How to raise a rebellious child

Most people are thrilled to learn they are going to be parents.   When we finally meet our precious gifts (Psalm 127:3), we are often overwhelmed by the experience.  Many men cry.   As our children grow we teach them to walk and talk and do “big kid” things.  We have dreams and aspirations for them, for their life.  We want them to be smart and kind.  We want them to be likeable, respectful of others, successful.  For those of us who are “religious”, we desire for them to share our faith and walk with our God, to grow in spiritual stature.

But in many families, the parents’ goals are never realized.  The “plan” does not unfold as planned.  The cute little guy in the baby blue onesy is still a baby – except now he’s 15.   Our precious “princess” is now a “royal” pain.   Our incredible infants are now teenage terrors and not at all following the “game plan” we had in our mind.  What happened?   Can we blame public schools?  Hollywood?   Our culture?  Allow me to share just a sample of reasons as to how you may have unintentionally raised a rebellious child:

  • You are their friend, not their parent.   Many parents make the mistake (early on) of trading down the authority they have been given.   Although none of us want to have our children mad at us, God requires us to parent them towards His standard – regardless of their response.   Since foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child (Proverbs 22:15), we (as wiser ones) must remove the folly from their heart.  Friendship will come but only after proper parenting.
  • You threaten but do not discipline.   Parents prefer threats because threatening is easier.  Discipline is just plain hard.   Threats, though they may work occasionally or for a season, do not produce the “harvest of righteousness” (Hebrews 12:11) that discipline does.  Every time swift discipline does not follow your threat, the reliability of your word is questioned.
  • You are inconsistent.  Consistency is critical to be an effective parent.  When you parent inconsistently, you reveal to your child that you operate on a sliding scale.   You might discipline them for one offense on one day but let them slide on the next offense the following day because you are distracted or tired.   Nothing will frustrate a child faster than being inconsistent with him.
  • You let them make too many decisions too early.   What would you like to eat?”  “What would you like to wear?”   “What would you like to do?”    Our intention in these questions is harmless.   What parent does not want to make their child happy?   The problem lies in that younger children are not emotionally mature enough to handle making their own decisions in such matters.  As my friend and author Gary Ezzo points out, they become “addicted to choice”.   They do not just become addicted to their choice, they become allergic to yours.
  • You over-indulge them.   This should not need elaboration since we all know what this looks like.   It is totally appropriate to bless your children.  It becomes inappropriate when your children can no longer handle the blessing.   How can you tell if they have become over-indulged?
    • They are no longer grateful for what they receive.
    • They have developed an “entitled” attitude.
    • When you say “NO” (to test their heart) their reaction is a tantrum, manifested in a number of different ways; crying, whining, begging, complaining, anger or violence
  • You parent behaviors, not their heart.   Parenting behaviors is easy.  Reaching the heart is not.   Simply changing behaviors, though good for the moment, only teaches your child to obey when they are governed.  It does not teach them to govern themselves.   Instead of addressing the heart, they simply learn to be more discreet with their sin.   It is true that only God can change hearts, however, He loves to use parents as His primary tool.
  • You give suggestions instead of commands.  Most people do not obey suggestions.  Suggestions allow your children an option out of your desires.  Commands do not.   Suggestions place the “ball” in their court.  Commands keep the ball in yours.  Commands do not need to be harsh – just direct.  There is a world of difference in:

Please move your bike, ok?” (suggestion to be obeyed eventually)

Please move your bike now.” (command to be obeyed immediately)

Do you ask your children for favors or speak in an authoritative, firm but loving, “I mean business” tone.

  • You encourage friendships with the world.   Have you kept constant watch on the influences in your child’s life?   From neighbors to classmates to television and the internet – there is a world seeking to bring down God’s standards.  Calculate how many hours a day your child is around worldly influences.  Is it affecting him/her negatively?   The Bible is clear, “Friendship with the world is hostility toward God.” (James 4:4)
  • You shield them from God’s Word.  It is amazing to me how many parents (even in the church!) do not place their wayward child under the consistent teaching of God’s Word.   God’s Word is the ONLY remedy known to man who can change a human heart.   If the doctor told you that chemotherapy would cure your child’s cancer, you would make sure your child was given chemotherapy on time regardless of their complaints.   Of course a wayward child does not want to go to church or youth group, be with other Christians or endure a Bible study.   They know it is the very thing that can combat their rebellious heart and they are enjoying their black heart right now.

Have a rebellious child?   What should you do?

  • Pray!  God knows all about rebellious children, after all, He has you, doesn’t He?   From the first child (Adam), God has been dealing with wayward hearts.   Ask God to help you first become a better child so that your child can see what an obedient child looks like.
  • Repent.   Most of the time, our children learn rebellion from us.  We may not be as overt about it as they are, however, many children’s sins can be traced to a parent – even if it is manifested in a completely different fashion.
  • Reverse direction.  If you are guilty in one, some or all of the areas listed above – change course.  Do the opposite.  If you have been giving suggestions, give commands.  If you are not consistent, be consistent.  If doing it “Frank Sinatra’s way” has not worked, try God’s way.   It will not be easy and the results may not be immediate but you will go to sleep at night with the satisfaction that are you now doing the right thing.