Cutting Through Your Teenager’s Defensiveness

Right now I’m almost half way through reading Age of Opportunity: A Biblical Guide to Parenting Teens by Paul David Tripp, and it’s absolutely one of the best books I’ve read in a long while.  If you are a parent of a teenager (or a pre-teen) or if you’re involved in youth ministry then you should read this book (many of the principles here easily transfer to youth workers).

Age of Opportunity is filled with wise, biblical advice for parents, but one of the best nuggets so far has been on how to cut through your teen’s defensiveness.  Here’s what he has to say: (see pages 78-79 in the book)

  1. First, I clarify my actions for them.  I say ‘Don’t misunderstand, I’m not accusing you of anything.  I love you very much and because I love you, I want to do everything I can to help you as you begin to move into the adult world.  Don’t ever think I am against you.  I am for you.  And I want you to do something for me: if you ever think that I have misjudged you, if you ever think that I don’t understand, or if you ever think that I have expressed sinful anger toward you, please respectfully point it out to me.  I want to be used of God to help and encourage you.  I don’t ever want to tear you down.'”
  2. Second, I help them to examine their own defensiveness. Teenagers, like all sinners, suffer from spiritual blindness.  They will not see themselves as they actually are, so they need our help.,  I will say, ‘You know, there is a lot of tension in this room.  Now, I haven’t yelled at you, I haven’t called you names, I have accused you of anything, but it seems like you are angry at me.  Could you explain why you are so angry?  …I didn’t ask to talk to you because I just felt like a good fight.  I love you and want to help you in any way I can.'”
  3. Third, I seek to be faithful in confessing my sins against my teenagers. Irritation, impatience, judgment of motives, name-calling, words of condemnation, raised voices, …(etc.)… all fit under the category of ‘provoking your children to anger’ and must therefore be confessed to God and to them.  Your humility and softness of heart stand as wonderful models for your teenager.  Declare, with humble assurance, your confidence in the forgiveness of Christ.  By so doing you let them know that they are not alone in their struggle with sin, and you demonstrate that confession produces beneficial results.  Be humble enough to admit that your teenagers do push your buttons.  Get to know where your buttons are.  Pray before you have ‘the talk’ that you would model the love of Christ before your teenager.  If you begin to lose it, excuse yourself from the scene, pray, get yourself together, and then go back and complete the talk.”

Now many parents reading this might be rolling their eyes saying, “Whatever, this is so fabricated and unrealistic.  My kid would laugh at me if I did this.”  Sure, maybe your son or daughter would laugh at you for doing this… but if you make this your habit, over time I believe you would see a softening in your teenager towards you.

When parents claim the Gospel is the power of God for eternal life, but they fail to have any grace or humility or patience at home… there’s a serious disconnect, and your teenager will pick up on it.  Grace is for church, Law and Rules are for home.  Therefore, grace is a nice idea, but it’s just not practical.  Age of Opportunity is filled with wisdom on Gospel-centered parenting and how to see the teen years as a great opportunity to disciple your son or daughter (rather than seeing the teen years as something to simply “survive” or “endure.”).  Click the link above and order it for yourself!

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