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Before I get into my “seven things,” I want to share a few thoughts about where your child is and why he thinks the way that he does. A teen is transitioning from being a child to becoming an adult. Their future is scary and undetermined. It’s the fear of the new and unknown. He cannot know what he cannot know, which makes him dependent on others to help him navigate the weird waters of becoming an adult.
An ironic twist is that he does not want you to think he’s as dependent as he actually is. Thus, to add to the complexity, he may act coy, distant, or aloof, which is nothing more than a protective facade to keep from exposure. It’s hard for a proud teen to say they need someone. Perhaps you can relate to his wrestling with humility.
He feels the tension of the transition from dependency on others to living independently from those who have provided for him. Externally, he may “play it cool,” but internally, he’s afraid. He longs for friendship, security, and love. What he does not want is for someone to hurt him. Because of this, you may sense a defensive posture as he attempts to hide his vulnerabilities.
It’s important to remember that your teen is no different from you. Being a teenager does not make him unique as far as the human condition is concerned. He’s normal. He’s a relational being looking for relationships he can trust. At times, those relationships may not be suitable for him. His desire for a trusting relationship does not mean that he will use wisdom or discernment when securing those relationships (1 Corinthians 15:33).
Whoever he chooses to hang with will be a reflection of who he is. Your teen will not choose relationships that they do not feel comfortable with forming. Our relationships are an extension of who we are as people. Some parents have a hard time accepting this reality about their kids. The temptation is to blame their child’s companions as though their child had no say in who they chose to befriend.
Kind seeks kind to hang with, and if your child is socializing with a “bad kind,” it speaks to his sinful heart (Luke 6:45). If you want your child to receive help and you’re going to work with him, one of the first things you will have to do is accept the genuine condition of his heart.
There is a ranking system in your child’s relationships. Here are a few of those choices. Your teen will choose his friend list, beginning with the best option while moving toward the worst possible options. As you review this list, rank your child’s friend list from closest to most distant. What does the ranking tell you about your child?
This list represents the most common relationships a teen will have. The best-case scenario is for the teen to reach out to his parents to help him navigate through the teen years. The worst-case scenario is the opposite sex. You need to know that how you have built a relationship with your teen up to this point determines how you will relate now.
By the time your child becomes a teen, the prior relationship you had with him will probably not change anytime soon. If the relationship was tense, aggravated, or distant with a parent, you can expect this attitude toward you until he’s an older adult. You need to know this because I don’t want to give you false hope about how he reacts to you.
Perhaps, based on what I’ve said thus far, you could talk to your teen, gaining his perspective on why he’s doing what he’s doing. Maybe the Lord would use those conversations to bring the changes you desire, and counseling would not be a necessary option now. But if that is not a possibility now, here are seven things you need to know before you bring him to counseling. Carefully read through these thoughts while asking the Lord to give you clarity about yourself and your child.
#1 – Does Not Want to Suffer
Your child does not want to suffer. Nobody wants to endure pain. Though he is making wrong decisions, this is not the direction he wants to go. You need to think about him the way you know yourself. He is just a younger version of you, which is a younger version of all of us. He wants a pain-free life, which means someone can help him because he wants his pain to end.
Because of his desire to appear strong and in control, his fear of exposure will tempt him to erect a defiance wall. A wise counselor will penetrate past this veneer. He is reachable. Probably, someone is already providing input into his life. My point is that he is not resistant to help. He is looking for a better life, though he may be confused or frustrated about finding it.
#2 – Bring Him to Counseling
Though he will be resistant to counseling, the best thing you can do is bring him regardless of his protestations. You are still the parent, and as long as he is living in your home, you must lead. It does not matter how resistant he is or how many times he assures you that he will not talk to the counselor. He will. They all do. I’ve never counseled a teen who did not want to talk. Some teens are more challenging and madder than others, but my point one still stands: he does not want to suffer.
It is common for people to talk to a third-party person quicker than speaking to those familiar with them—someone who knows all their failures. The counselor has no history with your child, which means there is no disappointment between them, which means there are open channels for conversation.
#3 – Not Three against One
Typically a teen will come to counseling thinking it is three against one—dad, mom, and a religious counselor. You should expect him to think this way. He may believe that you and the counselor have talked to set up a strategy. You may have, but that does not imply it’s three against one. One of the critical components of the gospel is how God is for us (Romans 8:31). A smart counselor will know this and will work hard to convey that message to your teen.
Counselors do not choose sides. Truthfully, there are no sides; we are all on the same team, hopefully working toward the same goal (1 Corinthians 10:31). The counselor’s goal will be to pursue truth—whatever the truth is. Initially, the counselor will have to dismantle the teen’s thinking by letting him know he’s “for him.” Once he believes this, he will be more than willing to talk.
#4 – You Must Change Too
As you probably know, you will need to make some changes, too. Teen counseling and the accompanying problems cannot center on the child exclusively. Whatever he may be, he did not get to where he is all by himself. He had help, and you, the parents, have been the primary shaping influences in his life. Prepare your hearts to address areas in your marriage and parenting that have impacted your child.
Though his poor decisions and defiance are on him, and he has to own his sin, you will have to own yours. Your desire to change will have a significant impact on how your child moves forward. Whatever it is you want your child to be, you must be a respectable image of it. At the heart of the gospel message is imitating Christ. See Ephesians 5:1, 1 Corinthians 11:1, and Philippians 4:9. Let him be impressed by your Christlike example.
#5 – He Will Not Change (Today)
Do not expect your child to change during counseling. The counseling season is rarely the solution. He will come to counseling, and he will talk about all kinds of things, but he probably will not change. Do not place your hope in counseling. You will find help, gain wisdom, and take a new direction, but your son likely will not transform. Sanctification is progressive. Repentance is a lifelong process.
You and he will need a community (1 Corinthians 15:33). Though bad companions corrupt good morals, we know that good companions will help to develop and maintain the right kind of life for him. If you want your child to change, you will have to think through who will be his “good companions” for the immediate and long-term future. Your counselor should be willing to walk with you, but you will need a lot more help than he can offer.
#6 – Lost in the Micro
I was in jail when I was fifteen years old. Read that sentence again. You need to know this. Let me repeat: I was in jail when I was fifteen years old. I was a lost child in a hopeless family with no desirable future to pursue. No matter how bad things seem with your child, you must have “faith for the process.” He may not be doing what you prefer, but all is not lost. Whatever is going on in his life today is not outside of God’s grace.
The Lord can change him. Regardless of how you have failed, there is hope. You may have to endure some disappointing seasons from your child, but God is greater than his shenanigans. Do not lose hope. Please bring your child to counseling and let the counselor dialogue with him. He will talk, and the counselor will listen. He will ask him a lot of questions. Prepare your heart for what he may say but don’t get lost in the micro of what’s happening today.
#7 – Future Plans
The counselor will seek to find out where he is coming from, regardless of how he paints it. The goal will be to get inside his head, win his respect, and guide him toward right living. Afterward, the counselor will need to meet with you within a few days after meeting with your teen. At that time, he will give you a comprehensive plan of what you will need to do to move forward.
Part of that plan will be for you to make the necessary changes in your life, particularly how you relate to each other in your marriage and how you both relate to your child. Another part of that plan will be about your local church. You will need a community of care to come alongside you, with everyone working together for your child’s good. In the context of community, great things can happen. Be prepared to be amazed by God’s grace.
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).