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Is it the Parents' Fault When a Teen Rebels?

Cindi McMenamin

Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
Published: Sep 27, 2019
Is it the Parents' Fault When a Teen Rebels?
Are parents' liable, even partially, when a teen rebels? 5 ways to discipline without inviting rebellion.

Can we, as parents, actually contribute to our children’s rebellion?

It’s possible your strict boundaries or methods of discipline could be pushing your teenager over the brink. Rules without relationship often result in rebellion.

And strict punishment without a relationship in which your kids know you are disciplining them out of love, can backfire. If you’re a parent who is constantly saying “no” to your teens, putting them on restriction, and taking away privileges, you might want to rethink your approach.

Joel Dingess, a former youth pastor, and now a mentor to teens, and a professor at Life Pacific University, said rules and regulations combined with constant correction can cause a teen to resist and become a little more hostile, defensive, or even rebellious toward parental feedback.

“It's all a matter of perspective, and it takes a child time to develop enough self-confidence to receive discipline and criticism well.” When discipline is too strict for teens, he said they tend to shrivel inward and begin to question their self-worth and even the concept of grace; or they fight back, rebel, and lash out to prove that they are better and can do more than they are made to feel.

Dingess said, “Rebellion has a lot to do with pride but it also comes from a place of wanting to do things our way. When we come into a relationship with Jesus Christ we learn to surrender to His way of doing things and accept His instruction.

“That is never an easy transition, and it takes time. Let's be real with ourselves. We still rebel like stubborn teens even into our adult years, so let's give teens some credit. 

“Like all of us, teens are just trying to figure things out for themselves. Unlike adults, however, they have a lot more to figure out all at once--life, relationships, school, sports, goals, dreams, physical changes, character, personality, identity, God. That's a lot to grapple with in a short span of time.

“They're trying to figure out how they want to approach life and who they want to be in the midst of a million ‘no's’ and age restrictions. No one likes being told ‘no,’ adults included. Teens get told ‘no’ all the time, probably more than the rest of us.

“Naturally, most of those ‘no’s’ are justified or for their protection, but that doesn't make them easier to accept or understand. It's even more difficult to accept a ‘no’ when you don't understand the purpose or reason behind it, and sometimes teens won't.” 

What does the Bible say about discipline?

The Bible clearly instruct parents to discipline their children. Proverbs 23:13-14 says “Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you punish them with the rod, they will not die. Punish them with the rod and save them from death” (Proverbs 23:13-14).

And Proverbs 13:24 says “Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who love their children is careful to discipline them.” Proverbs 19:18 even asserts that parents who do not discipline their children are a “willing party to their death.”

There is no question that physical discipline is meant in those passages. However, The NIV Quest Study Bible asserts, “such discipline is not to be abusive; it should be redemptive, arising out of deep love and a concern to rear godly children. Parents who avoid the difficult and unpleasant work of discipline actually fail to love their children enough.

“Parents can and must exercise their God-given authority to discipline their children in love, but they should do so by avoiding the extremes of authoritarian and permissive parenting.”

Finding the Balance

Chelsea, a 28-year-old wife and mom is a Christ-follower who enjoys a close relationship with her parents today. She attributes one of the reasons to how her parents handled boundaries and disciplinary issues with her when she was young.

“Boundaries and restrictions were never to keep me from doing something bad, but rather to keep something bad from happening to me,” Chelsea said. “I always saw their restrictions as a fence of protection around me, and my parents were careful to let me know that was their intention.

“My parents never disciplined me out of anger or frustration. Every time I was disciplined, I remember my dad or mom praying with me before and after I received my punishment.”           

How can you make sure your discipline is not too strict? By following the model set forth in Hebrews 12:5-11, which tells us “The Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son” (verse 6).

Fathers are also instructed in Ephesians 6:4 to “not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”

In fact, when a teenager is a believer, discipline can be replaced with discipleship in the form of showing teens what it means to surrender to God in obedience to Him.

Here are five practical ways you can make sure your discipline isn’t too strict:

1. Pray about your response before exercising discipline.

Your child has a sinful human nature just like you that is bound to show itself sooner or later. While there is a place for personal confrontation and exhortation, as well as restriction and discipline, there is also a time and place for grace. If your child confessed to you, he or she is probably looking for that grace.

If you happened to find out about their poor decision on your own, I strongly encourage you to take it to God first and process it and ask Him for wisdom in how to respond. This test can be a teaching moment if you handle it correctly. Many times, there is more benefit in talking to God about our children than in talking to our children about God (especially in moments of stress or discipline).

Your children don't want a lecture when they already know their actions were wrong and they messed up. But what they might need in that moment is to see that you respond similarly to how God responds when we confess our sins to Him.

When we disappoint God, He doesn't come unglued. He doesn't accuse further. He doesn't ignore us and make us earn the right to talk to Him again. He doesn't hold a grudge. And He doesn't lecture.

When you pray about your discipline first, it will be a mature response, rather than an emotional reaction to your child’s disobedience.

2. Find the balance between love and discipline.

Shea, a young woman who is now a mom, recalled her rebellious years as a teen and how her single mom handled it. She shared “It will be important for me to find the balance of love and discipline my mom did. I never once doubted her love for me through her discipline, even though at times I really didn’t like her for it.

“As a mom now, I will do my best to be the example my mom was in disciplining me because she loved me and wanted better for me--better decisions, better responsibilities, a better life in general."

The love we give our children cushions the rules we place around them to protect them.

3. Don’t expect the worst in your child.

When you assume your teen will mess up and you already have a heavy hand (or punishment) waiting, you are likely welcoming a rebellious spirit.

Philippians 4:6-8 is a formula for a wise response and reaction to your children's sin and it can be summed up with these words: Worry about nothing, pray about everything, think on what is true, and experience God's peace.

To think on what is true is to dwell on the best that God is capable of accomplishing, not the worst that could occur.

I don't think that means being a parent with your head in the sand or being a parent who ignores your child’s need for discipline. It means being a parent who gives your child the benefit of the doubt when necessary and who looks for the best in your child, not the worst. Your child needs that.

In Psalm 139:17-18, David the Psalmist sang, “How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God! How great is the sum of them!” (NKJV).

God doesn't just have lots of thoughts about us, but they are precious thoughts. Thoughts that are good, kind, and loving, even though He knows perfectly well what we are capable of.

God's thoughts of us are not based on ignorance of what we're doing, or on wishful thinking, but on the picture of how He sees us--pure and spotless, when we are trusting in His Son, Jesus, for our righteousness and salvation. God thinks the best about us when He's the one who truly knows the worst about us.

4. Don't set rules or discipline your teens based on fear of others’ opinions.

A mom of a teen once told me, “Many times my worry--or rules--stem from fear of what others will think of my children and me as their parent. Over and over, I have to practice voicing all my fears to God and coming back to reason, looking at situations from His perspective and remembering that each of my children is a work in progress with God, just as I am."

When we realize we are accountable to God (and not others) for how we raise our children, and not for the decisions they make, we can more easily rest in the fact that God understands, even if others misunderstand.

If we are disciplining them out of fear of what others will think of us or pressure to appear like a better parent, we have to answer to God for that.

5. Follow God’s example of compassion and grace.

Psalm 103:8-14 describes our Heavenly Father's response toward us, even in our disobedience, and provides a great model for how to respond to our children, especially when they are repentant:

 “The Lordis compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities… As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.”

Furthermore, in Isaiah 43:25 we learn that God chooses not to remember our offenses, and will never bring them up again: “I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more."

Can you be a compassionate, loving, patient parent like that, even in light of your child's offenses?

Cindi McMenamin is a national speaker and author of several books including 10 Secrets to Becoming a Worry-Free Mom, When a Mom Inspires her Daughter, and When Couples Walk Together, co-authored with her husband, Hugh, a pastor. Cindi and her husband and adult daughter live in Southern California. For more on her ministry or resources to strengthen your soul, marriage or parenting, see her website: www.StrengthForTheSoul.com.

Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/Highwaystarz Photography