By John A. Smith
In the May 1988 issue of Focus on the Family, Seattle juvenile detective Myrle Carrier listed seven things that troubled teens want to tell their parents. Detective Carner, a 20 year veteran of the Seattle police department, has spent the last eight years investigating juvenile crime and listening to troubled teens tell their stories. He asked these young people: “If your parents were seated with us, right now, what would you like to tell them?” The answers are deserving, I believe, of our consideration and a biblical examination.
1. Keep Cool
“The number one thing kids in trouble with the law want their folks to know was how to keep their cool. In other words, Mom and Dad, don’t lose your temper in a crunch. Don’t blow your top when things go wrong. Kids need the reassurance that comes from controlled responses.”
Solomon asserted this as a good general rule of life: “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. . . . A wrathful man stirs up strife, but he who is slow to anger allays contention” (Prov. 15: 1, 18).
Our children deserve to see the example of people whose lives have been transformed and molded by Jesus Christ (Rom. 12:1-2), thus possessing the essential qualities of meekness and gentleness. When trouble arises our children can see these qualities put to the test and come to better appreciate them and us. Parents who react in rage, losing their temper, show themselves to be just as troubled as their teens. Why would a teenager listen and heed counsel from someone like this?
During troubled times, teens need parents who will remain calm to help them still the turbulent waters.
2. Please Show Us Who’s Boss
“Most young people I talked with want their parents to be strict . . . they want parents who are consistent and fair in dishing out discipline. Kids need the security of specific boundaries, and they need to know there are consequences for going over the line.”
Parents who do not discipline their children and provide family leadership demonstrate a failure to love. Solomon asserted that: “He who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him promptly” (Prov. 13:24). That discipline must begin while they are young and continue through the teen years. In Proverbs 19:18 Solomon said, “Chasten your son while there is hope, and do not set your heart on his destruction.”
In addition to the wisdom which Solomon received from God, he had the benefit of his fore-fathers’ experience reinforcing these truths. The godly prophet Eli did not restrain his sons and those two undisciplined young men became the downfall of his house. Samuel’s untaught sons were not much better (1 Sam. 8:1-3). David had set a miserable example as a father. A failure to discipline his sons resulted in one becoming a rapist, another led a rebellion against his father, and when Solomon ascended to the throne another tried to revolt against him.
Solomon was sadly well acquainted with the trouble a parents brings upon his children and himself when discipline is not properly exercised. Most of us are acquainted with those who are setting themselves up for a life of misery and their children for failure by not restraining them and setting boundaries. Solomon warned parents in Proverbs 29:15: “The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother.”
The Hebrew writer rightly affirmed that “no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but grievous; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Heb. 12:11). It is not always easy to accept or provide discipline. But, a failure to discipline is far more bitter, troublesome, shameful, and heart-breaking.
Parents, we need to listen to God and our children and provide them with loving, consistent, fair discipline.
3. Don’t Blow Your Class
“If you’re 40, don’t try to act 16. Your kids don’t want you to act like them. What they really want is for you to be a parent, some one they can look up to.”
Parents, we need to give our children something for which they can strive. We need to be examples of mature steadfast sons of God. Can we say, as Paul did to the Philippians, “join in following my example” (Phil. 3:17) to our children? If we dress like and act like children we certainly cannot!
Our children need and deserve parents. Let us determine to fulfill the role which we have chosen for ourselves!
4. Please, Light A Candle
“Many troubled kids I speak with . . . are looking for a genuine spiritual dimension in their lives. They are saying, ‘Please tell us that God is not dead, sleeping, or on vacation. We need to believe in something bigger and stronger than ourselves.”
Those parents who have the spiritual interest and foresight to “bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4) will provide the needed “candle.” A part of our “candling” will involve sparking the spiritual curiosity of our children that they might develop into candles to light the world (Matt. 5:16). Our children need to be nurtured – that is fed a steady diet of good nourishing spiritual food (not just a “junk food” diet of spiritual fluff).
God very specifically and carefully called upon the fathers of Israel (fathers sit up and take notice, the spiritual training of our children is not the exclusive realm of mothers!) to provide their children with a knowledge of him and his ways. In Deuteronomy 6:7-9 God says: “You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” God simply calls upon fathers to use the everyday affairs of life to teach their children important spiritual lessons.
Parents, we need to teach our children that God exists and that he made them, regardless of what textbooks might say. Our children need to know that fife is sacred and that they are important to God. They need to know of his Son who loved them enough to die to redeem them from sin. They need to know of his church and the important function which they can have in it.
Are we providing our children with a spiritual foundation upon which they can build their life?
5 . Scare Us
“Get tough, Mom and Dad. If you catch your kids lying, cheating, stealing, swearing, or boozing, then discipline them. Let them know why what they did was wrong. And when they need punishment, dish it out. But also let them know that you love them, even when they let you down.”
We’ve already discussed the need for discipline, but Carner here reminds us that the discipline must be tempered and administered with love. When our children disappoint us the most, we need to love them the most. Brother Wilbur Jacobs once told me that he disciplined his children when they deserved it and loved them when they didn’t. I believe brother Wilbur spoke great words of wisdom.
When our children misbehave, we have an opportunity to teach them by example an important quality of God. He loved us and extended his hand of mercy while we were yet sinners (Rom. 5:8). His love did not lead him to overlook our sin or easily dismiss it. But it did lead him t9 provide a way of escape from sin (Acts 2:38; 3:19; 22:16).
Parents need to be tough and loving. The two are not mutually exclusive, but great compliments of one another.
6. Call Our Bluff
“Did you know that kids don’t really want everything they ask for? They want parents who won’t be intimidated when they threaten to drop out of school, or to run away from home.”
As parents we need to pray for wisdom. The wise parents will know just how far to go in calling their child’s bluff. A mother of three boys told me the story of one of her sons threatening to run away from home. She asked him the reasons and then decided to join him! Needless to say he stayed at home and never used that threat again.
Parents need to remember who is the boss and not be intimidated by their children.
7. Be Honest With Us
“Finally, kids want to be told the truth. It doesn’t do any good to try to fool your kids. They know you better than you know yourself. They know when you’re telling it like it is, and when you’re not. All kids want their folks to be real.”
Honesty is an important quality in any relationship, but it is especially needful in parenting. It has been a basic expectation of man from long ages past included in the Ten Commandments (Ex. 20:16) and also in the law of Christ (Col. 3:9).
Parents need the trust and respect of their children if they are to lead them. Trust once broken by dishonest parents may become unrepairable. We need to be up front, honest, and sincere with our children.
Dishonest parents will raise dishonest children. Hypocritical parents will raise another generation of hypocrites. As a general rule children become what their parents mold them to be. What types of mold have we presented?
Carner reports that every ten minutes in this country:
10 kids attempt suicide
105 kids quit school
618 high school seniors smoke marijuana
20 girls between the ages of 15-19 become pregnant
8 out of the 20 will have an abortion
Our nation is filled with troubled children. If you are the parent of a troubled teen, you need to listen to them, love them, and work with them to find help. If your children are still young, then you still have the opportunity to lay for them a foundation of happiness and productivity. You need to take advantage of it.
Carner concludes his article by saying, “Not every parent has to deal with delinquent children, but every parent has ears to hear them. Now that these youngsters have spoken, are you willing to listen?” Let me add – once you hear will you respond?
Guardian of Truth XXXII: 20, pp. 609, 630-631
October 20, 1988