I raised a strong-willed child—and survived. Here are some
tips from a mom who lived through the teenage years.
There are few situations that grieve a parent more than
having to deal with a rebellious child. In my travels around the world, I’ve
met many heartbroken parents who have shared with me the depths of their sorrow
over a prodigal son or daughter. It always amazes me to see how many believers
have children who have strayed from God.
The attack on the children of godly parents is fierce. Satan
is out to steal, kill and destroy (see John 10:10) the seed of believers to
stop them from becoming a righteous generation who love God.
If you have a rebellious child and are seeking answers,
please understand that I am writing this article not as an expert, but as an
experienced mom who has raised two children. Somehow I was much more of an
authority on the subject of child-rearing before I lived through the teenage
years with them!
When they were growing up I read many books on how to be a good parent. I was
convinced that they were going to be just perfect. Wrong! None of them is
perfect. They’re sinners who need the saving grace and process of
sanctification just like the rest of us.
Aside from this common element and similarities in physical
appearance, however, siblings often don’t resemble one another. Each child is
unique. Though you must deal with all equitably, you will find that each
responds in a different way to parental directives. One child will be
strong-willed, for example, and another compliant.
Opposite Ends of the Pole
These two personality types are as opposite as they can be.
The strong-willed child has a tendency to test, challenge, resist and blatantly
defy authority. I first learned about this amazing difference after the birth
of our daughter, Mary. It seems that she was born wanting to run the family and
tell everyone what to do. She would do and say outlandish things when she was
tiny that kept me constantly on my toes.
One day when we were in the post office in El Paso, Texas, a
rather large woman came into the building. The woman stopped to comment on what
a pretty child Mary was. Mary looked up at her and asked in an innocent voice,
“Lady, are you pregnant?”
The startled woman replied, “Why no, I’m not.” Without
stopping to think, Mary immediately shot back, “Well, then you’re fat!”
My first thought was to grab her and make a break for the
door. However, I knew that the woman deserved an apology. I pulled Mary aside
and explained that it was not a kind thing to say and that she had embarrassed
and humiliated this stranger. She went over afterward and apologized, but I’m
sure my face as still red when we left the post office.
In contrast, the compliant child wants to please
everyone—because he needs their approval. A word of displeasure or even the
slightest frown from his parents can be disturbing to him. He is a lover, not a
I saw the contrast quite clearly when I took the child of a
friend of mine shopping. This little girl, who was compliant by nature, just
stood next to me the whole time I was out—she never moved away or talked.
Finally I asked her, “Honey, are you sick? Do you have a
fever?” She shook her sweet little head side to side, and I had the shock of my
life. She was content to just stand there, doing nothing, and wait for me! My
precious, strong-willed child would have been swinging from the clothing racks,
and we would have had at least one visit outside for either a strong talking to
or a pop on the bottom.
Lessons I Have Learned
How do you know if the behavior a child is exhibiting is
true rebellion? True rebellion is determined by intent. The child makes a
conscious choice not to do something he is told to do—or to do something he is
told not to do.
Although all rebellion needs to be attended to and
disallowed, I have learned that not all of it stems from a heart that purposes
to hurt you, the parent. Sometimes the children act up because they themselves
are hurt or frustrated. They may have had a terrible day at school and feel
safe taking it out on you because you are a familiar person. Although it is
important to let them know that their behavior isn’t acceptable, it is even
more important to find out if something is bothering them—and what it might be.
I have also learned to major on the majors, not on the
minors. If a child is going through a particularly hard time at school or in
relationships, it is wise not to ride him about less significant
matters—keeping his room perfectly clean, for instance. Just help him get past
the difficult season.
When Mary was coming out of her teenage years and our son,
Daniel, was just going into them, John and Paula Sandford taught my husband,
Mike, and me about something called “individuation.” They explained that each
child has to cut free, or establish his own identity separate from his parents.
If he can’t do this in small ways, he will do it in big ways.
What does this mean? For us, it meant letting Daniel grow
his hair longer than we liked and painting his room with murals. It wasn’t our
taste, but he liked them that way. As a result of our releasing him to be
himself, Daniel avoided some of the testings Mary faced. We gave him space and
didn’t watch him like a hawk for signs of rebellion.
We were subject to criticism for our decision to extend some
liberty, but it has brought great rewards. Daniel’s hair is not short, he has
stopped wearing extremely baggy pants, and he is solid with the Lord.
It is good to put boundaries on teenagers as they
individuate, but their wearing different styles than you prefer, as long as
they are decent, is not bad—it frees them to become their own persons.
Ministers especially need to understand this because the stronger the parents,
the harder it is for the child to establish his own identity.
Many times my kids would do something really strange, and
the Lord would say to me, “Cindy, this is all temporary.” It is interesting to
see how much Mary is changing now that she is married and has turned 21. She is
happy and satisfied with herself and no longer rebels against what she once saw
One area in which kids need definite boundaries is in the
area of relationships. Don’t be afraid to tell your children you don’t like the
people they are associating with. God gives parents a natural alarm system
concerning their children’s friends. Some of them are just bad news and will
draw your kids into rebellion.
Once our daughter was dating a boy who wasn’t a good
influence, and may people told us not to insist that they break up because it
would only make them more rebellious. However, after we prayed and came into
agreement, we told her she would have to choose between him or us (she was
still under-age). Thankfully, she broke up with him. But we should have issued
the ultimatum two years before.
When a teenage child has a friend that you think is not a
good influence, pray for the child. Ask God to reveal to his heart the need to
break the friendship. If this doesn’t bring about a change, sit down and talk
with him and explain your feelings. Then pray with him, asking God to show both
of you His will. If the situation is bad enough and your child doesn’t see the
danger, you might need to do what we did and ask him to discontinue the
He might surprise you and express relief at your
intervention. We found that our children at times became entangled in
relationships from which they actually wanted to be released—but which they
couldn’t break on their own. Their friends had become controlling and
manipulating. In such cases they were grateful that we stepped in.
One word of caution: Don’t be too quick to cut off a diamond
in the rough. Our son-in-law fit this description when Mary first met him, but
I led him to the Lord, and he is a wonderful young man. Pray and ask God to
show you His will rather than judging externally.
A Mother’s Tips
Here are a few tips to help you—and your children—survive
their teenage years:
make threats you aren’t ready to carry out.
to your children. Be willing to modify your position if you have meted out
punishment or rules in anger.
when you are wrong.
- Be in
agreement with your spouse (if you aren’t a single parent) about what kind
of disciplinary action you will take when necessary. Children love to
conquer and divide.
pray, pray. Pray for them and with them.
God’s promises, such as this special one from Isaiah 59:21, for all your
children: “ ‘As for Me, this is my covenant with them,’ says the Lord. ‘My
Spirit, who is on you, and my words that I have put in your mouth will not
depart from your mouth, or from the mouths of your children, or from the
mouths of their decedents from this time on and forever,’ says the Lord” (NIV).
If, in spite of your best efforts, you find yourself the
parent of a prodigal child, don’t lose hope. The devil will try to pour shame
and condemnation on your head. If you have made mistakes, ask God to redeem
them and to restore your family.
Then trust Him to intervene in your child’s life. We are in
a war for the souls of our children, but we serve an awesome God who created
the universe, and He loves our children more than we do. Place them in the Father’s
hands—and trust Him to bring them home.
Cindy Jacobs is co-founder with her husband, Mike, of
Generals of Intercession (generals.org)
and host of God Knows, a weekly television program on which she
interviews leaders, teaches, prophesies and prays for the sick. Also founder of
the United States Reformation Prayer Network (USRPN), Cindy is inviting
individuals and leaders across the nation to join the Jacobs’ ministry in a
national prayer initiative for 2010 named “Root 52″—a 52-week prayer strategy
to bring the United States back to its covenant roots. For more information, go