One day, your teen is a kind, engaged member of the family. The next, they’re disrespectful and rebellious. What happened? Your teen is not the same adorable infant you brought home from the hospital, the same cheerful kid you played with, and your teen will not be the same in the future. They will change. The question is: How should you respond? In this article, I’ll share what parents can do if their teen is turning into someone they don’t like.
Responding to a Teen’s New Lows
Many parents struggle to hold onto a relationship with their teen when the child they delighted in starts making poor choices. When your teen reaches new lows in disobedience, dishonesty, and disrespect, they need a responsible, loving adult to respond—not react. Remind yourself that your teen is morphing into an adult and the most important thing you can do is stay connected, or else you’ll lose your opportunity to influence the person they are becoming.
Find areas of common interest and build on that foundation. Offer the hope of a better relationship and the opportunity to work it out together by asking your teen: “What do you think we need do to have a relationship now and five years from now?” But, be prepared to hear from your teen what they don’t like about YOU!
When your teen is pushing all your buttons, as difficult as it may seem, it’s time to move closer. Set aside time to talk and let your teen know you’re struggling—without blaming him. Remain the mature parent, even when everything inside of you wants to yell, give up, and walk away. It’s called grace. Recognize that responding well to your teen in a moment of crisis can open up avenues of communication and strengthen your relationship in the long run.
Start with a “Truth and Consequences” Message
You can’t ignore inappropriate behavior, but things go much better if you don’t have a knee-jerk reaction. Reacting means you’re emotional, angry, hurt, judgmental, and often harsh with your teen. But responding to your teen means offering calmness, honesty, love, grace, and support. Offer your teen a “truth and consequences” message.
For example, tell your teen: “I will no longer stand by and watch you destroy yourself. We’re going to address what’s going on, get some help, and get through this together.” Make it clear that negative behavior will no longer be tolerated. Let your child know that if it doesn’t stop, he will not be able to live in your home. Perhaps the threat of losing the comfort of home will help your child to pay attention. And if you mention programs such as boot camp, boarding school, or Heartlight to your teen, then you must be able to follow through when your teen calls your bluff!
What If They Don’t Change?
Don’t expect your teens to like the fact that you are calling a halt on their behavior. In fact, things may get worse before they get better. You need to be in the relationship for the long haul. Stay calm and focused on what you want for your teen. Continue to communicate your love even when it’s difficult, because teens deeply fear rejection. Make sure your love isn’t attached to your teen’s behavior. Withholding love should never be an option. Be clear that it is out of love that you will enforce the rules and allow your teen to feel the consequences.
In Romans 5:8, the Bible reminds us that “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” You know, most of us didn’t become mature, responsible adults over night. Change takes time. Commit to loving your son or daughter all the way through the process. Follow through and be consistent; otherwise, you will just add to the confusion and frustration. And remember, even if things feel hopeless, keep going. Doing nothing is not an option for a caring parent. Engage. Engage. Engage. Just like God does for us.
Hey moms and dads … If you feel like your relationship with your teen has become distant, it’s likely a slow drift that began long before you realized it was happening. And if this is true, it’s going to take a little time and effort to get that drifter to come home. Let me encourage you to reflect on how you can make your home a place of rest and a haven of blessing, so that your teen will want to reengage and deepen their relationship with you. Hey, it won’t happen overnight. But in time, your efforts to correct the confusion they have felt will be seen as an olive branch toward healing a relationship that has a lifetime of value. Keep moving toward them, offering them a relationship, and giving them rest—just like your Heavenly Father constantly does with you.