All children have moments or seasons when they struggle with obedience—just like their parents.
But some young people, particularly in their teenage years, become defiant and overtly disrespectful. Why?
There are many contributing reasons—including the freewill of every person to follow the Lord or to reject authority—but below are seven factors common when teenagers rebel. Regardless of what you may be doing right as a parent, if you are also doing any of these, you are undermining your own influence:
1. When they hear parents criticize authority—If every night you come home from work and talk about your boss in a way you never would to his face, if every Sunday lunch you talk about the mistakes the pastor is making, if you take sides with your child in criticizing his teachers or coaches, don’t be surprised when your child disrespects you. Hearing you disrespect authorities—no matter how justified it seems or how much your children agree with you—plants seeds of disrespect in their hearts.
2. When they see parents violating Scripture—None of us are perfect, but when your children see you flagrantly disobeying Scripture, they know you don’t really believe what you are teaching them, and you will lose their respect.
3. When they feel their parents do not love one another—The seeds of insecurity sown in a young person’s heart when she feels her parents don’t love each other run deep. If you have difficulties in your marriage, determine together that you are going to work through them. Ask for pastoral counseling. Get individual counseling if necessary. Get whatever help you need, but don’t give up on your marriage. No matter how many times you tell your children that it’s not their fault that you can’t get along with your spouse, they won’t believe you—not down deep.
4. When they are not disciplined for disobedience—When your son breaks the curfew you established, when your daughter continues to neglect her homework, when you learn your children have been hanging out with friends you told them to avoid…and there are no consequences, they learn not to respect what you say.
5. When they are rewarded materially in spite of bad behavior—A parent who thinks, “If I just keep giving stuff to my child, he’ll really love me” or “If I refuse to buy him what he asks for, we’ll lose our relationship,” is being lazy. The truth is, your teen will not love you more for what you buy him; he will enjoy what you buy, but he will lose respect for you when he knows you won’t ever tell him “no.”
6. When they are compensated materially by parents who pity them—Give your children gifts, yes. If your teenager, however, is always asking for money, but is unwilling to work or to budget and you keep giving her money, she loses respect for you. Giving freely to your kids because you are their parent is one thing; financially bailing them out repeatedly (even if the bailout is just avoiding missing an activity) is another. They will learn to see you as a financial source to manipulate, rather than a loving provider and teacher.
7. When they are allowed to participate in activities which they were told they would not enjoy unless they obeyed—Teenagers need you to hold firm boundaries. While there may be occasions for mercy, if you regularly go back on the conditions you established for your child to participate in events they enjoy, your child won’t respect you. Additionally, at that point, even the times you do hold the line become a further wedge in your relationship because the lack of consistency will make it feel like a personal attack. If you tell your teenager that there are conditions attached to participating in a particular event, hold to that.
The years of a child’s life that we most commonly associate with disrespect—teen years—are often not the beginning of the disrespect in their hearts. A six- or seven-year-old child usually feels more dependent on his parents than a sixteen- or seventeen-year-old and thus is less likely to show overt rebellion—even though the seeds of disrespect may be already growing in his heart. This is why it is vital to cultivate respect in your children’s hearts while they are young.
As you endeavor to teach your child respect, be careful that you are not undermining your words by your actions.
This post is an excerpt from lesson six of the curriculum Making Home Work in a Broken Society. The curriculum is based on the book by the same title and is structured to teach in a class or small group setting for thirteen weeks. Also available is a ministry download with student outlines and presentation slides. For more information or to order, visit makinghomework.com.