By: Scott O'Malley
July 2nd, 2021
One of the great challenges of parenting is watching our kids grow up and begin to think for themselves and make choices with which we do not approve. When kids are young, parents basically make every decision for them. Parents decide what their kids eat, how much they eat, how they spend their time, and with whom. But, God never intended for this total control of a child’s life to last.
Proverbs 22:6 tells parents to train up their children in the way they should go. Genesis 2:24 says when a child grows up he will leave his father and mother. The clear implication of these verses, and many others, is that parents are to prepare their children to leave the home. It can be hard for parents to relinquish control of the children they love and still want to protect.
Parents are to prepare their children to leave the home.
But, it is helpful for parents to understand this description of the teen years: “While this is a period of instability, anxiety and vulnerability, it is also paradoxically a period when children are seeking to establish an independent persona. The teen wants to be his or her own person. While his need for direction has never been greater, he will resist overt attempts to corral him” (Tedd Tripp, Shepherding a Child’s Heart pg. 186).
This quote captures the essence of the struggle between teens and the parents I counsel on a regular basis. Teenagers are struggling to be their own person and parents look on in fear when they see their kids not making the wisest choices. A frequent mistake parents make in this situation is they begin to clamp down with restrictions while teens become resistant to such correction. The result is a battle for control.
When that battle escalates, parents seek counseling. In these types of situations, as a counselor I will certainly address the teen’s problematic behavior. But, I also try to help parents recognize their changing role in the life of their teenager by accepting the reality that they must not continue to parent their teenagers as they did when they were younger.
Foundation #11 – Parents must adapt and resist the temptation to control their older children.
The overarching message I give in situations where parents and teens are struggling for control is for parents to see their need to transition from seeking to control their teen to influencing them. A teenager has a lot more responsibilities and freedom than when they were younger. In addition to school work, the teen often has a job, a driver’s license, and extra-curricular activities. Parents often need to be persuaded that a change in their thinking about parenting is needed just as much as a change in the teen’s behavior.
The overarching message I give in situations where parents and teens are struggling for control is for parents to see their need to transition from seeking to control their teen to influencing them.
Even when parents embrace their need to change, they often still have practical questions about if and when consequences should be used. I urge parents to view their role in this stage of their teenager’s life as influence, influence, influence, but if she refuses their influence on numerous occasions then they can use consequences as a tool to get her attention. Here are four recommendations for issuing consequences to teens:
1. Don’t consequence for every unwanted behavior.
Issuing a consequence for every bad behavior would be overwhelming for a teenager. Having conversations that help a teen examine his or her heart and help apply the gospel to those struggles is generally far more effective than a consequence (for additional help here see articles #5 and #6). In addition, aren’t we glad God doesn’t issue negative consequences to us every time we sin?
2. When you do choose to issue a consequence, keep the restriction short. While there can be exceptions, I usually recommend a day or two at most.
Lengthy consequences can be exasperating (Ephesians 6:4) and can cause teenagers to resent their parents. This causes the relationship to suffer. Teenagers desperately need their parents help, and lengthy consequences usually cuts them off from the best help available because child and parents are not speaking to one another.
3. The consequence should be related to the unwanted behavior; with natural consequences being the best.
Taking away a computer or radio because a teenager is late coming home does not make any sense to the teenager and comes across as vindictive. On the other hand, not providing a teenager gas money to drive to his friends when he is broke because he quit his job is very logical. In that situation a parent is teaching the biblical principle of reaping what you sow (Galatians 6:7-8).
4. Continue to engage the teen relationally, even in the midst of the consequence.
This is a hugely importantly principle because it is dangerous for a teen to isolate himself or herself from parents. Proverbs 18:1 says, “Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment.” In addition, parents are not modeling the grace of God when they withdraw relationally over a child’s sin. God’s disposition towards His children in sin is found in Psalm 103:8-10 – “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities.”
The use of consequences should not be viewed as a substitute for influence, but a necessary tool that can lead to meaningful conversations and influence. Next week we will conclude our series on Foundations for Biblical Parenting by looking at a couple who eventually embraced influence over control with their daughter and were able to see wonderful fruit in her life as a result.
The use of consequences should not be viewed as a substitute for influence, but a necessary tool that can lead to meaningful conversations and influence.
For now, let me close with a few questions for you to reflect on this week.
Questions for Reflection
1. When parents are afraid, they often clamp down with a lot of restrictions. Spend some time praying and thinking about how well you are doing to avoid parenting out of fear?
2. Consider the teenagers and young adults in your home. Is there anything else you can be doing to help prepare them to leave the home some day in the future?
3. How are you doing at implementing the recommendations for issuing consequences to teens? What other recommendations would you add?