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The Real Meaning of Rebellion

  • Dr. Tim Kimmel Author
  • Published Dec 15, 2004
The Real Meaning of Rebellion

One parent's idea of rebellion might be considered benign or even entertaining to another parent. Kids living out the normal nuances of childhood with the goofy ways they talk, dress, and act aren't necessarily rebelling. That is one of the key points I made in my book Grace-Based Parenting. Just because kids annoy us doesn't mean their actions are evil, nor does it necessarily indicate a deeper problem -- at least not with them. As we learned in that book, the problem might actually be with us.

And your children aren't rebelling just because they don't adhere to some superficial standard determined by a committee-of-one in a pulpit, or some busybody perched on one of the obscure limbs of your family tree.  There is no set biblical way for children to behave or dress or talk or play. God has called us to create an environment for our children where they can get a clear sense of the love, forgiveness, and grace of God. On top of that, He has given us the mandate to build qualities like respect, honor, decency, fairness, and modesty into the core of their character.

God allows children a lot of latitude in how they live out their personality type within the boundaries of these wonderful values. God is too much into original thoughts and ideas to create some mold that produces the "perfect Christian kid." He's also not the architect of any of the straitjacket models of parenting that float throughout the Christian movement. These arbitrary styles of parenting never have and never will pass the Bible's litmus test.

Some parents who are convinced their children are rebelling might be surprised to find out that God wouldn't agree with them. When parents compare what their children are actually doing with what the Bible really says children are to do, it could well be that their children aren't rebelling at all.  They are just great kids having a good time completely within God's moral boundaries, but not the way some onlookers think they should. Once again, my book Grace-Based Parenting helps parents filter out the strident voices around them, and figure out how to measure their children's progress by God's standards, not the opinions of others.

I know people who consider a teenage boy wearing his hat backward an act of rebellion. Let me add to this superficial list a sampling of other things I've heard over the years...

•  Kids who play a lot of video games
• Kids who listen to rap music
• Boys who wear their pants low
• Kids who don't say, "Yes, sir" or "No, sir," "Yes, ma'am," or "No, ma'am"
• Kids who do just about anything "different" with their hair -- especially boys
• Girls who have more than one piercing in a particular ear
• Girls who have their bellybuttons pierced
• Any older teenager with any kind of tattoo -- even a "Christian" one
• Kids who aren't excited about church services that are primarily geared to older adults

In and of themselves, these things do not indicate that a child has a problem with God or you or anybody else. They are just "things." True, some of them have the potential of causing harm, but not as a general category. Video games aren't a problem -- bad video games are a problem. Rap music isn't a problem -- bad rap music is a problem. Shrewd, grace-based parents don't get trapped into writing off an entire category of entertainment just because part of it is toxic. That's what lazy parents do. They don't want to take the time to work with their children and coach them on how to discern between good and bad. Lazy Christian parents, by the way, have a much higher percentage of rebellious kids.

Some of the things on the list may make our children look foolish to older adults and may annoy us. Some will also look foolish to our kids when they are older and looking back. But God has made childhood a time of intense transition. It's a corridor where boys' and girls' primary identification changes radically in a brief period of time. Kids start out with their identification almost completely wrapped up in their family. In less than two decades, their identification is wrapped up in their individuality, their belief system, their friends, or their school. During this time every little thing they do may not pass muster with older adults. That doesn't mean the kids are rebellious. But when we treat our children like rebels who are somehow at odds with God because of our arbitrary list, we can actually incite a rebellious attitude that would not otherwise have been there.

When I was a young child, in the 1950s, Hollywood made a few movies that were meant to capture the look of a rebellious teenage boy. He wore cuffed blue jeans, Chuck Taylor tennis shoes, and a white T-shirt with a pack of cigarettes rolled up in the sleeve (whether he smoked or not). His hair was thick with grease, combed back in a ducktail with a little lock of hair curling down over his forehead. He had a comic book rolled up in his back pocket. The next thing you knew, every other kid in the outback of America was dressing like that, and their parents were certain that the Great Tribulation had begun. Many of these kids were just normal teenagers who were attracted to the teenage look of the day. The overreaction of the parents and the church unnecessarily antagonized mane of these kids against God.

Then came the Beatles and all the other members of the "British Invasion." The look of youth took an even greater contrast to the look of adulthood. The "Fab Four's" hair and all the other trappings of the 1960s caused near-panic in Christian homes throughout the land. Kids who were extremely serious about their faith -- like me -- were growing their hair long and listening to Beatles albums nonstop. The coup de grace was when John Lennon said in an interview that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus. Pastors popped blood veins. People started trying to figure out if John Lennon's name had some numerical code that added up to 666. Some even went so far as sponsoring huge record-burning bonfires in their church parking lot.

Fortunately for me, my parents were more focused on what was going on inside me rather than outside. My pastor heard John Lennon's words as John meant for them to be taken -- not that the Beatles were more powerful than Jesus. Even misguided John Lennon wouldn't make so foolish an assumption. He wasn't even saying that they were more loved than Jesus. He was saying that kids all over the world were more focused on the Beatles than they were on Jesus.

My pastor parleyed John's statement into one of the best Bible studies my church youth group ever had. He asked why we thought more kids were enamored by the Beatles than Jesus. After we responded to his question, he went on to tell us how we could be the light of the world and the salt of the earth, how to see our friends through Jesus' eyes, and how to love them the way Christ loves them. My young, grace-based pastor didn't react negatively to John Lennon's statement. He wasn't intimidated by it. It didn't frighten him or send him on some kind of witch hunt. He saw it for what it was, and he leveraged if for God's glory. In the process, he helped some longhaired boys and stringy-haired girls in our youth group sort through the idiosyncrasies of their youth culture.

This is how grace can save the day. Grace doesn't make issues out of the arbitrary standards that Christian voices use to define either a "rebellious kid" or a "good Christian boy" or a "sweet Christian girl." Grace has room for unique -- even weird -- kids. Grace gauges rebellion by where a child's heart is with Jesus Christ and how a child's choices align with the clear moral standards outlined in the Bible.

An excerpt from Why Christian Kids Rebel by Dr. Tim Kimmel
© Copyright 2004, W Publishing Group. All rights reserved. Published by W Publishing Group, a division of Thomas Nelson, Inc., P.O.Box 141000 Nashville, TN 37214

Dr. Tim Kimmel and his wife, Darcy, are the founders of Family MattersTM. Committed to equipping families for every age and stage of life, Tim is one of America's top advocates speaking for the family today. He has sold over 750,000 books and videos, including Grace-Based Parenting and his bestsellers Little House on the Freeway and Raising Kids Who Turn Out Right. Tim has hosted his own nationally syndicated radio program, speaks throughout the country, and enjoys life with his wife, his four children, and his growing number of grandchildren.