As our kids become teenagers, they begin the healthy developmental process of differentiation. In other words, they start to pull away. This happens because God has wired them to do so. Leave and cleave. But unfortunately for some kids, the desire to leave kicks in before it is feasible or even wise to do so. This often leads to the push and pull we call adolescence.
It is during this period that parents can start to feel alienated and marginalized by their teens. They simply don’t know how to reach them anymore.
So how do we reach the “unreachable” teen?
If we use our Father in heaven as the perfect role model of the perfect parent, we can uncover the answer to this question. We simply have to look at what He does when we push Him away. From what I can see in Scripture, He does several things when we become those “unreachable” children. And we can use this exact model to intervene with our own resistant and seemingly unreachable teens.
What God Does When We are “Unreachable”
1) He continues to reach out to us. Through the many prophets of the Old Testament, God reached out to His people. He didn’t turn His back on them though they rejected Him and turned to other gods. Because of His great love for His people, He gave them chance after chance after chance. Jesus, too, reached out to the marginalized and rejected during His time on earth. Nobody was considered “too far gone” for Him to reach out and touch.
Application: We don’t stop reaching out to our teenagers just because our efforts are rebuffed. We shore up our emotions and we press forward – in love and because of love.
2) He shares the truth in love. Jesus looked into the eyes of the Samaritan woman and was able to point out her sins in a way that was convicting and loving at the same time. He did this, not with confrontation or condemnation, but with gentle questions and statements.
Application: We don’t tip toe around the truth for fear of pushing our teens further away. Nor do we confront them only with truth. Truth without love brings pain but no change. Like Jesus, we can ask gentle, probing, love-motivated questions to help our teens see their sins and take responsibility for their actions.
3) He sends others to surround us with His love. The perfect example of this is in Romans 5:8, “But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” We didn’t want anything to do with God, but even in that state of active rebellion, He loved us enough to send us a Rescuer.
Application: You may not be the person to reach your teenager right now. You may need to send in a substitute. Maybe another adult will become your “hands and feet.” Seek to foster and deepen relationships between your teen and other trusted adults. Grandparents, uncles and youth leaders are prime candidates during this tumultuous time.
4) He allows hardships to happen so we turn to Him. Time and time again, the Israelites rejected God and went their own way and trouble and pain were the natural and logical consequences of their rebellion. But when they cried out to Him for deliverance, He was always there to take them back.
Application: Consequences for misbehaviors need to be clear and well-defined. Once they are broken, they need to be enforced. And when our teens repent, we need to be ready and willing to forgive. We cannot harbor anger or let the pain they have caused build a wall between us.
5) He sometimes turns us over to our sinful ways in hopes that we will return to Him. The Israelites were a stubborn and “stiff-necked” people. Often, despite God’s repeated efforts, they still rejected Him. At these times, He turned them over to the sinful path on which their hardened hearts were destined to go (Stephen points this out in his speech in Acts 7:42).
Application: This is always the last resort. Often parents who find themselves at this point already have outside help involved such as probation officers or case workers. In extreme circumstances, parents have to step back to let their children fall completely so that the only place to go is up.
With the exception of children with attachment or autistic spectrum disorders, most children, no matter how hard they push you away, do not want to be left completely alone. The conflict that arises during the teen years simply makes separation easier. Kind of like the fight you get into with your husband right before he goes on a business trip. It’s less painful to say goodbye when your heart is encased in a shell of anger.
Our goal as parents is to crack that shell – not with a hammer, but like God does – with love.
Let us “go and do likewise” (Luke 10:37).