How do you help a teenage son when he does not want your help? You feel him distancing from you and the family, but he won’t communicate with you. Should you relax your expectations? Perhaps a more in-depth question is how is his behavior a reflection of your parenting and, perhaps, your marriage. A supporting member is struggling with her son and wants our help.
You may want to read:
- Rick’s 31-Day Parenting Devotional
- Letter to a Counselor: Counseling a Rebellious Teenager
- Tips on Parenting a Child from Zero to Adulthood
My teenage son (17) is upset with me because I want to put accountability software on his computer. He says I’m too intrusive, and it’s weird for a mom to be checking on him. My impulse is to do it anyway, regardless of what he says. I would like to make a case to him about why I want to do this. We are a Christian family, and I’m sure there are clear biblical examples of accountability. How would you advise me? – Supporting Member
A First Question
When a wife and mother asks a question about their son, one of the first things you want to know is about her husband. For example, what does the husband say about this parenting problem? What advice or direction is he providing? I realize we live in a world where men hardly matter, but the Bible has not changed when it comes to leadership in the home.
A husband is the wife’s protector, as well as her lover. He should be providing directive care while showing supportive unity in the marriage. It’s not unusual for a teen’s disrespect to mirror how the husband responds to his wife, and vice-versa. Disrespecting spouses will breed disrespecting children.
Perhaps the couple has a history of nourishing, cherishing, and mutual respect within the marriage. If so, great, but you still want to explore the state of the marriage from a historical perspective. If perchance you are asking your child to be and do what you have not modeled in your marriage, it would be hypocritical, and he could perceive your request to respect you as unreasonable.
A Deeper Insight
An angry teenager is a behavioral manifestation of an angry heart. He is drawing out of his heart what is proceeding from his mouth. His words are telling you how he thinks about you, God, and life. As hard as that is to hear, it’s vital to know because you can’t help him if you do not have a biblical understanding of his ruling motives. Your goal is to help your child walk in holiness.
Though placing a piece of software on his computer could have a positive effect, it will not bring the needed transformation to his heart. While it would be good to stop future sin, embarrassment because of sin, temptations from sin, and the traps of sin, the most useful thing you can do is address the heart issues that feed this desire not to be held accountable.
If there are underlying and unresolved issues of the heart, there needs to be a discussion about the real things going on in his life, rather than just technological deterrents to keep something from happening.
A Better Word
The word choice you’re making is accountability, which is not a bad word, but perhaps, in this case, it’s not the best way to communicate what you want to happen. The word accountability has the feel of watching over someone to keep them from making mistakes. He feels surveilled and untrusted, though I know you have reasons for not trusting him. He said that it felt weird.
Your son needs more than just someone looking over his shoulder, even if it’s computer software doing the looking. Your goals for your son are more in-depth. Your aim for him is the same that you have for everyone, which is to love God and others most of all (Matthew 22:36-40). This is the highest and most desired goal for anyone.
Consider changing your wording to give your conversation a more biblical direction. God is not about “watching” us, in a negative sense, but about transforming us. One of the things I deal with in counseling is how people have a wrong view of God. It can sound like, “God is watching me. If I make a mistake, He will let me know about it. I don’t want God to get me. I better do right.” Talk with him to provide more nuance as to what you mean.
A Better Relationship
Here are a few more useful ways that you can communicate what you want to do for your son. As you read these lines, pretend you are saying them to your son. How do they sound in your mind? Are these typical ways of communicating with him? If you cannot speak to him according to these biblical ideas, I appeal to you to do what you can to replace your broken relationship with him.
- I desire to serve you in your walk with God (Mark 10:45).
- The goal for you is the same for me—a transformed life (Romans 12:1-2).
- If need be, I will admonish you for your good (Romans 15:14).
- I want to care for you because I love you (1 Corinthians 12:25).
- I want to see you built up in Christ (Romans 14:19).
- I want to regard you more than I think about myself (Philippians 5:21).
- My goal is to bear with you all the days of your life (Colossians 3:13).
- I want you to experience my increasing love for you (1 Thessalonians 3:12).
- I want to encourage you in your walk with God (1 Thessalonians 5:11).
- Part of parenting is to seek that which is right for you (1 Thessalonians 5:15).
- Hopefully, I can stimulate you toward good works (Hebrews 10:24).
Do you see how these verses communicate something more comprehensive than the word accountability? There is a difference between watching someone or having someone watched and humbly serving them. I can “hold you accountable” to holiness, or I can come alongside you as your humble servant, helping you along in your sanctification journey.
Accountability requires less work for sure. Discipleship is a fuller and more compelling experience. One of the things you can do by way of homework is to work through the One Anothers in the New Testament for your transformation as you prep yourself to have more redemptive conversations with your son.
A Better Example
The most effective way you can care for your son is by giving him a Christlike example to observe. Your authentic Christian experience lived out in a Christian community will have more impact on him than accountability software. I’m not minimizing the software, but prioritizing something more vital.
As he sees you doing the thing you’re asking him to do—being like Jesus, it will be more difficult for him to complain about your request to emulate Christ. He says that what you’re asking is weird, but it’s not if that is how you have been living your life. Has he seen others care for you the way you want to care for him? How do you respond to their accountability and corrective care?
Your marriage is a superb place for him to observe what you’re asking him to do. If he has not seen this, there is an opportunity before you—a conversation you must have regarding what you want for him, but have not lived out yourself. Whatever ways you need to change, do it today. Ministers of the gospel must remove all appearances of evil from their lives. If not, they will mute the practical message of Christ.
A Practical Plan
If all I’ve said thus far is moving in the right direction, there should be no reason for your son to resist your request. If he does, then you have more in-depth issues with him. Perhaps a way to get at these deeper things is by asking insightful questions. Let me share a few with you.
- Weird is not a good answer. Why do you not want the software on your computer?
- Are you a Christian? (Though you may not ask this question out loud, you must explore the state of his soul. His resistance speaks more about his relationship with God than you. If he’s a believer, he is quenching and grieving the Spirit, but if he’s not, he does not have the Spirit.)
- What do you have to hide? Locks are for honest people, not crooks. If you’re honest, there is nothing that should cause concern. If you’re looking into things you shouldn’t or if you’re trying to keep info from me, then we have a more significant problem.
These types of questions are better ways of communicating your love, affection, and discipleship care to your son, rather than just “holding him accountable.” By showing your deeper and broader concern, you’re communicating how this is a bigger problem than your desire to “watch” him or him getting “caught.”
A Real Temptation
You want to let him know that there are real temptations in this world, and you want to care for his soul. You can talk to him about King David, a man by all accounts, who loved God with his whole heart. And share a few passages about sin and temptation. See 2 Timothy 2:22.
No one is above the schemes of the devil, even the great David. Your son is naive, though he may be more than immature. He could be hiding something. He does not understand the enemy of his soul or the precipice where he is standing. See Ephesians 6:10-12.
Any person who responds to potential temptation the way your son does is in the wrong place. Of course, you will have to discern if he’s a believer because you may be talking to a natural person who honestly does not understand the “big deal.” See 1 Corinthians 2:14 and James 1:14-15). At this juncture, spiritual death is in his future.
A Deadly Duo
It would be wise for your husband to work through some of the places in the Book of Proverbs that talk about sexual sin. He does need to understand the seriousness of a sinful lifestyle and its devastating effects. Start with Proverbs 5:3 and read about the forbidden woman. Then read Proverbs 6:23, about the adulteress.
This section of the Proverbs is for the mature person to teach young people wisdom. The nature of the relationship that your husband has with your son will determine the depth of insight he can share with him. I don’t recommend that you have this conversation. If he thinks accountability software is a weird idea, he will probably freak out if you talk to him about sexual sin.
The point of the conversation is the need to keep the opportunity to sin and temptation to sin apart. It is one thing to have temptation, but no opportunity, but it is another thing to have the opportunity with temptation. It is when temptation and opportunity “kiss” that he’s a dead duck, which was the problem with David (2 Samuel 12:24).
A Reasonable Request
There are a couple of ways you can go here. For me, I would put the software on your son’s computer, whether he likes it or not. I’m assuming you bought the computer and he’s living in your house. It’s your home, and you have a responsibility before God for how you steward what the Lord has given you.
If you have carefully walked through what has already been said and you’re seeking to live out those truths, especially by your example, you and your husband should implement how you want things to be regardless of what he thinks.
You are responsible to God for how you both parent and how you both run the home. While you want to consider your son’s request, it’s on you and your husband to make the decision, which is an obedience issue between you and God. Like parental discipline when he was young, things are no different now. You must be obedient to God and not under the control of your son (Proverbs 29:25).
A Binding Addiction
There could be a chance that your corrective actions keep a foolish and naive child from the addictive nature of sin. Sexual immorality is as addictive as some drugs, and if it gets its claws in a person’s heart, he may never recover.
I deal with sexual addiction regularly. It’s not odd for a person to have a 30-year habituated pattern of porn addiction, which began when the person was a teenager. Porn is usually the “entry drug” that leads to deep, longstanding, habituated patterns of more immorality (Galatians 6:1).
The cultural word for caught is addiction. You can’t let this happen if you can stop it. But do not be naive, accountability will not stop your son if he wants to do it. You can do your best, but this is between him and God. If you’re doing what I have written and are actively implementing these things, your soul can be at rest in God.
A Parent Trap
Trap One – Guard your heart to make sure your goal for him is not short-sighted, in the sense you’re trying to keep him from looking at sin. Some parents can be more concerned about their embarrassment and less worried about the sanctification of their child. Your goals must be higher than that.
Cravings for image and reputation could blindside you. Make sure your spiritual eye is on the spiritual ball, meaning, this is all about your son and his relationship with God and not about you or what you perceive others may think about you.
Trap Two – Are you a smother-mother? Some mothers over-worry about their children. Ask your husband. Do you over-care, over-worry, over-stress, and over-fear regarding your child? Are you resting in God about this problem? You’ll know if you have God’s peace by the degree in which you worry or get angry when your son does not comply with your wishes.
Call to Action
- I’ve asked you a few questions throughout this piece. Be sure to answer them thoroughly.
- What is the condition of your marriage? How has your marriage adversely contributed to the issue you have with your son?
- Is your husband going to lead in this matter? If not, why not?
- What are the things that you can change about you, even if your son never changes? Work out a specific and practical plan to start changing you?
- If your marriage is not in the right place to address the issues with your son, reach out to your church for help? Don’t be that parent who expects the child to be what you all are not doing.
- Read Rick’s book, Change Me, which is one of the best for helping folks break habits, mature in Christ, and build relationally with each other.
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