Raising children in America today is a difficult task. Despite countless marriage books, manuals, and counselors, children today are still rebelling and pushing away from their parents 'influence and often against their parents' values in unhealthy forms. In some ways, rebellion and defiance is natural and a necessary part of children growing up.
Once a child reaches a certain age, in order to be prepared to face the world on their own, they have to develop a certain level of autonomy. This necessary push can come in a lot of healthy forms such as opportunities at school, in sports, in music / arts, and a job. All of these are ways a kid can push away from being dependent on their parents in a healthy way and need to be encouraged by parents.
But what about when kids rebel in unhealthy and harmful ways? It is said that almost 90% of children raised in the church will walk away from the church after high school. On the one hand, it is unfair to completely blame the parents for the poor choices their children make. Kids and adolescents sometimes make really poor choices. They are faced with temptations and have an evil nature burning inside of them just like everyone else. On the other hand, to say parents never push kids to rebellion is equally unfair.
Dr. Tim Kimmel, president of Family Matters, and award winning author has written a book on the topic called Why Christian Kids Rebel, a parenting book on how to parent rebellious kids. This book outlines a number of different reasons for rebellion in children and teenagers. Here are five reasons Christian kids, or at least kids with Christian parents, rebel.
1. Faith that doesn't "Work"
The generation of children growing up is concerned with whether or not faith works. If they don't see faith working for their parents, it is highly likely that they will run away from that faith as soon as they are on their own.
So what does it mean for faith to "work"? The culture that we live in is oversaturated with options for how to live happy and fulfilling lives. Some of the options given are extremely harmful. The media through film, magazines, television, and music often posits the idea that the best way to have a happy life is to indulge in pleasure. This can be sex, partying, drugs, or even just the shallow materialism of Hollywood. This option can be extremely harmful to rebellious children and can leave them with scar tissue for the rest of their lives.
Another option our culture gives is through the "myth of success." It is written in our constitution-life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Our culture has stressed that our own individual happiness is paramount and the way to attain lasting happiness is by achieving success in all that we do. So we have to go to a good college so we can get a great job and have perfect family and vast amounts of wealth.
These options and hundreds more are competing against faith for a child's allegiance. What happens too many times is that faith is shown by parents to be the boring, repressive, and unfulfilling option. If parents are not living an exciting and genuine faith in front of their kids, all of the other options the world offers become more and more appealing.
The reality is that faith, when it is truly lived out, is the most exciting, freeing, and satisfying life one can live. If it is lived in front of children and teenagers, the options the world offers will seem empty unsatisfying.
2. Rules without explanation
Rules with kids are necessary. There is no questioning that. When children are younger it is important to be strict with those rules. Whether it is making rules about holding hands when crossing the road or not chewing gum at the dinner table, rules play an important role in a child's development. Rules teach children safety, boundaries, right and wrong, and the fact that choices have consequences.
Although it seems simple, a common mistake to make as a parent is to give rules to kids without an explanation of why the rule is there in the first place. Rules are not an end in and of themselves; They are a tool for parents to use to help instill character into their children. By explaining rules to children, parents allow them to take part in the responsibility of keeping those rules. Without explanation, children may still follow the rules, but character will not develop.
For example, instead of just giving a child a curfew and telling them the consequences of getting home past curfew, explain to them why there is a curfew. A child needs to understand that it is not as safe to drive after a certain time and that part of being a family is being considerate of the other members of the family. Getting home by a certain time helps the family get the rest it needs to function.
If a child understands the rules and consequences governing them, they are more likely to grow up with a healthy understanding of right and wrong and be able to face the world with a strong moral compass. If there is a lack of explanation given as a parent, children will have an empty and shallow morality and will run away from rules altogether the first chance they get.
3. Fear of the World
The world can be a very scary place. Drugs, teen pregnancy, violence, and counter Christian education is continually growing in America. By almost all accounts, it seems like being afraid of the world and doing everything to protect children from it makes sense. What sane parent who loves their child willingly puts their kid in a world with such scariness and risks?
This may seem logical and wise, but fearful thinking is one of the leading causes of children rebellion. Parents forget that, although the world is sinful and the devil is cunning, God is bigger than anything the world has to offer. By raising kids in fear and doing everything to protect and keep them from the world, parents communicate that God isn't big enough to protect us. If God and faith appears to be the weaker side (which it is not), children will run from it when they are older.
"Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world." (1 John 4: 4) As a parent it can be easy to allow the wind and the waves that the devil throws at our home overcome us, and it might be easier to turn the ship around and go back to land. But God has called us to the storm! If children see that God is big enough to face everything, then they will witness the character and desires of God. But fear of the world is not from God. Children will see that and run from it.
4. No Room for Mistakes
It may be difficult to believe, but children will actually make mistakes-sometimes big ones. When mistakes happen, parents are faced with a choice, and often a difficult choice. On the one hand, if parents don't give consequences, the learning opportunity in every mistake will be lost. On the other hand, if parents make every mistake the end of their child's world, the pressure to perform will often times push their child to alleviate their stress in unhealthy ways.
So where is the balance? The answer will be different in every circumstance, but the attitude should always be the same. The key is grace. If a child messes up, correct them and punish them accordingly. But make sure it is clearly communicated that the mistake they made does not change how much they are loved and that they are not expected to be perfect.
Since mistakes, sin, and imperfection are inevitable and happen to every human being, parents need to allow children to make mistakes without fear of utter rejection and alienation from their parents. If Christian parents cannot be understanding with their imperfect child, Satan will be and he is more than happy to drag children away from faith into rebellion for the sake of escaping the lie of perfection.
5. Forcing Religion
There is nothing wrong with bringing a child to church growing up and being vocal about the importance of faith in life and family. But a common mistake parents make is feeling the responsibility of being the Holy Spirit for their children. The Christian religion is dependent on the individual's genuine choice to seek redemption from Christ and accept Him as Lord over their life. This includes children and teenagers.
It is not the parent's responsibility to make sure their kids are saved. That is and always will be the job of the Holy Spirit. It is, however, the responsibility of every parent to live out their faith in front of their children in such a way that their children will see it and someday glorify God.
If parents force God, all children will see is the overbearing will of their parent. But if parents live God in front of them, children will be forced to see God and deal with religion on their own. This does mean that every child will choose God if it is lived out in front of them. But it will at least mean that every child will be given the fair chance to make that choice themselves, which is the only way the choice can be made anyways.