Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it. Proverbs 22:6 (ESV)
You have done all you can. You have taken your child to church his or her entire life. You have done your best to teach, rebuke, correct, and train in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16) and yet your child is rebelling against all you have tried to instill in him or her.
You wonder how this can this be happening. You have believed in Proverbs 22:6 and claimed that verse for your parenting! You tell yourself your child can't be rebelling, it's just a phase, a bad influence or...something.
What does it mean to rebel? Rebellion is defined as: resistance to or defiance of any authority, control, or tradition.
Childhood and teenage rebellion is not new. I hope it brings you some measure of comfort to know that rebellion has been around since Lucifer fell (Isaiah 14). Adam and Eve rebelled when they ate of the tree (Genesis 3), and the first offspring, Cain, brought an offering he knew would not please God (Genesis 4). Because of the sin of Adam all children are born sinners who will indeed sin (Romans 5:12).
The Bible tells us rebellion is an issue of the heart. Rebellion, while troublesome, is not the issue. It is the fruit or evidence that the child's heart is focused on themselves. Rebellion is idolatry. It is critical that you understand that when a child demonstrates rebellious behaviors, he or she is showing you what is going on inside of them, they are revealing their thoughts, beliefs, and desires of the heart. If you do not embrace this truth, you may be tempted to force your child to outwardly conform by adapting their behavior to your expectations without experiencing the internal changes that matter. You will be creating a Pharisee!
To help your child, you have to approach his or her rebellion with the truth of the gospel. This does not mean leaving Bible tracts in his or her bedroom, or sitting them down with your Bible with the intention of "getting them saved." It does mean you will need to extend a great amount of love to your child, remembering that God loved you when you were an unlovable sinner. This can be so difficult, because rebellious children are often very unpleasant to be around.
Help your child to understand that his or her actions are results of what is living within the heart. When your son or daughter sins against you learn to ask them questions that will help you and them to understand the selfish motives of the heart that underlie their actions and words. For help in understanding how to ask questions that reach the heart, you might want to consider making a small investment (Five bucks!) in a booklet I wrote on the subject. Questions on the Heart Level (available on Amazon) is used as a part of our training center curriculum to teach our counselors in training how to ask effective questions.
The more you focus on addressing the issues of the heart, the more you will see the emotional charge removed from your confrontations with your rebellious child. It won't be about how you are being disrespected anymore, it will place the focus on the child's responses to a holy and sovereign God.
There is much more to be said than can be included in a single blog post, so I will be revisiting this subject again.