A rebellious teenager is a complicated problem with many sides to it. Loving parents want to motivate this kind of child to change, but too often, they are not aware of all that is involved in helping him. Here are ten practical things that any parent can implement to motivate their teenager to move from a selfish, rebellious person to a potential Christ-follower.
Mable calls you about her teenage son, Biffy. He’s a sixteen-year old and in rebellion. The current patterns of defiance were a whisper in years past, but they have now grown into a full-fledged storm that is consuming the entire family. Mable is hurting, confused, and desperate. She is also impatient. She wants help. Now!
Her husband was not involved in the initial phone call. He also does not come to the counseling sessions. He’s not as disinterested as he is preoccupied with other priorities. This story is fictional, though it is often a typical process when a family looks for help for a rebellious child.
In this article, I’m going to touch on ten possible contributors that speak to the state of this family’s life. As I go through the list, will you ask the Lord to give you the humility, self-awareness, insight, and teachability to see in what ways they apply to you? Perhaps it would be useful to share these things with a close friend.
1 – Passive Dads
The mom, rather than the dad, initiates nearly all troubled teen counseling sessions. While many dads work during the day so it is easier for the mom to make the call, it typically becomes apparent during the “counseling season” how the dad is more passive about the family than the mom. This reality also applies to their marriage. Passive or angry dads are two of the most significant factors in teen rebellion.
Who is the leader of your home? How actively is the husband/father providing oversight, care, and direction to the family?
What does biblical submission look like in your home?
If the mom is the defacto leader, does she lead with humility while honoring her husband, though he’s not a biblical leader in the family?
Regardless of who is leading, how does your parenting model impact your children positively and negatively?
2 – Collaboration
Biblically speaking, it is a false-continuum to believe the teenage years always equal rebellion. If there is rebellion, the seeds of teen defiance were in the heart of a kid long before he becomes a teenager. The collaborating factors of his indwelling sin and the self-centeredness of the parents contributed to the teen rebellion. To say that a teen is the only problem is an improper understanding of the doctrine of sin and the child’s shaping influences, which includes the parents.
What are the shaping influences are in your teenager’s life? Start with the parents and then his friends, media, activities, culture, and academic relationships.
What are the top three positive shaping influences from the parents? What are two adverse parental shaping influences, one from dad and one from mom?
What specific plan will you implement to change the adverse shaping influences from the negative to a positive?
What other influences have harmed your son or daughter, and what will you do to change them, if you can?
3 – Humility
Because the last point is so significant, you must give more consideration to your influence over your child. It is rare for kids to become messed up in sixteen short years without help from the parents. At some level and to some degree, nearly all parents have areas that need to change. Their humility will be key to the change process regarding their teen.
James 4:6 teaches that God will give His empowering favor to those who are humble. Is there anything in your heart that hinders you from walking in humility as you come alongside your rebellious teenager?
How strong is the temptation to vindicate yourself because of “how hard you have tried” to help him (1 Peter 2:24-25)? I’m not saying your perspective is untrue, but the humble heart does not begin with a defensive posture.
What specific thing can you change about your parenting that will soften the tension in the home? Will you begin making those changes today?
To whatever degree your improper parenting habits are, how much of it comes from the inadequate shaping influences from your parents? Have you reacted to your parents or adopted their habits in unbiblical ways? If so, how so, and what is your plan to change?
4 – Starting Point
I have made a case for kid problems being a collaborative effort, which elevates a tension: it is difficult to tell a mom, who you do not know, how part of the problem is with her and her husband. But you must not skirt around this truth, though you have to do it with the utmost care and compassion. If the parents own their negative shaping influences that have affected their child, much good could come from the counseling.
Go back through your list about how you have adversely affected your child. Is it complete, or are there other items that you know you should add?
What outstanding sins do you have that you have not asked your child to forgive you f or? What would prohibit you from asking him or her for forgiveness today?
How powerful is the temptation to lay more blame at the feet of your child or your spouse? I’m not saying they are not guilty or that they are less guilty; I’m asking you about your desire to defend yourself.
As you think about the “log and the speck” from Matthew 7:3-5, you do not have to deny either one—the log or the speck. But as you accept that both are true, you cannot get them out of order. Do you see how the log is in your eye, and the speck is in your spouse’s or child’s eye?
5 – Dear Dad
Since the typical scenario is the mother seeking help for the rebellious teenager, I want to address the dad specifically, though I trust that he has already worked through all the questions to this point. If there is a dad in the home, he must insert himself into the counseling process. In many cases, it is a poor relationship with the dad that is at the core of the teen’s problem. Dads of rebellious teens must understand how their roles as fathers have a lifetime impact on their sons or daughters.
Dad, have you gone through my first four points and answered all the questions that apply to you? Will you show the ones that you must address to your wife or a trusted friend?
Here are two articles that speak to the vital role that you have with your child, here and here. Will you read them, and carefully review the video in this section? What are some of the things the Spirit is bringing to mind that you must address?
When you think about God as a Father, in what ways are you imitating Him well to your child? In what ways do you need to change?
When you think about your father, how have you reacted or adopted your parenting style from him? What are a couple of positive outcomes, and what are a few negative ones?
6 – Deconstruct Presuppositions
When the teen comes to counseling, he or she is typically thinking two things: (1) it is three against one: mom, dad, and this stranger who is going to fix me (2) and because it is Christian counseling, the counselor is about to “ram” the Bible down his or her throat. A wise counselor will understand a teen’s potential presupposition and prepare accordingly. The parents need to know this, too, so they can help deconstruct the child’s resistance. Some parents will fall into this trap by thinking the counselor will fix their son or daughter, which maps added pressure onto an already tense situation.
Are your expectations that counseling will work during the season that you have your child with the counselor? What is your biblical basis for that assumption?
When you read 2 Timothy 2:24-25 about God granting repentance, how should you think about your child changing, assuming he or she will?
How are you guarding your mind against creating an artificial timeline for your child to change? Does he or she feel any pressure from you to change today? How do you know if he or she is or isn’t feeling it?
In what ways are you releasing the counselor from “changing your child?” Your answer to these questions will reveal a heart of fear, worry, anger, or faith.
7 – Future Grace
Unfortunately, by the time the parent calls, the heart attitude of the child has been in place for years. The accumulative disappointment in the child makes immediate change nearly impossible. Though many of these teens do transform, it usually happens years later. Repentance is not a capsule you dispense; it’s a process that can take decades, depending on the intertwining of toxic relationships, the depth of disappointment, and the anger and arrogance of the victim-teen.
Parent, how long did it take you to “work out all your problems” to where you have a peace that passes understanding (Philippians 4:7)? If it went beyond your teen years, are you appropriating that kind of grace to your child?
Are you the parent who learned how to trust God in all things in thirty years (Philippians 4:13), expecting your child to come to that place in six months or less during counseling (Philippians 1:6)?
In what ways is God’s favor controlling your mind now to where you are not worrying over your child’s decisions? I’m talking about a “type of worry” that is disrupting your peace or tempting you to respond in anger.
Are you predicting future trouble for your child, and bringing it back into today’s setting, per what Jesus said in Matthew 6:34? If so, what does that type of thinking reveal about you?
8 – Impatience
This idea of change taking years can be a sore spot for a parent. The place where you will see it is through their impatience. They want transformation today. Oftentimes it’s motivated by fears. Perhaps the parents have unrealistic goals and expectations for their child, the counselor, the Lord, and maybe their spouse. There are several personalities here, and only one of them is perfect.
Are you impatient with your child, husband, or counselor? How do you know? Will you ask them how they perceive you? The humble, gospelized person has nothing to fear, hide, or protect. What did they say?
Tied to impatience are fear and anger. An impatient person is worried (fear) something is not going to happen, so they try to speed up the process. Part of the “speeding up” is manipulation, which is a form of anger. How does this section describe and pertain to you?
Could there be subtle “micro-aggressions” toward God for where you all are as a family? Rarely will a believer say they are angry at God; they typically take it out on others, but there is an evident disappointment, which does connect to the sovereignty of God.
How does your impatience with your spouse’s issues, assuming there are some, tempt you to anger as you see the effect of your marriage on the child?
9 – Community
Rarely is the local church and family engaging each other to the degree that matters. Typically, there is a communal disconnect, which could be why they are reaching out to someone who is not part of their church family. It is common for churches not to be able to counsel at this level. There are thousands of more churches than they are competent counselors. To expect every church in the world to have well-trained biblical counselors is unrealistic at best and an uncharitable expectation at worse.
Even if your church does not have a competently trained counselor, how are you using the local church to walk with you through this process? Are you informing your pastor or spiritual authority from that church?
Who is the person from your church who is walking you through this challenging season? What about your spouse? What adult can come alongside your child? A male for a teen boy or a female for a teen girl?
What has been your activity and engagement level with your local church? I would assume they know who you are, and there has been much interaction with that body, right? If not, why not?
What is your understanding of the local church? How has that “doctrine” been working out practically in your lives? Have you all been a joy to the pastor (Hebrews 13:17)?
10 – Hope
A child’s rebellion is a lot of bad news initially. God does have an answer for the parent and the teen. Life does not have to be the way it has been. God can reorient any parent’s or child’s thinking and behavior, but it will not be as simple as sending him to counseling. A season with a competent caregiver could prove to be a great supplement, but no matter how long that time is, it will end. While there is hope in God’s grace, humanly speaking, there is always something the parent to do, too.
Paul said that we should follow him as he follows Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1). He never pulled himself out of the sequence, expecting us to follow Christ, and Paul could live how he wanted. What needs to change about you if you told your son or daughter to follow you as you follow Christ (Philippians 4:9)?
Though you must always put much hope in God’s transformative grace, do you see how human responsibility is a thing, too? Does this perspective give you hope because you can do stuff, also? If not, why not?
With the hope of God changing your son or daughter and your desire to change yourself, how are these two things settling your soul? Describe the peace that comes over you as you think about cooperating with the Lord to serve your child.
Are you still tempted to say, “Yes, but [fill in the blank]. And then you give one or two reasons to justify your worrying or anger. If this is you, what’s wrong with you? Why are you still stuck?
Call to Action
I have asked you more than forty questions in this article. Will you take them to heart? Will you go over this article again, highlighting the issues that apply, and appealing to the Lord to help you work through them?
If your spouse is willing to come alongside you, will you both commit to a season of prayer to recalibrate your hearts as you are helping your rebellious teenager?
If your parenting model is not as biblical as it should be, rarely can the parents fix their issues without outside help. Who can come alongside both of you? If we can serve you, please ask.
If you want to learn more from us, you may go to our Topical Index to find all of our articles. They are free. Please spend time choosing and studying those that interest you.
If you want to talk to us, we have free forums for anyone and private forums for those who support this ministry financially. If you want to help us keep our resources free, please consider supporting us here.
If you wish to study more about this article, please explore the materials I have linked on this page.
Rick Thomas leads a training network for Christians to assist them in becoming more effective soul care providers. RickThomas.Net reaches people around the world through consulting, training, podcasting, writing, counseling, and speaking.
In 1990 he earned a BA in Theology, and in 1991 he received a BS in Education. In 1993 he was ordained into Christian ministry, and in 2000 he graduated with an MA in Counseling from The Master’s University in Santa Clarita, CA. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).