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Parenting Teens - Christian Family Resources

Reacting to a Rebellious Teen

  • Chuck Snyder Author, husband, father, and relationship expert
  • Published Aug 10, 2001
Reacting to a Rebellious Teen

Dear Chuck,

Greetings in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Ever since my 17-year-old daughter was about 11, she has been very willful and disobedient. She stays out past her curfew, not phoning if she will be late, does poorly in school, won't do chores when asked to, etc. I have enlisted the help of a counselor, whose conclusion was that my daughter was purposely trying to drive me crazy. I also had her tested to see if she had any learning disabilities and was told that she was above grade level in reading and math, but just was not motivated to do better. She has been pregnant twice. I later found out that she had gotten an abortion and had a miscarriage. Several months ago, she came in the house smelling like alcohol, and when I confronted her, she cursed at me and claimed that she had not been drinking. I have been called to her school because she had cursed at a teacher, she took a knife to school, and was arrested for shoplifting. Last week she stayed out all night. She had no explanation and was belligerent towards me when she returned. She no longer wants to attend church and has even cursed God.

I have been praying about this situation for a long time. I have taken many suggestions and tried different ways of spending time with her. I am just tired now. I asked her to leave last week and she did. She has been back twice to pick up clothes. This is not the way that I wanted things to end up, I mean, she is my child. Have I failed God? I know that He has forgiven my sins and he wants me to forgive, but my daughter is unrepentant and unwilling to change.

Chuck's Response:

I was sad reading about your rebellious daughter. Don't be too hard on yourself. Parenting is not an exact science, and I think most parents can look back on raising kids and can pick out things they would have done differently. You did what you felt best with the knowledge you had, so put all this behind you and focus on today.

You ended your note about knowing that God has forgiven your sins, but you were waiting for your daughter to repent before forgiving hers. I respectfully suggest that is backward. My sins were not forgiven after I acknowledged them. God sent His Son to die before I was born, before I could do anything bad or good. One of the most powerful things an individual can do is to unilaterally forgive someone who has harmed us. Not only is this required by God, it results in a magnificent peace of mind whether or not the other person ever asks us to forgive them. You forgive them because God asked you to, not because they deserve it.

Here are some scriptures that might help give you perspective on this. Not all of these scriptures will relate to every situation, but I think you will get the flavor of what God has in mind.

"Then Peter came to him and asked, Sir how often should I forgive a brother who sins against me? Seven times? "No", Jesus replied "seventy times seven." Matthew 18:21

As you probably know, the Jewish law in the Old Testament required that a person forgive an enemy three times ... but that was all. After three times you could whack them. In this verse from the New Testament, Jesus is saying to Peter that the MINIMUM number of times to forgive someone is 490 times. I guess you could say this means that we can never forgive enough.

"Your heavenly Father will forgive you if you forgive those who sin against you; but if you refuse to forgive them, he will not forgive you." Matthew 6:14-15

This has nothing to do with salvation. There is a meaning in the original language that gives the impression of untying knots. So to me this means that if you will untie someone else's knots (ask their forgiveness), then God will untie YOUR knots and give you peace of mind.

"If your enemy is hungry, give him food. If he is thirsty, give him something to drink. This will make him feel ashamed of himself, and God will reward you." Proverbs 25:21-22

The last scripture we discussed seemed to be more of a mental exercise. This time, God is asking us to pro-actively step up, and take deliberate action. This means we have to be alert as to how our enemy is doing, so it appears that we just can't write off the person. We need to know if he is hungry or thirsty or needs financial help. Is it easier to forgive an enemy in our minds, or actually do things for them? Or do they both take the same commitment to obedience?

"There is a saying, love your friends and hate your enemies. But I say, love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you. In that way you will be acting as true sons of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust too. If you love only those who love you, what good is that? Even scoundrels do that much. If you are friendly only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even the heathen do that. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect." Matthew 5:43-48

Now God asks that we PRAY for them. Maybe this comes easy to you, but for me it is very hard to pray for someone who has tried to cut my throat. It's a process for sure, and I'm still on the path in several situations in my life with which I'm struggling.

"If someone mistreats you because you are a Christian, don't curse him, pray that God will bless him. When others are happy, be happy with them. If they are sad, share their sorrow. Work happily together. Don't try to act big. Don't try to get into the good graces of important people, but enjoy the company of ordinary folks. And don't think you know it all. Never pay back evil for evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honest clear through. Don't quarrel with anyone. Be at peace with everyone, just as much as possible. Dear Friends, never avenge yourselves. Leave that to God, for he has said that he will repay those who deserve it. Don't take the law into your own hands. Instead, feed your enemy if he is hungry. If he is thirsty give him something to drink and you will be heaping coals of fire on his head. In other words, he will feel ashamed of himself for what he has done to you. Don't let evil get the upper hand, but conquer evil by doing good." Romans 12:14-21

First we forgive someone in our mind. Then we forgive them verbally or ask their forgiveness, if we are part of the problem. Then we pray for them. Then we ask God to bless them. Now, God is saying that even if we didn't do anything wrong, we are to bless and forgive them.

In case you're not sure what the "heaping coals of fire" on an enemy's head means, in Bible days there were groups of wandering people, nomads, we would call them. When they got ready to move, they would carefully shovel the coals from their campfire into a metal pan of some kind, and carry it on their heads to the next location. If an enemy's campfire went out, they would be in a terrible position, because, at times, their very life depended on having live coals. If the people observed an enemy in trouble like this, they were to offer some of their coals to help them.

The thing that helps me the most, is to remember that God forgave me of my sins, so it really isn't that much to ask of us that we forgive others. Philip Yancey has written a wonderful book called What's So Amazing About Grace?. It has a powerful discussion about God's grace and forgiveness. Forgiveness is something we have to decide to do. We can look back and think of the past and get all upset again, or we can choose to let God have the past, and begin focusing only on today and the future. I'm not saying it is easy to put the past behind you, but it's the only thing that is going to give you some peace of mind. I suppose the bottom line of forgiveness is that I give up my rights to hurt you like you have hurt me.

Now the project is to treat your daughter with unconditional love when you do have contact with her. What I suggest is to see if she would have dinner with you at her favorite hangout and ask her forgiveness for asking her to leave. Of course you had tons of reasons ... but at least it would give her the message that you can see that forgiveness does not depend on the repentance of the person being forgiven. If she came back, I would accept her with open arms like the prodigal son's father did in the Bible. In fact, it says that he saw him coming from a "distance," which implies to me that the father was looking for his son. I don't know if you can do this, but I really do think it would change both of your lives.

With God's Love,
Chuck Snyder

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