Maybe you’ve heard these words as a parent or maybe you’ve heard them from someone else who has a troubled child or a teen in their home: “You don’t get me. You just don’t get me.” Or how about this? “You have room to talk.” That one kind of stings. Or “I really don’t care. I don’t care. Whatever. I don’t care.” If you haven’t heard those words, you probably have not parented teenagers or you don’t work a lot with teenagers or maybe you are afraid of teenagers or you forgot that you said these words when you were a teenager. But if you’ve worked with teens or you’ve raised kids, you’ve heard something like that. And it’s usually out of frustration, hurt, confusion, or anger.
As a parent or even as a counselor in solidarity with the parent, we might want to say, “You know what? I changed your diapers, buddy!” Or “You better start caring. You better start caring right now! Or “How dare you turn this on me? You’re the one in trouble, buster! Right? That’s us responding in the flesh to the flesh, and it happens all the time. Who can get under your skin like a quick-witted or sharp-tongued, angry adolescent? If you want to be tested, work with kids. I have worked with kids and teenagers for about 15 years in various settings before I was even married. Now I have a senior, a sophomore, and a ten-year-old who might as well be a teen. We just moved from Chicago to Indiana, and I moved a senior, a sophomore, and a ten-year-old and ripped them out of everything they knew to be good and right and familiar. I am a horrible man. If you knew the whole story, you would think Oh, of course, I can see how God did that and His purposes behind it. Pray for me.
My name is Garrett Higbee. I’ve been married twenty years to Tammy. Rachel’s my senior. Zach is my sophomore, and Sarah is my ten-year-old. My family was talking about this topic just the other day and they said,” Yeah. Okay. This is going to be interesting to see how you do with this.”
Understanding How We Got Here
How did we get here? You could ask that question theoretically or rhetorically or you could really ask the questions, “How did it get so bad?” and, “How come we are at each other’s throats?” I know we love each other. We want good things for each other. I remember when parenting was so much easier. James 4 is the place I would point parents or those who counsel them to. James 4:1-6 says, “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?” It’s almost like you really don’t know. You know what it is. It’s you. It’s your passions that war within you. It’s not what’s going on outside of you. It is what is going on inside you that causes wars and conflicts. “You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore, whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, ‘He yearns jealously over the spirit that is made to dwell in us’? But he gives more grace. Therefore, it says, ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’”
That passage directly answers the question “How did we get here?” But we don’t always see it when we’re in the middle of it. We’re thinking I know how we got here because he just quit listening to me. She just started doing whatever she wants. They got in the wrong crowd. There’s just so much. All those things may be true, but the problem isn’t just on the outside. It’s on the inside. I would say that today teenagers have quite a bit to deal with. It’s like the “unholy trinity” is on a full-court press for our teenagers: the world, the devil, and their own flesh. Social media is unlike anything we ever faced. I think my fourth-grader is smarter than me now. What are they learning in fourth grade?! Kids have a great deal of academic pressure. They have social media and bullying, and they have all this crazy stuff going on in the world around them. It’s almost like we’re in the end times or something. I don’t know. I’m not a prophet. I’m not on the planning committee. I’m not on the welcoming committee, but I think something’s going on.
The first several verses of 2 Timothy 3 talk about the darkness of the world. People will be lovers of themselves, and kids will be openly rebellious. You’ve got the world coming at kids, and so much information coming at them. They think they’re in relationship with others, but they’re really not; it’s just a social media relationship. It’s a Facebook friend, but it’s not a real friendship. It’s a different world for teenagers. So, there’s influence from the outside, but what I’m telling you and what James 4 is pointing out is that this war isn’t just for our kids, it’s in our kids.
The average teenager lives in a time unlike anything we’ve ever seen before, and it’s going to get harder. The Bible says to avoid people that are like this, but we’re not supposed to avoid our own teenagers, right? Tempting at times, but not good. Actually, we’re supposed to influence them. We’re supposed to guard their hearts and teach them. More is caught than taught. When you get up into the upper teens, the words don’t really matter anymore. It’s who you are, your relationship, what you model, how much you care for them, how deeply you listen, and how much you try to understand that starts to move a teenager’s heart more than words and warnings and controlling their behavior. We really can’t protect them from the world. We don’t have much control over anything. You can’t control your children’s salvation. You can model it. You can make a big deal about Jesus Christ. You can do your quiet times faithfully. Pray like you mean it about your kids, but you don’t get to say whether they get saved or not. You don’t get to say whether they live or die. You don’t get to say, ultimately, even who their best friend is or who they marry, though you sure do try.
But we can give them an alternative to the world. We can create a safe, loving, and gospel-centered home and relationship with them. It’s not easy because they will test it like crazy. They may even act like they reject it. They may act like they don’t care about it, but they know there’s a different way, and they know that it’s right. They may not be ready to embrace it, but they know it’s there. They know that there’s something about what their family stands for, and they notice how much their mom loves Jesus and prays. They see how much their dad tries to stand up for the right things. All of this really helps a teen to realize that all of this other stuff he is attracted to is probably not good for him.
The Importance of Understanding the Heart of Anger
Why is it, though, that so much of a teenager’s anger gets pointed at parents? I want you to understand a little bit about the heart of anger in a teenager. It doesn’t always look the same in teenagers. Teenagers express anger in a different way than adults often do. Let’s look at Proverbs 4:23, “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” It’s the headwaters. It’s the well that everything else comes out of. Is their heart being guarded or is it completely being deluged and influenced? The other Scripture that comes to mind regarding the heart is Proverbs 20:5, “The purpose in a man’s heart is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out.” It talks about the heart being deep water. It’s murky. It’s really difficult to assume or to understand what’s going on in someone else’s heart, but the Bible says, “a man of understanding will draw it out.” I remember one day I thought I’ve got to spend time with my oldest daughter and try to understand what’s going on in her heart because I’m getting a lot of feedback, and it’s not consistent with who she really is. So, I spent a whole day with her, which is unusual because she’s very independent. She’s different from my ten-year-old who would spend time with me every day if she could, whereas, my senior would pick and choose those times, but she is a quality time person. So, the more time we spent together, the more she let her walls down. The more I asked her unassuming questions as if I were just curious, she began letting me in. That was one of the best days we’ve had in a couple of years. By the end of the day, we got to the gospel, and we talked about who she is in Christ, what God might be doing, and that he’s given us a hope and a future. We got there, but it took us all day to get there. Sometimes that’s what it’s going to take. Sometimes it can take multiple days to get there, maybe even weeks and months to draw out the heart.
Anger in teenagers is a default emotion. “I don’t know how I feel! I’m mad. Maybe I’m scared. Maybe I’m sad. I don’t like it, so I’m mad. I’m mad about being sad.” Right. I’m not kidding you. That’s why they cut. That’s why they scream. That’s why they turn the music up so loud. They’re thinking I’m mad about being sad, and I’m tired of being afraid, and anger is an emotion that organizes all their other emotions in one file. We all know it’s not a very healthy thing to do, but sometimes it’s a default. Do you know that teenagers are working through three primary developmental tasks around the ages of twelve to eighteen? One is identity: Who am I? The second is affiliation: Who do I belong to or who do I want to be with? The third is autonomy: How do I come into my own?
Does that make sense to you? Identity, affiliation, and autonomy are the questions they are asking in the background and trying to work out in their life. It’s an amazing time. Paul Tripp wrote a helpful book called Age of Opportunity. This is a super formative time. These years are so important to try to influence and shape your kids towards Christ-like identity, affiliation with the Trinity, with the church, with godly friendships and fellowship, and to influence as much as you know how to be independent of you in a way that draws them closer to God, not just farther from you. We need to encourage them to have their own relationship with Jesus. We may not be able to tell them exactly how to do that, because they’re different from us, but here’s a couple things that have really helped me. There’s this wonderful opportunity for you to influence them, but sometimes they really don’t want your advice. Sometimes they don’t care what you think, maybe for good reason. They may think you’re a hypocrite. Sometimes they are just getting pulled into other things, and you’re the last person they want to listen to. Aren’t most of the conflicts and deepest insecurities in adolescence related to those three things: Who am I?, Who do I belong to?, and Who likes me? And how do I get the heck out of this family?! These people are weird and they happen to be my parents or whatever they’re thinking. However, they’re part of the family because they typically come back in their twenties and live in your basement. But there’s this period where that’s the last thing they ever thought they would do. They’re like a boomerang; they just come back around. There’s this period where they want out of “Dodge,” and here’s where the anger comes up. They’re thinking I don’t even know who I am. You won’t let me differentiate in a healthy way. You’re smothering me. It may be in their mind, but that’s how they feel. Have you ever had a conflict like this or heard of anyone that has? You’re beginning to see how this is working out.
Anger can look very different in different people. Typically, a young lady might be very sullen and withdrawn and exhibit a cold silence. It’s very awkward. For a boy or a young man, it could look like they are just taunting you or messing with you. They may use sarcasm. It can look like a lot of different things. It can go to extremes where the teens are blatantly rebellious or cutting on themselves. The anger revolves around these issues, around insecurity, and moves to control issues and anger. Our job as parents and as counselors is to help kids to understand that we don’t think we know everything going on in their world or their head. We don’t think we have all the answers in a way that would contextually be true to what they’re going through, but we want to help them. We need to engage and figure this out together.
Let’s go through those three issues, starting with affiliation. What’s the big fear with affiliation? Rejection. You might reject me. You will reject me. I’m terrified you’re going to reject me or misunderstand me. You don’t even get it. You have no idea. It’s often expressed in anger that looks more like withdrawal or isolation or just stiff-arming somebody because it’s not worth getting hurt. You’ll hear them say, “You just don’t get me.”
It’s good to check up on your kids and to try to stay on top of what your kids are doing on the phone and on social media, but it’s not the same as sitting down and asking, “How are you doing? Talk to me about what’s going on in your life. Tell me about some of the other kids.” And not immediately saying, “Oh, you should stay away from her.” You listen long, and you listen deep, and you suggest some things carefully when the time is right. If you don’t, it breeds this emotional distance, and teens can be really hard to engage. They don’t necessarily say, “Hey Mom! Let’s have a chat.” “Dad, let’s have a cup of coffee” or “I’ll get up early, and we’ll do devotions together.” I’m still waiting for that. They will have coffee with me. It’s rare that we’re doing devotions, though I slip stuff in. You can’t take it personally. If you have teenagers in your life, whether you’re a brother, an uncle, a grandparent or parent, a concerned counselor, a friend, or whatever you are, don’t they love to test you? They’re like the country where you don’t need a passport to get in there. You have to earn it. It isn’t natural for them to let people in, especially people who are much older than they are. They feel like you’re just trying to be intrusive. They may act like they’re thinking You don’t get me, but they may be thinking, You don’t like me. You’ve judged me. You’re ashamed of me. You’re embarrassed by me. And maybe you have thought or expressed some of these things. I’ve sent those kinds of messages myself at times. But it’s important to know that these messages stick like Velcro to our kids, and we’ve got to be like Teflon to their stuff. The reality is that they probably miss that intimacy with you; they just don’t know how in the world that could ever come back again.
That relationship isn’t going to come back just because we ask twenty questions. It’s not going to come back because we are constantly pressuring them to open up. It’s scary, isn’t it? Sometimes we feel like we’re losing our kids. That’s when we sometimes start parenting out of fear, and it can even get worse. We cannot lead our children well if we’re afraid of what they are or what might happen to them. We can be concerned. We can be prayerful, but we can’t be afraid. It drives a deeper wedge. They know you’re afraid, and they either feed off of that or they can’t stand that. So, what do you do? You look for those moments of engagement. You admit that you’re afraid. You might say, “Hey, you know what? I was talking to you earlier and got really ramped up. It was because I was afraid.” Your child says, “Why? What were you afraid of?” You respond, “I feel like I’m losing you. Then I freaked out, and I got really controlling, but I only made it worse.” They’re not going to argue with that. It’s going to be a mic drop moment. They may just look at you thinking You have self-awareness. I did not know that was possible.
Let’s talk about autonomy? Teens are striving for autonomy. They may be thinking You won’t let me go. Why won’t you let me grow up. You’re smothering me or you’re judging me because I’m not like you, and I want to be different. I want to be me. They begin to get resentful. They begin to ridicule. You notice that they start nitpicking little things all the time about you. They’re trying to tell you that they don’t want to be like that or they may make fun of something because they’re trying to figure out who they are. They’re just pushing against as part of their way of getting autonomy, and we have to be careful. Look at Romans 2:1 where it says that you judge them for the very same things you do. Sometimes the very ones we have the hardest time with are the most like us.
“You have room to talk. You do the same thing.” Ever had your kids say that. Teens aren’t just feeling You don’t get me, but they’re feeling this perceived hypocrisy in the home. When a kid becomes a teenager, they act like they have a God-given right to point out every flaw you have and to prove to you that you’re an idiot. That’s difficult because we’re not used to being disrespected like that, especially by our kids, so it can get us going. You can get pretty ticked. You want to talk about anger and then you’re the angry one. I’ve had to walk away a few times in the last couple of years to calm down. You cannot do whatever you think you should do right now in the heat of the moment. It’s been really wise a few times to just walk away. Maybe we’ve yelled at our kids. Maybe we’ve said, “Oh, yeah, you think you can do this?” or “You want some of this?” And our kids are thinking Whoa! I’m the one that’s supposed to be out of control here.
Do you remember Speedy Gonzales? He was the mouse who would get all the cats fighting and then back away while he watched and laughed. Kids do that, and they get you crazy sometimes. Is there hypocrisy? Is there something we need to see? Is there a way that we’re judging them for the very same things we struggle with? In a way they’re saying Why don’t you get off my back, and start worrying about your own problem, especially if there’s fighting in the home and marital conflict, or maybe you’ve got a stronghold area in your life and your kids are thinking Why are you on me? They’re thinking, What a hypocrite! You have room to talk! The truth is that most of the time it’s because we just want better for our kids. We don’t think we’re better than our kids. We just want better for our kids, and the problem is sometimes we do think we’re better, and we have to repent of that. But we need to be careful if we want better for our kids, wanting them to be this Christian 2.0 version of us who don’t make any of the same mistakes.
Truthfully, my kids have not done half of the stupid stuff that I did as a kid, but I’m not going to tell them all that I did. I’m not going to judge them for what they’re doing. I can’t have a condemning or judging heart towards my kids. I can lovingly warn them. I can give them consequences when they’re foolish, but I can’t judge them. If they sense you are judging or condemning them, their hearts will harden. That might have worked at three or four or five even six, but it doesn’t work at sixteen. They want to know why. It doesn’t work to tell them that they don’t need to know why and to just go do it. Yeah, they actually do need to know why. Telling kids “I told you so” out of frustration or just to shut the kid down is going to blow up in your face eventually. Maybe we need to admit, “Hey, I’m struggling too.” Maybe we need to ask them to pray for us. I’ve walked away upset and come back in the room and said, “You know what’s more important than me being right or correcting your behavior? Admitting that I need you to pray for me. I just about lost it. I made this all about one-upping you instead of just trying to speak into what’s really going on and trying to understand. And I just need you to pray for me, and I need you to forgive me.” That goes a long way with a teenager, especially if they believe you.
We want to target their heart not their behavior. You’re going to correct behavior sometimes. You’re going to have radical amputation of sin areas. You’re going to parent biblically to keep them from the worst things, but if you don’t go after their heart, there will be no lasting change. With the grace that comes from remembering where we’ve come from and with the transparency that comes from being able to say that I know I am worse than you. I’ve had more practice sinning than you. I’m a bigger sinner than any of my kids by far, so there’s no room to judge or condemn, and there’s plenty of room for grace and to be transparent when I screw up. These are the kinds of things that settle anger down and enable kids to start to realize that there’s another way to go at this.
Rejection is the big fear of affiliation. Being smothered or not allowed to become your own person is the big fear of autonomy. What’s the fear associated with identity? I think there could be a few. I’m afraid you just want me to be like you. You just want me to be a clone or somebody I’m not. I’m artistic and love books, and you’ve been pushing me into sports or I’m totally into music, and you’re trying to make me a doctor or I’m a doubter trying to understand God, and you’re trying to make me an apologist extraordinaire. Do you even see me? Do you even have any idea who I am because I’m still trying to figure out who I am. But you seem to already have foreclosed on an identity that I don’t even like. This gets a kid mad. You know what happens really, though? They get progressively more callous. The anger is more like an impenetrable wall than it is a huge rebellion. We need to help them understand who God says they are. We may say to them, “I don’t know what God is doing with you or how God is going to fully express himself through you, but I can’t wait to see!” That’s what I tell my kids because I do not have a clue. They are very strange, as am I and my wife. We’re all wonderfully strange!
I’m trying to figure out colleges right now, and my daughter says, “I just can’t figure out a major.” I told her that I changed mine three times by the time I was a junior, so I’m not sweating it. She goes, “That doesn’t help!” Responding “I know, but it will help you later” is better than me saying “Here’s what I think you should do honey” because that wouldn’t go well either. Two nights ago, we’re both working on applications, and she says, “I am freaking out!”
And I said, “Me too!” She’s looking at me like Why do you do that? Because I have no idea what to tell you! Even when you visit the college, they want to know what major you’re declaring. I have no idea! In reality, I have like three majors I wish she would check. I have them all figured out. And I know they’d probably be the best things for her. But if I do that, it’s over. Here’s how you hint. She is amazingly gifted at expressing herself in writing. She has an ability to express herself that is spiritually rich and really beautiful. So, I might say, “Did you write this?”
She says, “Dad, you know I wrote it.”
“I know, but I’m not the only person in the world who could assess somebody’s writing skills or someone being an author. You bring beauty to words. I don’t know what you’re going to do with that, babe, but you can’t waste this God-given gift.”
She says, “What do you think? Is that like creative writing or journalism? Because I’m trying to figure this stuff out.”
I say, “I don’t know.” Of course, I’m thinking she’d probably be better at creative writing than journalism because there’s a different level of creativity. I’m thinking all that, but I’m waiting for her to ask me while I tease her with some affirmation like I see God in the way you do this.
The “I don’t care kid” is really saying “I don’t really know who I am. You seem to be a little too excited about who you think I’m going to be. We’re in church whenever the doors are open. You make me go to youth group. I’m going to Christian school, and I don’t even really know if I like Christ anymore. I’m so inundated.” In other words, they say, “I don’t even know who He is because I’m swimming in the water like a fish, but I don’t know I’m in water anymore because it’s everywhere,” and they become really lukewarm. Have you ever noticed that when there’s that much going on around them, they can really lose the passion? Maybe they’re one of those rare people that was born a Christian. I’ve heard that in people’s life stories and I’m thinking No, you weren’t. You were born into sin, and you were either born again or you weren’t. So, when were you born again? When was your day of repentance, not when did you ask Jesus into your heart? This is how I would go after that in counseling, but you know how sometimes teenagers get so much Christianity thrown at them that they become almost inoculated against the gospel. It’s kind of scary, and that’s why you have to shake them up.
I’m sending my sophomore to Nicaragua in a few weeks, and he doesn’t want to go. He has sports games to watch, and he has things to do with his friends, and I’m sending him anyway. You might say, “Didn’t you just say to be really compassionate and draw people out?” Yes, except when you know that this is a shake-up time. It’s time to go and get a taste of what Jesus looks like in a foreign country where they’re completely out of their element, and they start to see these other kids getting excited for Christ in a way that makes them wonder What’s he got that I don’t have, and how did he get that? Shaking them up, doesn’t mean telling them, “You need to do your quiet time. You got to get this much time in, and here’s the Bible. And here’s the verse to live on this week.” By the way, none of that’s wrong, but if they’re getting more and more callous, you probably need to take them on a crazy mission trip, where there’s such abject poverty and so much joy in the Lord that they’re thinking, What’s that? Because that’s not what I have. That’s Christianity. Whatever you were doing in the Christian school wasn’t the heart of the gospel. Shake it up if you have to.
What is your identity wrapped up in? That’s another question. If your kids are struggling, and they don’t care, maybe it’s because they don’t think you really care. You might say, “I serve as a deacon in the church, and I do this, and I do that.” Yeah, but where is your identity? Is your identity and your role in your status? Is it in money? Is it in your kids being perfect? None of that is going to get them anywhere. And if you’re over-spiritualizing your kids out of guilt or fear, you’re going to make that worse. How about we just tell them that we’re prone to wander, and to ask for their forgiveness if we’ve not been at the heart of the Gospel, or if it’s gotten lukewarm in our home.
Deescalating an Angry Teen
It’s gotten hot; it’s flesh against flesh. It’s the control battle of the century, and you’re thinking this is not good. What were those things Garrett said about deescalation? I need them now. First, you have to avoid the control battles because they will win. They have nothing to lose. Do you know how much energy your teenager will spend trying to win the fight compared to you? You’ve got to cook dinner. You’ve got to go to work the next day. You’ve got to do something that’s sane in the next three hours. They will stay on it, and they will win at all costs, and you are foolish to enter in that ground at all. And you can’t take their anger personally. Who are they really angry at? Maybe themselves, maybe some kid at school. Maybe the world for being unfair. Look at a teenager’s journal. You’ll see all kinds of reasons they’re angry. They’re angry for a hundred reasons, and you may only be one of them. If you put yourself in the center because they’re taking it out on you, you’re personalizing it. Look at Proverbs 19:11 sometime. That’s a great verse to warn us against that.
Second, listen to understand, and ask questions that don’t assume. Proverbs18:13 is great for that. It’s a warning to all counselors for sure, but also for parents and anybody really listening to somebody else. Don’t speak before you understand and be found a fool. It’s quite an art to listen to understand. Most of us listen to respond. I’m listening, and I’m already coming up with the answer. I’m coming up with a great answer. I’m coming up with the perfect Bible verse before you’ve even finished your sentence. But I may not even understand what you were trying to say or what you’re getting at or I may cut you off or come back so fast with what seems to be a canned response that you don’t know if I even care about you. Say something like, “What if I asked you five more questions about what you said to see if I really get it on all dimensions, and then I prayed with you?” That might change things up. Listen, understand, and when you do ask, ask honest, humble questions. For example, “So I saw you were with Susie. What were you doing?” Okay, right there. Tone.
“Oh great! Mom, you just jumped to conclusions.” “Dad, you just don’t trust me. Why are you asking like that?”
“What? I just asked you what you were doing.” Then we act like we don’t know that we were judgmental in our tone. We’re just playing the same game.
Then they say, “Oh, you want to play that game? Okay, I’ll up the ante.” And they will. Be curious. Act like you really don’t know because sometimes you don’t, and even if you do, think the best. Be a martial artist or you may become a punching bag. What’s the difference between a martial artist and a boxer? A martial artist will take all the resistance or all the weight and pass it to the other side. In your case as a parent or a counselor with teens, you want to take all the anger, all the resistance, and pass it right over the Cross. “Hey, hey, hey. I know you’re really mad. And it seems like you’re mad at me, but I don’t think that’s all of it. Listen. I don’t know what’s going on with you and the Lord, but I think you need to talk to Him about how upset you are right now. I’m happy to take some of it if there’s something I need to see about myself, but I also think there’s something else going on here. I can’t begin to know what it is. But I know God does, and I think you need to go to him.” So, you’re passing the resistance, passing the hurt, not passing the accountability of your own part in it, but all the other parts over to the Cross versus just taking it or giving it back.
James 3:13-18 talks about wisdom from above. I would encourage you to look at that. When it does get hot, avoid the control battle. Take a reset time. “Time out. Time out. This isn’t going anywhere good. I love you way too much for us to be talking to each other like this. I need a break.”
“No! I think we should finish this!”
“You know what? You’re really, really upset. I’m getting there. I’ve got to step away. I need to go pray.” Sometimes they will try to follow you in the next room. Just get on your knees.
“I can’t stand it when you pray like that.”
“I’ll be done in a minute.” Proverbs 10:19 would be a good verse to look at related to that.
Finally, confess your sin and ask forgiveness first. If there’s anything you’ve done, if you’ve been judgmental or condemning or assuming or presuming, whatever they are sensing that’s only making it worse, own it, confess it, and do it before they do. “Hey, you know what? I was pretty upset with you with what you did to your sister, and I get pretty discouraged sometimes because I think you guys could have a great relationship, and I just hate watching this. You’re supposed to be her role model. But I got so upset, and I sinned against you. And I ended up being a poor example to you. I’m upset about the way you were treating your sister. So, I think I’m the one that needs to ask for your forgiveness right now.
That leads me to the last point: The power of humility. Nothing melts the heart of an angry teenager like a truly humble parent. Humble is not being self-deprecating. It’s not having much thought of yourself at all. It’s being self-forgetful and not easily offended. It’s being not embarrassed by your kids because you’re not trying to put on a show for everybody else. You might be disappointed in them. You might be grieved by something, but you’re not embarrassed. Fear of man is out the window when you’re humble. You won’t engage in a control battle when you’re humble because you don’t want that offense towards them either. The more you’re like Christ as a parent, the more it’ll force the issue to be between them and God. Ultimately, isn’t that where all anger lands, at the foot of the cross?
Let me give you, as we’re closing, three little role play examples of this. Remember the teen that says you don’t get me? They’re angry and misunderstood. What if you as a parent said or you counseled the parent to say something like this? “You know what? You’re right. I don’t get you, but I want to. I love you, and I’m for you. But I have no idea what it’s like to be you. And I don’t even really understand what you’re going through, and it’s killing me because I don’t get it. I don’t even know how to help you. I may never really fully understand you, but I can listen, and I can support you, and I can pray for you, and I know that counts for something. I know this, though, the Lord gets you. And he’s been tempted in every way. And he’s waiting for you. If you would give it a chance, I believe if I ask God to help us understand each other, I think he would grant that prayer.”
What about the “You don’t have room to talk” teen? He’s angry, feeling judged, and feeling like you’re treating him in a way that’s hypocritical. Well, how about this? Imagine him saying to you, “You don’t have any room to talk.” Remembering that gentle words turn away wrath, what if you said something like this? “You’re right. I’m struggling, too. I’m not better than you. Matter of fact, if I’m totally honest, I’ve done worse than you, but I want better for you. Forgive me. I have no reason to sound judgmental toward you. It’s my fear. I’m afraid you’re going to do something or I’m going to do something, and you’re going to rebel and make it worse. You have so much pressure going on in your world right now. I’m trying so hard to control and protect you, but it’s not working, and my attitude probably seems condemning and judgmental. I need to ask your forgiveness. I’ve received God’s grace when I deserve judgment, and I’ve treated you like I’m the judge. Will you give me another chance?”
Then there’s the angry and confused teen that says he doesn’t care. “Why should you care?” If everybody around you is telling you how to think and how to feel and how to act, why should you care? You don’t have to feel anything, do you? I know you need room to figure things out, and I haven’t given you that much room. I know that God made you uniquely, and there’s a way that you want to learn to express yourself. And no one else can tell you what that is. Forgive me if I’ve been making it feel like a guilt trip because you’re not turning out the way I want you to. It may be a while, but I want you to know that I do care about you, and maybe you could give us a chance. But this I do know. God cares. And the last thing you would want to do is grow cold towards Him. And if I’ve done anything to make it seem like God’s not approachable, that God’s not loving or caring, I am so sorry. You can have a problem with the church. You can have a problem with organized religion. You can have a problem with most Christians, and you can even have a problem with me, but don’t have a problem with Jesus. He died for you. He loves you. He will listen to you. He will bear up under. He won’t judge, not the way I have anyway. He laid down His life for both of us, and I hope that you won’t just shut out the truth of the Gospel.
I was looking at Jude 17-23 the other day in my devotions, and I thought it was a good call to us as parents and people who counsel parents. It’s a call to persevere, and it says, “But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. They said to you, ‘In the last time, there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.’ It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit. But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.” Interesting! Mercy and hate in the same context, right? Hating the garment stained by the flesh, but having mercy on the person struggling.”Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.” That warning and call to persevere in these times with our kids is very much from the Lord, and the doxology is a reminder that God’s not going to allow you to stumble. If you bring Christ into the conversation with your teens in very loving and heartfelt ways in a humble and contrite spirit, and try to influence them but not control them out of fear, I believe that you will help many parents. You will help your own family. You will help your kids know something’s different. I may still have some of these feelings. I may still get angry, but my parents aren’t going to respond in the flesh, and they’re going to take time to try to understand me, and they’re creating an alternate reality for me that says it doesn’t have to be like this. And the Gospel is real, and God does matter, and He is enough for us.
I would just encourage you whether you’re counseling teens or working with parents to look at a couple books as resources. One of the books is Get Outta my Face!: How to reach Angry, Unmotivated Teens with Biblical Counsel by Rick Horne. Another book I’ve really appreciated is David Powlison: Good and Angry: Redeeming Anger, Irritation, Complaining, and Bitterness. It is excellent. Finally, probably the best book on parenting that I’ve read in a long time is 14 Gospel Principles That Can Radically Change Your Family by Paul David Tripp. Paul would say to forget any other parenting stuff. I did read this, and I would really encourage you to read it and give it as homework to parents as well. Fourteen gospel principles that will radically change the atmosphere of the home in many cases.