1, 2. (a) What illustration did Jesus give to highlight the unfaithfulness of Jewish religious leaders? (b) What point about adolescents can we learn from Jesus’ illustration?
A FEW days before his death, Jesus asked a group of Jewish religious leaders a thought-provoking question. He said: “What do you think? A man had two children. Going up to the first, he said, ‘Child, go work today in the vineyard.’ In answer this one said, ‘I will, sir,’ but did not go out. Approaching the second, he said the same. In reply this one said, ‘I will not.’ Afterwards he felt regret and went out. Which of the two did the will of his father?” The Jewish leaders replied: “The latter.”—Matthew 21:28-31.
2 Jesus was here highlighting the unfaithfulness of the Jewish leaders. They were like the first son, promising to do God’s will and then not keeping their promise. But many parents will recognize that Jesus’ illustration was based on a good understanding of family life. As he so well showed, it is often difficult to know what young people are thinking or to predict what they will do. A young person may cause many problems during his adolescence and then grow up to be a responsible, well-respected adult. This is something to keep in mind when we discuss the problem of teenage rebellion.
WHAT IS A REBEL?
3. Why should parents not hastily label their child a rebel?
3 From time to time, you may hear of teenagers who outrightly rebel against their parents. You may even personally know of a family in which a teenager seems impossible to control. However, it is not always easy to know whether a child is really a rebel. Moreover, it can be difficult to understand why some children rebel and others—even from the same household—do not. If parents suspect that one of their children may be developing into an out-and-out rebel, what should they do? To answer this, we first have to talk about what a rebel is.
4-6. (a) What is a rebel? (b) What should parents bear in mind if their teenager is disobedient from time to time?
4 Simply put, a rebel is a person who willfully and consistently disobeys or resists and defies a higher authority. Of course, ‘foolishness is in the heart of a child.’ (Proverbs 22:15) So all children resist parental and other authority at one time or another. This is particularly true during the time of physical and emotional development known as adolescence. A change in any person’s life will create stress, and adolescence is all about change. Your teenage son or daughter is moving out of childhood and onto the road to adulthood. For this reason, during the adolescent years, some parents and children have a hard time getting along. Often parents instinctively try to put the brakes on the transition, whereas teenagers want to speed it up.
5 A teenager who is a rebel turns his back on parental values. Remember, though, that a few acts of disobedience do not make a rebel. And when it comes to spiritual matters, some children may at first show little or no interest in Bible truth, but they may not be rebels. As a parent, do not be quick to pin a label on your child.
6 Are the adolescent years of all young people characterized by rebellion against parental authority? No, not at all. Indeed, the evidence would seem to indicate that only a minority of teenagers display serious adolescent rebellion. Still, what of a child who obstinately and consistently rebels? What might provoke such rebellion?
CAUSES OF REBELLION
7. How can the satanic environment influence a child to rebel?
7 A major cause of rebellion is the world’s satanic environment. “The whole world is lying in the power of the wicked one.” (1 John 5:19) The world in Satan’s power has developed a harmful culture with which Christians have to contend. (John 17:15) Much of that culture is coarser, more dangerous, and filled with more bad influences today than in the past. (2 Timothy 3:1-5, 13) If parents do not educate, warn, and protect their children, young ones can easily be overwhelmed by “the spirit that now operates in the sons of disobedience.” (Ephesians 2:2) Related to this is peer pressure. The Bible says: “He that is having dealings with the stupid ones will fare badly.” (Proverbs 13:20) Similarly, he that keeps company with those who are imbued with the spirit of this world is likely to be influenced by that spirit. Young ones require constant help if they are to appreciate that obedience to godly principles is the foundation of the very best way of life.—Isaiah 48:17, 18.
8. What factors might lead to rebellion on the part of a child?
8 Another cause of rebellion might be the atmosphere in the home. For example, if one parent is an alcoholic, abuses drugs, or is violent toward the other parent, the teenager’s view of life can be warped. Even in relatively tranquil homes, rebellion may break out when a child feels that his parents have no interest in him. However, teenage rebellion is not always caused by external influences. Some children turn their backs on parental values despite having parents who apply godly principles and who shelter them, to a great extent, from the world around them. Why? Perhaps because of another root of our problems—human imperfection. Paul said: “Through one man [Adam] sin entered into the world and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men because they had all sinned.” (Romans 5:12) Adam was a selfish rebel, and he left all his offspring a bad legacy. Some youths just choose to rebel, as their forefather did.
PERMISSIVE ELI AND RESTRICTIVE REHOBOAM
9. What extremes in child rearing might provoke a child to rebel?
9 Something else that has led to teenage rebellion is an unbalanced view of child rearing on the part of the parents. (Colossians 3:21) Some conscientious parents severely restrict and discipline their children. Others are permissive, not providing guidelines that would protect their inexperienced adolescent. It is not always easy to strike a balance between these two extremes. And different children have different needs. One may need more oversight than another. Still, two Bible examples will help to show the dangers of being extreme in either restrictiveness or permissiveness.
10. Why was Eli, although likely a faithful high priest, a poor parent?
10 Ancient Israel’s high priest Eli was a father. He served for 40 years, no doubt being well versed in the Law of God. Eli likely carried out his regular priestly duties quite faithfully and may even have thoroughly taught God’s Law to his sons, Hophni and Phinehas. However, Eli was too indulgent with his sons. Hophni and Phinehas served as officiating priests, but they were “good-for-nothing men,” interested only in satisfying their appetites and immoral desires. Yet, when they committed disgraceful acts on sacred ground, Eli did not have the courage to oust them from office. He merely gave them a feeble rebuke. By his permissiveness, Eli honored his sons more than God. As a result, his sons rebelled against Jehovah’s clean worship and Eli’s whole house suffered calamity.—1 Samuel 2:12-17, 22-25, 29; 3:13, 14; 4:11-22.
11. What can parents learn from Eli’s wrong example?
11 Eli’s children were already adults when these events took place, but this history underscores the danger of withholding discipline. (Compare Proverbs 29:21.) Some parents may confuse love with permissiveness, failing to set and enforce clear, consistent, and reasonable rules. They neglect to apply loving discipline, even when godly principles are violated. Because of such permissiveness, their children may end up not paying attention to parental or any other type of authority.—Compare Ecclesiastes 8:11.
12. What mistake did Rehoboam make in the exercise of authority?
12 Rehoboam exemplifies the other extreme in handling authority. He was the last king of the united kingdom of Israel, but he was not a good king. Rehoboam had inherited a land whose people were discontented because of the burdens placed on them by his father, Solomon. Did Rehoboam show understanding? No. When a delegation asked him to remove some of the oppressive measures, he failed to heed mature advice from his older counselors and commanded that the people’s yoke be made heavier. His arrogance provoked a rebellion by the ten northern tribes, and the kingdom was ripped in two.—1 Kings 12:1-21; 2 Chronicles 10:19.
13. How can parents avoid Rehoboam’s mistake?
13 Parents can learn some important lessons from the Bible account of Rehoboam. They need to “search for Jehovah” in prayer and to examine their child-rearing methods in the light of Bible principles. (Psalm 105:4) “Mere oppression may make a wise one act crazy,” says Ecclesiastes 7:7. Well-thought-out boundaries give adolescents room to grow while protecting them from harm. But children should not live in an atmosphere that is so rigid and constricting that they are prevented from developing a reasonable measure of self-reliance and self-confidence. When parents strive for a balance between fair latitude and firm boundaries that are clearly marked, most teenagers will feel less inclined to rebel.
FILLING BASIC NEEDS CAN PREVENT REBELLION
14, 15. How should parents view the development of their child?
14 Although parents rejoice to see their youngster grow physically from babyhood to adulthood, they may feel disturbed when their adolescent child begins to move from dependence to appropriate self-reliance. During this transitional period, do not be surprised if your teenager is occasionally rather stubborn or uncooperative. Keep in mind that the goal of Christian parents should be to raise a mature, stable, and responsible Christian.—Compare 1 Corinthians 13:11; Ephesians 4:13, 14.
15 As difficult as it may be, parents need to break the habit of responding negatively to any request from their adolescent for greater independence. In a wholesome way, a child needs to grow as an individual. Indeed, at a relatively young age, some teenagers begin to develop quite a grown-up outlook. For example, the Bible says of young King Josiah: “While he was still a boy [of about 15 years], he started to search for the God of David.” This outstanding teenager was clearly a responsible individual.—2 Chronicles 34:1-3.
16. As children are given increased responsibility, what should they face up to?
16 However, freedom brings with it accountability. Therefore, allow your emerging adult to experience the consequences of some of his decisions and actions. The principle, “whatever a man is sowing, this he will also reap,” applies to teens as well as to adults. (Galatians 6:7) Children cannot be sheltered forever. What, though, if your child wants to do something that is completely unacceptable? As a responsible parent, you have to say, “No.” And, while you may explain the reasons, nothing should change your no to a yes. (Compare Matthew 5:37.) Nevertheless, try to say “No” in a calm and reasonable manner, since “an answer, when mild, turns away rage.”—Proverbs 15:1.
17. What are some needs of a teenager that a parent should fill?
17 Young people need the security of consistent discipline even if they do not always readily agree with the restrictions and rules. It is frustrating if rules are frequently changed, depending on the way a parent feels at the time. Further, if teenagers receive encouragement and help, as needed, in coping with diffidence, shyness, or lack of self-confidence, they will likely grow up to be more stable. Teenagers also appreciate it when they receive the trust that they have earned.—Compare Isaiah 35:3, 4; Luke 16:10; 19:17.
18. What are some encouraging truths about teenagers?
18 Parents can be comforted to know that when peace, stability, and love exist within the household, the children usually flourish. (Ephesians 4:31, 32; James 3:17, 18) Why, many youngsters have risen above even a bad home environment, coming from families marked by alcoholism, violence, or some other harmful influence, and have grown up to be fine adults. Hence, if you provide a home where your teenagers feel secure and know that they will receive love, affection, and attention—even if that support is accompanied by reasonable restrictions and discipline in harmony with Scriptural principles—they are very likely to grow up to be adults you will be proud of.—Compare Proverbs 27:11.
WHEN CHILDREN GET INTO DIFFICULTY
19. While parents should train up a boy in the way he should go, what responsibility rests with the child?
19 Good parenting certainly makes a difference. Proverbs 22:6 says: “Train up a boy according to the way for him; even when he grows old he will not turn aside from it.” Still, what of children who have serious problems in spite of having good parents? Is this possible? Yes. The words of the proverb must be understood in the light of other verses that emphasize the child’s responsibility to “listen” to and obey the parents. (Proverbs 1:8) Both parent and child must cooperate in applying Scriptural principles if there is to be family harmony. If parents and children do not work together, there will be difficulties.
20. When children err because of being thoughtless, what would be a wise approach by the parents?
20 How should parents react when a teenager errs and gets into trouble? Then, especially, the youngster needs help. If the parents remember that they are dealing with an inexperienced youth, they will more easily resist the tendency to overreact. Paul counseled mature ones in the congregation: “Even though a man takes some false step before he is aware of it, you who have spiritual qualifications try to readjust such a man in a spirit of mildness.” (Galatians 6:1) Parents can follow this same procedure when dealing with a young person who commits an error because of being thoughtless. While clearly explaining why his conduct was wrong and how he can avoid repeating the error, the parents should make it clear that it is the wrong conduct, not the youth, that is bad.—Compare Jude 22, 23.
21. Following the example of the Christian congregation, how should parents react if their children commit a serious sin?
21 What if the youngster’s delinquency is very serious? In that case the child needs special help and skillful direction. When a congregation member commits a serious sin, he is encouraged to repent and approach the elders for help. (James 5:14-16) Once he repents, the elders work with him to restore him spiritually. In the family the responsibility for helping the erring teenager rests with the parents, although they may need to discuss the matter with the elders. They certainly should not try to conceal from the body of elders any grave sins committed by one of their children.
22. In imitation of Jehovah, what attitude will parents try to maintain if their child commits a serious error?
22 A serious problem involving one’s own children is very trying. Being distraught emotionally, parents may feel like angrily threatening the wayward offspring; but this might only embitter him. Bear in mind that the future of this young person may depend on how he is treated during this critical time. Remember, too, that Jehovah was ready to forgive when his people deviated from what was right—if they would only repent. Listen to his loving words: “‘Come, now, you people, and let us set matters straight between us,’ says Jehovah. ‘Though the sins of you people should prove to be as scarlet, they will be made white just like snow; though they should be red like crimson cloth, they will become even like wool.’” (Isaiah 1:18) What a fine example for parents!
23. In the face of a serious sin by one of their children, how should parents act, and what should they avoid?
23 Hence, try to encourage the wayward one to change his course. Seek sound advice from experienced parents and congregation elders. (Proverbs 11:14) Try not to act impulsively and say or do things that would make it difficult for your child to return to you. Avoid uncontrolled wrath and bitterness. (Colossians 3:8) Do not be quick to give up. (1 Corinthians 13:4, 7) While hating badness, avoid becoming hard and embittered toward your child. Most important, parents should strive to set a fine example and to keep their faith in God strong.
HANDLING A DETERMINED REBEL
24. What sad situation sometimes arises in a Christian family, and how should a parent respond?
24 In some cases it becomes clear that a youth has made a definite decision to rebel and completely reject Christian values. Then the focus should change to that of maintaining or rebuilding the family life of those who remain. Be careful that you do not direct all your energy to the rebel, to the neglect of the other children. Instead of trying to hide the trouble from the rest of the family, discuss the matter with them to an appropriate extent and in a reassuring way.—Compare Proverbs 20:18.
25. (a) Following the pattern of the Christian congregation, how may parents have to proceed if a child becomes a determined rebel? (b) What should parents bear in mind if one of their children rebels?
25 The apostle John said of one who becomes an irreclaimable rebel in the congregation: “Never receive him into your homes or say a greeting to him.” (2 John 10) Parents may feel it necessary to take a similar stand toward their own child if he is of legal age and becomes totally rebellious. As difficult and wrenching as such action may be, it is sometimes essential in order to protect the rest of the family. Your household needs your protection and continued oversight. Hence, keep on maintaining clearly defined, yet reasonable, boundaries of conduct. Communicate with the other children. Be interested in how they are doing in school and in the congregation. Also, let them know that even though you do not approve of the rebellious child’s actions, you do not hate him. Condemn the bad action rather than the child. When Jacob’s two sons brought ostracism upon the family because of their cruel deed, Jacob cursed their violent anger, not the sons themselves.—Genesis 34:1-31; 49:5-7.
26. From what can conscientious parents draw comfort if one of their children rebels?
26 You may feel responsible for what has happened in your family. But if you have prayerfully done all you could, following Jehovah’s counsel as well as you were able, there is no need to criticize yourself unreasonably. Take comfort in the fact that nobody can be a perfect parent, but you conscientiously tried to be a good one. (Compare Acts 20:26.) To have an out-and-out rebel in the family is heartrending, but if it should happen to you, be assured that God understands and he will never abandon his devoted servants. (Psalm 27:10) So be determined to keep your home a safe, spiritual haven for any remaining children.
27. Remembering the parable of the prodigal son, for what can parents of a rebellious child always hope?
27 Moreover, you should never give up hope. Your earlier efforts in proper training may eventually affect the heart of the straying child and bring him back to his senses. (Ecclesiastes 11:6) A number of Christian families have had the same experience as you, and some have seen their wayward children return, much as the father did in Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son. (Luke 15:11-32) The same thing may happen to you.