9 TIPS FOR PARENTING REBELLIOUS TEENAGERS
By Annie Yorty
My friend Marie drew a long, shaky breath and then exhaled. “You know I love Rachel, but I can’t say I really like her right now.” Her head lowered with the confession as if I might demand she turn in her motherhood card.
Marie’s admission didn’t shock me. As a parent of three children, this thought has crossed my mind, too. Raising teens requires courage, fortitude, and an abundance of God’s grace. Multiply that need by a thousand if the teenager happens to have a rebellious streak.
Rebellion, persistent resistance to authority, can happen with a child of any age. But in the period of development, when their stature grows more quickly than their wisdom, we often see an increase. Some teens may only occasionally test our parental authority, but others develop a habit of rebellion.
I know an excellent Father—He’s perfect, in fact—who happens to have quite a few rebellious kids. As we parent our own teenagers, we can follow His example.
The Heart of Father God
In the Bible, God gives His children rules to live by. Each rule has a loving purpose. He draws us into a personal relationship that teaches us to trust and obey Him. But this process isn’t always seamless. I know I’ve bucked His authority far too often. I take solace in examples of people in the Bible who wandered, or even camped for a time, outside God’s boundaries. He always pursued these rebellious children with relentless love.
9 Tips for Parenting Rebellious Teenagers
God’s Word tells the story of His plan for a perfect relationship with His children. It also gives His example to follow for raising children who do not accept authority. Consider these nine tips from God’s Word for parenting rebellious teenagers.
1. Persevere to love your difficult child.
We often take a child’s rebellion personally and may struggle with unforgiveness or bitterness toward them. As they push us away, our hurt feelings lead us to reciprocate by stepping back, too. But children interpret that reaction as a lack of love. Often, their behavior tests the measure of our love. Without words, they ask, “Do you love me even if …?”
Paul answers this question regarding our relationship with Father God.
With God’s help, we can love our children unconditionally and engage in a difficult relationship. Just as God’s arms stay open to us, we can remain receptive to spending time together and listening when they want to talk.
2. Maintain family traditions.
Father God established traditions and feasts for His people to remind them of His faithfulness and His purposes for them.
Family norms or habits do the same for our kids. For example, we may insist on eating dinner together at the table, daily Bible reading and prayer, regular attendance at church, or weekly family game nights. Even the assignment of routine chores is a tradition that provides stability to children of all ages. Eye-rolling teens sometimes claim to be too old for these activities, and may make them more difficult.
Just as God expected His people to continue in traditions He established, we should maintain habits that reinforce a sense of family identity and belonging. Often, after a period of rebellion passes, adult children will express appreciation for these values and may even continue them when they have their own children.
3. Provide opportunities for teens to express themselves in positive ways.
God created each child with a unique personality He wants to use in His kingdom. As they grow, they try to figure out their identity. Sometimes, their desire to stand apart from us and the family comes out as rebellion.
We do our best to build a foundation of identity in Christ within our children. Beyond that, we can show them positive and productive outlets to express and explore their strengths and passions. Our kids may want to do something different from our expectations, but we should value anything that falls within biblical boundaries. Such opportunities may divert them from rebellious expression.
4. Set clear boundaries.
The boundaries God created provide order and consistency in our lives. In nature, we appreciate His lines between land and water, earth and sky, and the seasons of the year (Psalm 74:17). Within His boundaries for our lives, we find an inheritance of righteousness.
The Lord is the portion of my inheritance and my cup; You support my lot. The measuring lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; Indeed, my inheritance is beautiful to me. (Psalm 16:5-6 NASB)
As children progress through stages of development, they often feel insecure and anxious about physical, emotional, and intellectual changes. Though they outwardly push against our boundaries, they crave consistency and order.
Reasonable and firm boundaries in the form of rules, behavioral expectations, and consequences tell our kids they are loved. In particular, a child who rebels needs a strong foundation of boundaries to counteract the chaos of disobedience.
5. Remember the true nature of the act of rebellion.
When defiance is severe or persistent, we often perceive our teens as the enemy. We start to engage in battles with them instead of for them.
All teenage rebellion is, first and foremost, against God, and the nature of the battle is spiritual.
For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. (Ephesian 6:12 NLT)
Long ago, Moses’ promise to the Israelites holds true for parents today. “The Lord himself will fight for you. Just stay calm” (Exodus 14:14 NLT). When we get caught in the crossfire of teenage sin, we engage the true enemy by prayer and dependence on God’s ability to win the battle for the hearts of our rebellious kids.
6. Control your emotional response to rebellion.
When my teen engages in self-destructive or defiant behavior, my emotions churn like a drink in a blender set on high speed. Absent an act of God, I confess I would let ‘er rip. In the moment, venting emotions feels somewhat satisfying.
But our anger will not produce the righteousness of God in a rebellious teen.
Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires. (James 1:19-20 NLT)
Even human wisdom confirms we should not allow rebellious teens to push our buttons. As we fall into patterns of outbursts against them, they quickly learn they can control us. Also, when we descend into a sinful response, they find a perverted justification for their own wrong behavior.
Jesus compared rebellious people to “sheep without a shepherd” and responded with compassion (Matthew 9:36). When our teens whip our emotions into a froth, we can spend a few minutes with God before confronting the behavior. He will help us to convey we are on their side despite their rebellion.
7. Establish and follow through with consequences for rebellion.
Our heavenly Father’s compassionate love includes consequences. His Word establishes the principle of sowing and reaping.
You will always harvest what you plant. Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit. (Galatians 6:7-8 NLT)
God has spared those who believe in Him from the ultimate punishment for sin. But He does allow consequences to teach us holiness. Likewise, we should employ thoughtful discipline for teen rebellion.
We’re often inclined to shield our kids from difficult consequences to make their lives easier. But giving in to this inclination stunts their maturity and leaves them ill-prepared for adulthood when the stakes become higher.
Sometimes, we must create negative consequences to correct rebellion or positive outcomes to promote obedience. Teens do best with clear expectations and consistent application. Rash threats we fail to administer create the impression that authority can be ignored. Consequences work best when we devise an advance plan and follow through.
8. Remove devices and social media.
An increasing number of experts warn about the adverse effects of cell phones on our teens. They expose them to uncritiqued, dangerous ideologies and pornography, which promote rebellion against family values. The constant barrage of media leads teens who already suspect they know it all to become sure they do. The influencers they watch quickly become more trusted than parents.
Removing devices may seem unthinkable, but unfettered access is rarely necessary for a teen. Usage should be viewed as a privilege to be earned. No doubt banning them would cause much gnashing of teeth. Nevertheless, to curb rebel influences, we must often make the uncomfortable decision to eliminate devices or downgrade to a phone without internet access.
9. Pray without ceasing.
Our Father God is pleased when we express our dependence and confidence in Him. We can pray when we’re afraid for our child, when we don’t know what to do, and when we feel like life has spiraled out of control.
Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. (Philippians 4:6 NLT)
Peace From Our Father
You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you! (Isaiah 26:3 NLT)
God loves our rebellious teenagers more than we do. In His Word and by His Spirit, we receive all the wisdom we need to parent them. When we stay focused on His provision, we can rest in His peace throughout periods of tumultuous teenage rebellion.