Before we dive into which approaches a parent should focus on when their child rebels, we first need to look at what rebellion is. American culture teaches us that the word ‘rebellion’ or ‘rebel’ is tied only to teenagers and those with a ‘bad boy’ image such as bikers. Rebellion to the world looks much different than rebellion according to God. When our children rebel, the world says that “boys will be boys” and “she is just experimenting.” The world also tells us that rebellion is not a bad thing but more of a right of passage that only occurs in the teenage years, and something that will be outgrown. The world is wrong.
The fact of the matter is we are all rebels, not just our young children or teenagers, James Dean wannabes or any other current celebrities who defy the rules to suit their own fleshly desires. A popular movie in the ’80s was Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Admittedly that movie has given me some great laughs (and will continue to) but this movie also paints a great picture of rebellion. What is portrayed in this movie ultimately tells us that freedom comes through rebellion. When the main characters laughingly defy all rules that have been laid before them the parents are painted as clueless and aloof about who their kids really are. It casts all authority figures as villains and as a war to be fought and won. Not once in this movie did Ferris or any of the other characters show an ounce of remorse for defying the rules of authority, which is a place we all find ourselves when we dismiss God and what was accomplished for us on the cross.
Anyone who is a sinner is a rebel. Marah is the Hebrew word used in scripture to describe a rebel and it simply means to disobey and oppose someone, with pride as the primary motivation. It points directly to a rebellious attitude towards God; to defy a command given by God. Such as, when the Israelites rebelled against God and provoked Him to bring about wrath in the wilderness (Deuteronomy 9:7). Throughout scripture we see individuals, a nation (Numbers 20:24), and cities defy commands given by God. Zephaniah 3:1-2 gives us a vivid picture of what a rebellious spirit looks like: Woe to her who is rebellious and defiled, the oppressing city! She listens to no voice; she accepts no correction. She does not trust in the Lord; she does not draw near to her God.
We see this rebellion in Scripture and we see it in our children, but also in ourselves. So now what? Where is the hope? How do we escape this devastating rebellion? The hope we seek is waiting for us all at the foot of the cross. While correction and discipline need to occur with our children we must show them who Christ is and what was accomplished for us all during that indescribable display of grace on the cross.
Here are four approaches to help get you started in addressing a rebellious heart.
1. Own your sin first, it’s yours, you need to take responsibility for it and deal with it according to scripture (1John 1:8-10, Romans 3:23-24). While it’s easy enough to see the sin in our kids, we first ought to look at our own self and examine the sin that plagues us (Matthew 7:5). Once we have dealt with our self and confessed our own sin then, and only then, can we move forward in addressing the sin of our child as instructed in scripture (Proverbs 13:24, 23:13-14).
2. In addressing the sin of a rebellious child we need to first recognize what the sin is, not what we wish it to be, or only handle the easy part of the sin issue. No, we need to call it out for exactly what it is (Proverbs 22:15). We should not be timid in seeking gospel-centered counsel to help us (Proverbs 11:14, 15:22). Another important, yet difficult aspect to recognize is that your child may in fact not be a believer (1 John 2:3-4). Proceed with gospel-centered love and focus on evangelizing them but keep in mind that their sin still needs to be properly addressed. When we struggle with a rebellious child we need to be in constant prayer for them. As much as we would like to change our child’s rebellious heart we do not have that ability, only God does (Matthew 17:20-21, Mark 9:29).
3. Having a rebellious child in the home can create a great amount of tension and stress. If you are not united with your spouse and begin playing the blame game and pointing figures as to who is responsible for all of this–you then only add more coal to the already hot fire. Do whatever is necessary to guard your marriage and look out for the wellbeing of your other children as well. It is easy to neglect your marriage and other children when you must put forth a great amount of energy towards the rebellious one. Regular dates with your spouse and special time set aside for your other children is important. Let them know they are loved and are a priority in your life. It is easy to get sucked into the discord that is created by a rebellious child but that will only cultivate additional challenges.
4. When faced with a rebellious child sometimes the easiest path to take is turning a blind eye to our child’s sin and not disciplining them. However, that would not be in their best interest and is not what we are instructed by scripture to carry out. It is hard, and it is exhausting, but disciplining our children appropriately is oh so necessary. Sit down with your spouse and perhaps someone who can offer wise counsel and come up with a plan of discipline. You will need to be prepared to go into the depths of your child’s room and uncover whatever may be lurking in there. Regardless of your child’s age, privacy is a privilege and privileges are earned, not served up on a fancy dish. If your child would like to acquire privileges such as privacy, a cell phone, internet, TV, video games, their car, and the like then they will need to do the work to earn those privileges. In revoking privileges (Matthew 5:29-30) be sure to remove all bad influences from their life as well (Proverbs 13:20, 1 Corinthians 15:33) and lay out a clear plan of expectations of how they are to carry out daily life: church involvement, how to speak to parents, entertainment standards, clothing standards, contribution to the family, and participation with family activities.
Romans 5:6-8 shows us that Christ died for all of us as we are all sinners. His love for us is immeasurable, even in our sin. We need to present this gospel-centered love to our rebellious child (Matthew 5:44-45, 1 John 4:19). God loves this child just as much as he loves you. Our children need to not only know this but also know that we love them no matter what sins they have committed. Forgiveness can be challenging but we are to be ready to forgive (Ephesians 4:32) and be encouraged that God is working all of this for good (Romans 8:28). Do not give up on your rebellious child (Galatians 6:9-10).
In dealing with our own unconverted and rebellious child my husband and I were desperate for gospel-centered help. We reached out to Pastor Voddie Baucham, among additional words of wisdom, he encouraged us with the following scripture:
And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. Galatians 6:9-10