What to Keep In Mind When Your Teenager Sins

Teens Church

Recently I posted a couple quotes I really liked from Sticky Faith. One of the things I benefitted most from when I read the book was the section on responding when your child misbehaves. I wished I had read this years ago. The reality is – by God's grace – my daughters haven't gone through big, rebellious phases, but that doesn't mean there haven't been challenges along the way that commonly go along with raising any normal (that is, sinful) child. And frankly, I don't think I've handled some of those challenging times well. Let me try to explain.

We have always told our children that being a pastor's kid makes no difference when it comes to expectations. We don't have high expectations because they are pastor's kids; we have high expectations because we are Christ-followers. But the reality is – other people often DO have higher expectations because they are pastor's kids. And therefore, as parents we felt more pressure than I think we realized. It took me a long time to admit that I was projecting that expectation on my kids because of perceived or real pressure from others. (Not sure if that makes any sense or not.)

I was (and am) pretty convinced that all three of our girls wanted (and want) to please God, but they still made (and make) some poor choices along the way (as we all do). And I don't mean like sex, drugs, or alcohol. The poor choices were what we would now call "minor" issues (but it sure didn't feel like it at the time). 

In the book Sticky Faith - I felt they gave some great advice in these moments that I wished I would have heard years ago. Here are four suggestions (the book helped me with wording some of these):

  1. Default with compassion.

    When our kids go through rough spots, whether it is because of circumstances beyond their control or the choices they make, they do need unconditional love from us – even if it comes with some consequences. Regardless of the offense, whether getting a D or getting arrested, underneath the rhetoric and even outright outbursts, your child is not doing this to get at you. Even in the most egregious of situations, remember that they are, at the core, suffering, and they need you to care and love them. As Jesus cares for us in all we go through, so we too are dispensers of his grace.

  2. Don't panic. 

    There are very few issues you will face as parents that are irredeemable, even the biggies. Regardless of the circumstance, overly distraught or emotional, especially within earshot (or eyeshot) of your child, only heightens your child's sense of dread, fear, and shame. We can take Paul’s words seriously: "Don't be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 4:6-7).

  3. Take the long view.

    The ultimate hope that is in the long run, is that God's love and mercy (as displayed through us) will win them over. We may not see it or experience it exactly the way we want to for months, or even years, but trusting Christ means we believe that he is at work, bringing healing and redemption to the most hopeless of circumstances. Parenting is a marathon, but in Christ, as we trust him, we are offered the gift of hope.

  4. Use consequences for redemptive purposes not punishments.

    In none of the first three am I indicating that their misbehavior is not "serious". And I'm not saying it shouldn't result in consequences. It likely should. But any consequences should be used for redemptive purposes. Giving punishments to shame or embarrass won't win your child over. Consequences can be helpful, but be sure the goal of each consequence is to win their heart and to show them the error of their way and the long-term pain that comes with these choices. We often encourage parents to punish young children, but always give natural and logical consequences to teens. 

    One more thing – often the natural consequences of some behaviors are enough of a consequence (and perhaps no additional consequence is needed). If they gossip about friends, the natural consequence of losing friends and needing to go apologize are enough. No manufactured punishment is likely needed. But make sure consequences are about them and not about your pride as a parent. 

I would have been a better parent of my kids as teens if I would have followed these four points all of their teenage years. 

Parenting

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