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In the last article, I talked about several things that parents can do to help their children change. Now it’s time to bring some insight to the rebellious teen. There is excellent news here for anyone, not just the frustrated teenager. These truths are transcendent and transformative because they are sourced in the power of the gospel that can change anyone, despite your shaping influences or circumstances.
What you don’t want to do is fall into the common trap that tends to ensnare too many teenagers who did not get what they wanted from their parents. I’m going to mention a few of those snares with the hope that these words will make their way into the hearts of a few struggling teenagers.
Initially, it will be hard to listen because the hurt is so significant. I think back to when I was an angry, victimized teenager who was living out rebellion. My anger was real, but there was also another story; I was hurting, and I wanted someone to help me. If you are a struggling teenager, you have that help here. You can let down your guard; we are here for you.
People can bounce from one extreme to the other when thinking about being a victim. The truth is that everyone is a victim to some degree. To say that you have never experienced disappointment or hurt from someone is either dishonest, over-spiritualization, or a person who is out-of-touch with reality.
There is a reason we call this world a fallen one. Everyone is imperfect, and the outcome is that we hurt people. You want to make sure that you don’t swing too far in either direction. If you play the victim card too vigorously, you will manipulate others, which you may do unwittingly in the beginning, but you could come to enjoy that kind of power.
You also don’t want to pretend that everything is okay. It’s not. Other people have hurt you. Don’t react to your hurts by playing the victim, and you shouldn’t ignore the truth as though it does not matter. The “tough guy approach” is merely a facade that reveals a hurting little person inside of you.
The more you talk about what happened to you in humble ways, the more you’ll realize how normal you are. I’m not downgrading your pain but saying that everyone has had a similar experience. There are different severities, but conceptually speaking, we all have experienced many disappointments within relationship structures.
It not unusual for a teenager to think that they are different from everyone else, which will create a sense of insecurity. Feelings of fear, inferiority, shame, and guilt will crop up, hoping to establish strongholds in your mind. When this happens, you will want to overcompensate by creating another version of yourself for public display.
It’s hard enough to live one life, but when you create a public persona that is drastically different from the “hidden person of the heart,” you will bury yourself under the weight of this added pressure. Eventually, you’ll start looking for escapes to “give yourself a break” from carrying the weight of a double life.
Humility is the secret sauce that will put you on an entirely different course. The obstacle to becoming a humble soul is an angry attitude that a person fills with entitlement. When you mix legitimate hurt with anger, you’re feel entitled, which obliterates any possibility for humility to take root in the heart.
James 4:6 is the classic verse about the differences between pride and humility. As hard as it is to lower your guard and humble yourself about what has happened to you, it’s a far better choice than holding onto your anger. Ultimately, the battle in your soul is between you and the Lord. He is asking to be the authority in your life.
In human warfare, we can become so horizontally fixated on what is happening that we forget the vertical battle. God is sovereign, and what has happened in your life did not come to pass without His permittance and oversight. Perhaps this angers you, which only speaks to your thoughts about the Lord. If God’s sovereign rule over you does not humble you, maybe you want to make that problem your starting place to work through your issues.
As you ponder your relationship with God and how He’s working in your life, you want to consider your habits. The change process is comprehensive; it’s an inside-to-outside operation. Simultaneous to asking the Lord to change you internally, examine what you’re doing habitually. What are some of the things in your life that do not help you to mature in Christ?
The temptation for many teens is to isolate themselves behind the walls of videos, gaming, and social media. If these things are temptations for you, start the process of limiting the control that they have over you. I’m not saying those things are evil or sinful, but if they keep you from maturing, then they are wrong to you.
You want to consider the replacement principle: everything you take out of your life, you want to replace it with something better. You can think of it as the difference between being self-centered and others-centered. E.g., instead of spending hours on YouTube, find someone you can serve.
You’re changing your heart, your habits, and now you want to look at your friends. Do they spur you on to love and good deeds? Read Hebrews 10:24-25. We surround ourselves with things we like, and those things influence us. Bad companions will corrupt you (1 Corinthians 15:33). In what ways do your friends affect you?
After I got out of jail at fifteen years old, I walked away from all my bad friends. They were not good friends; they supplied me with alcohol, drugs, and other things that were taking me down. I made a decision that was not hard. I weighed where I was and where I was heading and decided that it was enough. I was not going to walk down that road with those friends any longer.
If the Lord gives you this kind of clarity, don’t refuse it. Walking away from bad influences is not hard if the result of those relationships is more painful than leaving them. Time in jail was harder on me than moving on from my past activities and associations. I’ve never regretted that decision. You won’t either.
Most everyone senses a purpose in their lives. We believe that there is something more to life than sleeping, eating, working, and sleeping again. We feel eternity in our souls, as though God created us for something bigger than the mundane. Sadly, the fallenness that encompasses us tempts us to lose that transcendent focus. We dial in on the distractions and disappointments and never reorient to the higher call for living on this sublunary soil.
I lived in that duality of disappointment and lack of vision, and it took decades for me to gain focus. You don’t have to be like me. Do you believe there is a purpose for your life? What is it? Do you know? Perhaps not, but what you don’t want to do is keep fixating on how bad things are while never swiveling your gaze to a grander plan.
What may surprise you is how today’s challenges and heartbreaks are the steps that will take you to where you want to go. I’m not giving you one of those impassioned, inspirational speeches with a sales pitch attached to the end of it. I’m telling you that if you want to contribute something of value to this world, there is only one way: you must crawl over mountains. You’re standing in front of a mountain of disappointment. How you react to it will set the pattern for all your future ones, and there will be plenty more.
One final thought. I put this one at the end: you’re very much like your parents. I mentioned earlier that you’re normal, how everyone is a victim, and we’re all fallen. The all-inclusiveness of these statements includes you and your parents. You are like them, and they are like you. How does that strike you? Do you feel superior or inferior to them? Do you see them as different from you?
You are different in personality, habits, and preferences. I’m sure you can list a few other things, too. But you’re also the same when it comes to brokenness, fallenness, and making mistakes. Perhaps you see their sin as worse than yours. If you’re thinking from a “consequential perspective,” you may have a case. But I’m not talking about that.
All sin is the same as far as any wrongdoing putting Christ on the cross. What you don’t want to do is parse out your crimes against the Holy Spirit to the point where you feel superior to another depraved soul. If you have any good qualities, it’s because of the grace of God that is activated in your life, not because you’re more special than your parents. I’m talking about self-righteousness here, which is the one sin that will dislodge God’s power from your life.
God helps the broken, bankrupt, and needy. We’re all in need of His favor, which is why we talk about the level ground at the cross. You and your parents are in the same boat. Perhaps the place you want to begin is here: ask God to break your heart in another way—for your parents. Once the hatred, anger, vitriol, bitterness, and unforgiveness start to seep out of your soul, you’re on your way to getting what you want.
I have questions for you about each of my points. Will you take the time to answer them? Perhaps you may find it helpful to have someone more mature than you are, someone that you respect, with whom you can share your responses. If you don’t have anyone like that in your life, I would love for you to come to us.
Rick launched the Life Over Coffee global training network in 2008 to bring hope and help for you and others by creating resources that spark conversations for transformation. His primary responsibilities are resource creation and leadership development, which he does through speaking, writing, podcasting, and educating.
In 1990 he earned a BA in Theology and, in 1991, a BS in Education. In 1993, he received his ordination into Christian ministry, and in 2000 he graduated with an MA in Counseling from The Master’s University. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).