By Tammy Darling
Some kids rebel by sneaking out of the house late at night or by missing curfew—repeatedly. Others may express their rebellion by back talking, being disrespectful, or doing the opposite of what you say. My oldest daughter chose cutting.
That’s right, my daughter was so angry at her parents and her Christian upbringing that she decided to cut herself to get back at us (her words). She had a point she wanted to make, and she chose a very destructive way of making it. Our daughter was a rebel with a cause.
Thankfully our daughter’s story has a good ending. After a period of time in an adolescent treatment facility, she has since stopped cutting and has a handle on the anger that was causing her to do it. She’s now walking with the Lord. It was a rough journey but one that taught me a lot about kids and rebellion—good thing too, since I have four more coming up behind her.
While I would never want to go through that type of experience again, I’m thankful for the lessons I learned along the way.
Lesson #1: Rebels have a reason.
The childhood years are tough; we’ve all been there. And while our kids are born with a sinful nature, they rebel because they’re trying to make a statement.
For example, when I was a kid I talked back to my mom—a lot. So much so, she would wash my mouth out with soap or pepper. I rebelliously retorted, “It won’t work. No matter how much you do this, it won’t work.” I had something to say and I was going to be heard. That was precisely the reason for my rebellion—I didn’t feel I was heard by my mother and wanted to make sure she got the message loud and clear. Had my parents dug until they got to the root of my problem, they would have discovered that I was hurt and angry because I didn’t feel that they truly listened to me. That was the issue that needed dealt with.
Another example is a friend of mine whose preteen son was not turning in his homework at school. His grades were dropping. His mother thought he was being rebellious; evening battles were a regular part of their day. Turns out, he had an undiscovered learning disability. He had a reason for rebelling—he couldn’t do the work and was ashamed to say so.
The point is, kids who rebel do so for a reason. They are rebels with a cause. When we find out what the cause is, we’re on our way to effectively dealing with the issue and putting a stop to the rebellion.
Lesson #2: Rebels have fears.
Kids are traversing through increased independence and responsibility. They may have difficulty navigating these new experiences and want to test their boundaries. And this may lead you to wonder as I did—what happened to the child I once knew?
As my daughter began to get the help she needed and she became honest with us, we learned that she was experiencing a lot of fear about growing up and becoming an adult. She was graduating from high school and had no idea what she wanted to do next. As a result, she began to question everything she’d ever known—her schooling, her values, her faith. She came to some pretty faulty conclusions in the process.
No matter their age, many children will deal with increasing independence and responsibility by rebellious testing. They want to see how far they can go, how much they can mess up and still be accepted.
We are adopting a 4-year-old boy from Haiti. During our two-week bonding trip, we found him repeatedly defying us. By his actions and the look on his face, we could tell he was testing us; he wanted to know if we could be trusted to love him no matter what. We must have “passed” his testing because by the end of the two weeks the rebellion had ceased.
Lesson #3: Rebels need grace.
Perhaps the most important lesson I learned is that rebellious kids need unconditional love and grace. As parents I think we sometimes forget that kids are going to do wrong things, sometimes intentionally. They are going to make poor choices, sometimes on purpose. They are going to go places and do things that are not what we had hoped for them. And sometimes, like the father with his prodigal son, we have to let them take their own path and pray they discover the folly of it as the son did.
Other times we have to set firm boundaries. We are not doormats to be walked all over, and our children need to know what is and is not acceptable. For example, on one occasion when our son in Haiti was testing us, he would keep trying to climb up the balcony railing, even though we told him no. The railing was on the third floor, making it a dangerous situation. It is because of our love for him that we set the boundary.
The same goes for our teenage daughter. It is because we love her that we have raised her the way we have and why we have set certain boundaries in place, even if she didn’t always agree with them or abide by them. But children were never meant to have free reign; they need boundaries given with unconditional love and grace.
We made it clear to our daughter that “while we understand you are angry with us, you may not speak to us disrespectfully.” And she didn’t. Even in her rebellious state, she knew the limits.
I’m happy to say our daughter is no longer rebelling. During this difficult time in her life, what our daughter needed most was to know that we loved her no matter what. And that, in the end, is what made our rebel with a cause give up her cause.
Tammy Darling writes from her home in Three Springs, Pennsylvania.
Loving a Rebellious Child
• Pray, pray, pray. Too often we underestimate the power of prayer.
• Be realistic. It’s a myth that perfect parenting will result in perfect children. There is no such thing. We all make mistakes, intentional or not. Don’t take it personally.
• Keep your expectations reasonable. Many children rebel because of high parental expectations.
• Remember. Growing up is tough; recall what it was like for you.
• Show your love. Sometimes words are not enough; our children need to see how we love them.
• Acknowledge the struggle. Sometimes kids just want to know that someone understands. Ask your child to share what’s on his or her heart.
• Point to God. God saves, not us. Demonstrate his unconditional love.