Troubled Teens and dads who lead poorly – 2.0

True story - Several years ago Jeannie came to counseling because her daughter, [Susi], was in rebellion. Susi was 12-years old at the time. As I began to unpack what was going on in the home, Jeannie told me when Susi was five years old she asked her mom,

“Why does daddy love Johnny more than me?” Johnny was her three-year old brother. This interpretative question led to an obvious question from me: “What does your parenting model look like?”

Jeannie simply explained how Bill spends more time with Johnny while she spends more time with Susi. Hence, Susi logically concluded, “Daddy loves Johnny, but does not love me.”

Though the story is true, the names have been changed. It is a variation of a common theme frequently seen with troubled teens: a passive, distant dad who delegates the primary parenting leadership in the home to his wife.

Leader dad is not an option

A common theme in most troubled teen counseling is how the sessions initiated by the mom rather than the dad. While many dads work during the day and it is easier for the mom to make the phone call, it typically becomes apparent during the counseling how the dad has been a passive leader. Passive or angry dads are two of the biggest factors in teen rebellion.

Children need their dads stepping up to the plate. Their earliest theological understanding of who God the Father is comes from a dad and his leadership style, regardless of what his style may be.

Poor leadership by a father is leadership nonetheless. It might not be the best leadership, but he is leading even through his abdication. To be a leader is not an option to select. It is the option the LORD selected for us. Our choice is to either lead well or lead poorly.

I have counseled scores of teens in trouble and almost without exception the patterns are clear and strikingly similar. Here are a few patterns I’ve observed:

  • A passive dad gives the impression God is distant, preoccupied or disinterested in the child.
  • A distant dad gives the impression other things are more important than the child.
  • A child of a distant dad will find other companions by the time he/she becomes a teenager.
  • Teens are tempted to rebellion because they know the family dynamic is not how things should be, but feel hopeless it will change.
  • Children of distant, passive dads are insecure. They sense something is wrong with them, which motivates them to pursue affirmation from other people.

Finding acceptance elsewhere

  • Jeannie said Susi realized at an early age she had a gift. It was her intellect. Susi was a straight-A student.
  • Jeannie also said Susi was rebellious in every context of her life, except in her school environment.

Susi learned she was smart soon after attending school. For the first time in her life she received affirmation, encouragement, and positive attention. Her teachers became her primary encouragers and motivators, not her father. This is why she does not rebel while at school. School is the one place she feels confident, secure, and loved. It is a safe haven for her.

To make matters worse, when she brings her “A” report card home, everyone applauds, congratulates, and shows affection for her. As you can imagine, these moments of affirmation are rare and isolated in the home.

The bad news for Susi is how no one discerns how they are applauding her idolatry. Susi is a little idolator: she craves to be loved and accepted and when she does well in school, her craving is met. Her identity is being formed by her performance at school.

I told her mom how school would be the one place where Susi would never cause a problem. She probably will become a professional student, though this will not stop her from being angry, insecure, and craving attention from her father.

In cases like Susi, the God-given desire to be loved was mishandled by her father. Her dad became a negative shaping influence, which helped to motivate her to find acceptance from other places.

How does the Gospel shape you, dad?

More than likely, this craving will continue to grow in Susi’s heart until it is satisfied by the love and affection of a teen boy. It’s virtually impossible to help a child or teen like this until the parents repent. This is not saying Susi has no responsibility to change. She does.

God will not give her an out because her dad dropped the ball. Nobody is given a pass to sin, regardless of circumstances or context. This is something Susi will have to come to terms with regardless of how her father chooses to live his life.

His role was to shape her toward God. He failed. He’s culpable too. If he is humble, he will own his sin and begin a process of repentance. If he is not humble, then Susi will have to work this out between her and the LORD regardless.

Rarely will a troubled teen successfully walk through her situational difficulty if there has been negative-shaping influences which were pressed upon the child by a poor parenting model. The child would have to be extraordinarily mature in Christ in order to change.

The complicating problem of an un-repentant parent does make matters more difficult for the child to change. An aspect of this dynamic is how the parents are asking the child to do what they are not willing to do themselves.

The good news for Susi is the transcendent and transformative power of the Gospel can change her in spite of her parents. For how the LORD did that for me please read, The reason I stopped hating my dad.

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About Rick Thomas

Rick is an author, speaker, consultant, and podcaster. He has been training in the Upstate of South Carolina since 1997. After several years as a counselor and pastor he founded and launched his own training organization in order to encourage and equip people for more effective living. In the early ’90’s he earned a BA in Theology. He then earned a BS in Education. In 1993 he was ordained into Christian ministry and in 2000 he graduated with a MA in Counseling. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow with ACBC. Today his organization reaches people around the world through consulting, training, writing, and speaking.
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