place these words on your hearts. Get them deep inside you. Tie them on your hands and foreheads as a reminder. Teach them to your children. Talk about them wherever you are, sitting at home or walking in the street; talk about them from the time you get up in the morning until you fall into bed at night. Inscribe them on the doorposts and gates of your cities so that you’ll live a long time, and your children with you, on the soil that God promised to give your ancestors for as long as there is a sky over the Earth.” (Deuteronomy 11:18-21, MSG)

As parents, how can we not feel responsible for every choice our children make? Yet scripture implies that our job is to obey God in our role as truth-tellers and nurturers. We simply cannot control all of our children’s choices. 

That is healthy, as they must learn to own their decisions. But it isn’t always pain-free. We love them and want what’s best. 

In that vein, we must trust that God sees them and are always in his sight; even when they rebel. We can pray and find solace in the fact that we were (and are) obedient to God for our part.

Photo Credit: ©Pexels/it's me neosiam

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