Has Your Teenager's Heart Hardened?
- Drs. Gary and Greg Smalley The DNA of Parent-Teen Relationships
- 2006 6 Jan
Blessed is the man who always fears the LORD, but he who hardens his heart falls into trouble. (Proverbs 28:14)
When our heart closes, we often fall into trouble. There are hundreds of ways to offend your teen and close her heart, but we consistently see several that top the list. One was illustrated by a man named Chip who told us at our seminar about the lasting effects of a sarcastic comment made years before by his dad. When Chip was a teenager, a friend came over to his house one day, and Chip's father answered the door. This friend had not seen Chip's dad for several months, and the dad took one look at the boy and uttered in a bad attempt at humor, "You've grown so much! I didn't realize they stacked crap that high!"
The father's cutting remark left the young visitor hurt and embarrassed. As a result of that and similar comments, Chip's friend stopped coming over to his house. And Chip still remembered the deep hurt and pain from the experience.
Besides the making of sarcastic jokes or comments, here are the top five categories of teenage "heart closers":
1. Don't let them think on their own.
• "That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard."
• "Try saying that at school and they'll laugh you out of the class."
• "You're too young to understand."
• "Who asked you?"
• "Please don't interrupt. Can't you see I'm trying to solve this problem?"
2. Inhibit their freedom to speak their mind.
• "That's enough talking. Go play and let us be alone for a while!"
• "No, I don't have time to listen to your drivel."
• "Is there an end to this?"
• "What you say is always so confusing!"
3. Regard their feelings as unimportant.
• "Son, you've got to get over those little things. Grow up!"
• "Come on, that's just the way your brother is. Stop taking everything so personally."
• "That shouldn't hurt your feelings. Why, when I was your age I got twice as much teasing as you get."
• "If you're going to get upset every time we go over there, I'm just not going to take you again."
• "Movies like that are just make-believe. Grow up! There's nothing to be afraid of."
4. Avoid spending time with them.
• "I've got only two days to finish this report, so no, I can't go see your play."
• "Do you think money grows on trees? I've got to work."
• "See if your mother will take you. I don't have time for this."
5. Disrespect their individuality.
• "I said, don't lock the bathroom. I may need in there to comb my hair."
• "I'm your father. I know what's best for you."
• "I don't care how many of your friends are going. You're not, and I don't want to know your reasons."
• "Don't be silly. They'll like your hairstyle."
Other parental actions likely to close a teen's heart include the following:
• Speaking harsh words
• Telling your son that his opinions don't matter
• Being unwilling to admit mistakes
• Taking your daughter for granted
• Not trusting your son
• Forcing your teen to do something with which he's uncomfortable
• Being rude to him in front of others
• Dismissing her needs as unimportant
How can you tell if these or other things have caused your child's heart to close? It can be difficult to discern a closed heart because the typical manifestations are usually present to some degree during normal adolescence — things like lengthy periods of silence, avoiding eye contact, and resisting touch. When a teenager's attitude or behavior changes drastically and seemingly overnight, however, or he begins to display some of the more rebellious kinds of actions, you need to look carefully for a closed heart. Here are the most common signs of a closed heart:
• Your teen develops an argumentative attitude.
• Your teen seeks friends who are the opposite of the kind you desire for him or her.
• Your teen swears or uses disrespectful language.
• Your teen's facial expressions begin to reflect anger or avoidance.
• Your teen is resistant to discussing or agreeing on almost anything.
• When touching your teen's hand, it's often cold and unresponsive.
• You sense your teen is avoiding you.
• Your teen often turns away in your presence.
• Your teen shows a lack of respect for your advice.
• Your teen becomes highly critical of you.
• Warm feelings that used to exist between you and your teen seem to have disappeared.
• Your teen begins to indulge in sex, alcohol, or drugs.
The simplest explanation of why a teenager's heart closes lies written on their hearts. Things can be written on our hearts. The Scriptures are very clear about that:
Keep my commands and you will live; guard my teachings as the apple of your eye. Bind them on your fingers; write them on the tablet of your heart. (Prov. 7:2-3)
Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. (Prov. 3:3)
"Judah's sin is engraved with an iron tool, inscribed with a flint point, on the tablets of their hearts and on the horns of their altars. (Jer. 17:1)
Throughout our sons and daughters life, their hearts have learned many things. Some of what they've learned is true; much of it is not. Think about all of the negative things that you learned about you as you were growing up. Think about your parents, siblings, teachers, friends, schoolmates, grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, neighborhood bullies, etc. Can you hear them? You're lazy; stupid, ugly, bad, not good enough, short, fat, skinny, dorky, ridiculous, irritating, goofy, irresponsible, and so on. All sorts of damage has been done to your heart and to the hearts of our children over the years. All sorts of terrible things taken in — by those who should have known better, and by our Enemy, who seeks to steal and kill and destroy. When we hear these things said to us, this creates a massive wound in our heart.
This is exactly what happened to King David when he was a teenager. David's oldest brother said, "Why have you come down here? And with whom did you leave those few sheep in the desert? I know how conceited you are and how wicked your heart is" (1 Sam 17:28). On that day, David learned that he was conceited and that he had a wicked heart. Lies! Greg's son, Garrison's favorite movie is about an ogre named Shrek. In the movie there is one scene where Shrek is talking to his sidekick, Donkey, about why we doesn't like to be around people: "I don't have a problem with people. It's people who seem to have a problem with me. They take one look at me and yell, 'stupid, ugly ogre'." Our teenagers have experienced the same thing as King David and Shrek — our hearts are under attack.
What's interesting is that somehow we've overlooked the fact that our heart can be broken and has been broken: For he never thought of doing a kindness, but hounded to death the poor and the needy and the brokenhearted (Ps 109:16). And when a heart is broken, we are left helpless: Scorn has broken my heart and has left me helpless; I looked for sympathy, but there was none, for comforters, but I found none (Ps 69:20). This is why a heart closes — because it's been broken. But the great news is that Christ came to heal the brokenhearted: The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners (Isaiah 61:1). It is like Christ is saying, "Your heart is now in many pieces. I want to heal it." For He says this throughout the Scriptures:
For this people's heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them' ( Matt 13:15).
The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. (Ps 34:18)
He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. (Ps 147:3)
If we want our hearts healed, all we have to do is to ask Christ. We need to understand His truth and His truth about us and our heart. And He's already equipped us to go on that journey. Jesus has given us His Spirit (the Holy Spirit) as Counselor so that we can know in our hearts what the truth is about us: And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever — the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you (John 14:16-17). When God reveals the truth about you, and you believe that truth, it will set you free. Ask for God to reveal his truth about you: Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free (John 8:32).
I want to know and believe the truth about me — God's truth — not the lies I've bought in to over the years — the ones written on my heart. Knowing the truth does not mean knowing cognitively — in your mind. You must know down deep in your heart. This is when the truth begins to set us free, just as the rain must soak the earth down to the roots in order for your garden to grow.
You have an opportunity to "free" your heart from the lies you've bought into. And, you have the same opportunity to help your son or daughter experience the same freedom. If your teen will allow it, ask them these three questions:
1. What has life taught you about your heart?
2. What messages have you learned about you while growing up?
3. What have you believed about your heart over the years?
Encourage them to seek the Lord's truth about them. Encourage them to set their hearts free.
Look for part II of this series next week for practical ways you can reach out to a child with a hardened heart.
© 2005 Smalley Relationship Center.