Troubled Teens and the false continuum – 3.0

While downtown at a local family event a lady commented on how cooperative our kids were. Then she said, “Enjoy them now because when they become teenagers it will all change.”

She may be a prophet and her assessment may be perfect. I don’t know. Stay tuned. Our children are not teenagers yet. Her perspective could be based on:

  1. Her observations of other families.
  2. Her personal experience with her children.
  3. Her unwitting buy-in to a standard cultural belief of how all kids must sow their wild oats during their teen years.

Regardless of how she came to her conclusion, she was clear: teen rebellion is an unavoidable part of every family’s life. Statistically speaking her assumption is not true.

Even if my children fulfill her prophecy, it is still not true: all teens do not rebel and all parents do not have to be saddled with unavoidable teen rebellion.

I was counseling the parents of a rebellious teen when the dad said,

He’s no different from any other teenager. When I was a teen I did some of the things he is doing. He’ll be okay after he gets this out of his system.

The difference between the lady and this gentlemen is the dad professed to know Christ. No Christian should think it’s a foregone conclusion teens will rebel. It is a faithless, hopeless, and Christ-less position. It is also not supported by God’s Word.

A false continuum

What I am describing to you is a false continuum. A continuum is a predetermined sequence of events where the elements along the path logically build one upon another until they reach a conclusion.

For the lady we met and my counselee, the sequence of events from child to teen logically build one upon the other and the conclusion is unavoidable rebellion when the child hits the teen zone.

A Christ-centered worldview would say this is not true. Sinful, rebellious kids do not have to grow into sinful, rebellious teens or sinful, rebellious adults. If a teenager is sinful, it is not because he is a teen. It is because he is a sinner.

The ages between thirteen and nineteen are no different from the ages between zero and twelve or twenty and over: people sin because they are sinners.

If we reinterpret their behavior from being a sinner to being a teenager, then we have no hope for change. If a teen must do what the dad suggested–wait until the wild oats are out of the system and he cannot do otherwise–then the Gospel is useless during the teen years.

The real question becomes what is he talking about when he says out of his system? Is he talking about getting teen-ish-ness out of his system or is he talking about getting sin out of his system? The Bible would describe what is in his system as sin–rebellion, lusts, worldliness, evil, and pride (James 1:14-15; 1 John 2:15-16)

The dad would say he needs to get being a teen out of his system. This can’t happen because the boy will not be able to repent from being a teen. He can repent from sin.

The dad has unwisely altered the doctrine of sin, while losing sight of the Gospel, which is the only answer and hope he can offer his son. Imagine the LORD saying, “Let’s just wait until they get it out of their system” as though the problem had something to do with a certain age.

The Gospel is the continuum breaker

If unavoidable rebellion is the outcome for all teenagers, whether saved or lost, then there is no hope for any pre-teen, and rebellion would be the logical course they all must follow.

To say we will live in unrestrained and unstoppable patterns of sin and this is the way things will be and it cannot be any other way is the hopeless sound of the Christ-less and defeated.

We have a better answer. Christ came to offer us the great sin-reversal. His death on the cross conquered sin once and for all and it is our abandonment to Him and His finished work which breaks our sinful patterns.

By our initial repentance at salvation and ongoing repentance in our sanctification is the biblical continuum we want to embrace. Any teen can be free from those patterns which enslave and keep him in rebellion against God.

It is through the power of the Gospel we receive an alien righteousness and along with the enablement of the Holy Spirit, the Word of God, and the community of faith, we can break the continuum of sin in our lives.

Ongoing, unrepentant rebellion in a teenager could be a sign the child was never regenerated. Or, it could be he is God’s child, but is in rebellion against his King. In such cases the parent needs to think more deeply about what the son is doing and not pass it off as a predetermined season in his life.

Rebellious teens don’t get a pass

To passively “wait it out” until his oats are sown may reap a whirlwind of sinful patterns he may take into his marriage, while passing them along to his future children. In worse case scenarios his sinful “oat sowing” could enslave him to life-dominating sins, which he may never recover.

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. - Galatians 6:1-2 (ESV)

No one should get a pass when they are sinning. To ignore sin is one of the most unloving things you can do to a person. The dad in my illustration implies you confront a pre-teen and a post-teen, but if he’s a teenager, you must wait until his wild oats are sown. For him, it’s a true continuum: all teens rebel.

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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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