How to handle rebellious teenagers

How to handle rebellious teenagers

If you’re a parent, even of young children, you’re probably freaked out about the teen years. You’ve heard way too many stories about kids and weed, alcohol, porn, and sexting. If you have teenagers, maybe your fears have become reality.

Regardless of your experiences as a parent, you need a plan for when your kids aren’t Facebook perfect. How will you work with a teenager who’s pushing back? Who’s deleting texts so you won’t see them? Who’s choices are departing from the standards you’ve set? You want to correct and confront, but you don’t want to push your teen away or make him/her feel unloved.

Josh McDowell explains the tension of the teenage years like this: “Rules without relationship lead to rebellion.” Dr. Kevin Lehmen says changing your child’s behavior involves considering three long-term concerns: Attitude, Behavior, and Character. Go listen to his weekly parenting plan or read his book Have a New Kid by Friday or Have a New Teenager by Friday. His three pillars of self-worth (Acceptance, Belonging, Competence) are the connectors to the child’s heart—the reason that a teenager will reform his behavior.

So practically speaking, what should you do with a teenager who’s headed for trouble? I have TWO general parenting strategies to share with you.

  1. APPROACH THE OUTER CHILD (behavior modification):
  • Discuss and explain the danger of their actions; implore them to change behavior
  • Negotiate behavior and create behavior contracts with them
  • Punish by grounding them or removing their privileges
  • Change and monitor their social environment
  • Lecture and yell; show how angry or disappointed you are in them
  • Incentivize them through bribery, reward, intimidation, manipulation, or fear
  • Send them to a pastor, youth worker, social worker, psychiatrist, or counselor
  • Meet with the teachers, administrators, and counselors at their school
  • Model good behavior and hope they follow your example
  • Call other parents to get advice
  • Change their environment–enroll them in a different school
  • Assume they will outgrow or lose interest in their dangerous choices or behavior
  • Unhook them from all social media
  • Send them away (boarding school, rehab, grandma’s, etc.)

These are the things that people do with teenagers who do bad things or have dangerous habits. Sometimes these strategies work; sometime they don’t. None of them are successful without parental interaction, consistency, and reassurances of love. Just take a deep breath. Even if you’ve failed many times, it’s never too late to reach your kids.

2. APPEAL TO THE INNER CHILD (character modification):

  • Train the heart; appeal to the heart. Behavior flows from a person’s inner beliefs. Bad behavior reveals a self-centered worldview. Even good behavior, if it flows from a self-centered worldview, will eventually become harmful or self-centered. Bad behavior from a generally good heart can still produce a child that wants to reconcile with his parents. Clues that you’re on the right track are a softening of their attitudes, a tenderness toward you, and a tearfulness over their actions. That’s when you must speak about character. If your teen’s heart never transforms, he/she might conform, but likely will be resentful. Focus on reaching your teen’s heart.
  • Discuss dangerous or tempting scenarios with your kids before your kids experience them. Prep them that peer pressure will be difficult. Coach them on refusing drugs and alcohol, choosing friends carefully, and respecting controls on their media devices. Have regular conversations about how they’re doing and where they’re messing up. Kids who accept coaching and responsibility are less likely to engage in harmful or dangerous behavior. If you missed being proactive with your child, begin now. It’s never too late to talk to your children about why you’re concerned for them. (Even when they’re adults.)
  • Prioritize & model ideologies (this works regardless of religious affiliation):
    • Worship: God only; not things, goals, talents, or people (if you set your kids up to be the center of their universe, you set them up for entitlement, disappointed dreams, and/or insane self-pressure)
    • Obedience: to God, parents, government (adults who understand authority and service become great leaders)
    • Integrity: purity of mind, body, soul (the person with integrity always rises above the crowd or the catastrophe)
    • Honesty: accountability, transparency, truth (the foundation of solid families, businesses, and ministries)
    • Responsibility: to God, self, parents, reputation (builds a stronger community and bitter-free relationships)

Now consider what it will take for your teenager to change his/her behavior. Get counsel. Begin praying. Perhaps some behavior modification or loss of privileges will help. Or perhaps you should air-lift your teen from his social or educational environment. Be willing to do whatever it takes to rescue your child.

Unfortunately, adolescence in America is now about a 10 to 15-year window. That’s a long time for kids to be exposed to adult opportunities when their hormones and intellects are changing. Parents must be actively, physically engaged for kids to transition without damage. “After all, part of the parent’s job is to fill in the blank map of future experience with cautionary information to combat youthful ignorance for safety’s sake.” (Carl Pickhardt, PhD)

PRACTICAL SUGGESTIONS (You can safeguard your kids by doing several pro-active things (or reactive, when necessary):

  • Have access to all their media; check it regularly
  • Block people or apps who share dangerous or inappropriate things; don’t allow apps that delete messages, videos, or pictures after they’re sent
  • Don’t allow online relationships or accessibility to online conversations with strangers; talk about the dangers of inappropriate messages and pictures
  • Have and enforce a curfew, and know where your kids are
  • Avoid letting your teen ride with other kids, attend parties or sleepovers with families or friends you don’t know well
  • Require your teens to obey laws: traffic, passengers, alcohol, curfews, etc. (don’t turn a blind eye to your teen drinking alcohol; it’s illegal, and it’s dangerous (Read stats on underage drinking here)
  • Use natural consequences for offenses: breaking traffic laws means losing driving privileges; breaking curfew means not going out; inappropriate texting means losing the phone (and other means of chatting with friends)
  • Trust until your kids prove untrustworthy, then make them prove their trustworthiness over time. (It doesn’t help your teen to immediately give them your trust after they’ve broken it–no one in their adult life is going to do that–prepare them to live with integrity all the time, regardless of circumstances.)

The process of raising a responsible, obedient teenager takes time. It involves trial and error, mistakes and consequences. But the process of reaching the heart of your child is critical and worthwhile. Don’t give up on your kids. Find churches, youth groups, teachers, family members, and counselors to help you. You don’t have to do it alone.


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