The Boys' Growing Up in the Lord

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Question

I also have a problem. I'm too embarrassed to talk about dating with my parents. I love my parents, but to me they don't seem like people I would share sex or dating talks with. The reason is, I like to talk back a lot to my parents when I get in trouble, thinking that I am right in the argument. This leads to my parents (especially my dad) to yell and punish me and eventually ground me. At that point, I feel really distant from them because I am mad at them. That's why I don't feel comfortable talking about this stuff with people who I usually get mad with. My friends say it's part of being a teen, but I really hate that I fight with my parents a lot. Plus, the girl that I like gets along with her family very well. Can you also help me with getting along, not talking back, and being more mature toward my parents? Sorry for asking so many questions; it's just that I've never told anyone about my feelings.


Answer

You are correct; it is hard to talk about really personal issues with someone you see regularly. There is the fear that it will change the relationship. You imagine they will forever look at you as that kid with the awful things going through his head. It is part of the reason I keep answer questions, such as your own. I hope that the anonymity lets people get the issues really bothering them out into the open and my goal is to help them reason soundly from the Scriptures to find a good resolution (I Peter 4:11).

You are reaching the stage in life where you are separating from your parents. Teenage boys especially desire independence. It isn't a bad thing; it is actually necessary for the eventual establishment of your own home (Genesis 2:24). The problem, though, is how to measure independence. If you do everything your parents do, are you independent? Most would argue "no," but it comes with little thought. If I come to a one-way street, should I go the wrong direction just to prove I'm independent? That was the trap Rehoboam fell into when he became king. His father's advisers recommended easing the taxes on the people, but Rehoboam wanted to be different, so he raised the taxes and had a revolt on his hands (I Kings 12:1-16).

Deciding on a choice just because it is different is foolish because it leaves out the truth that one choice is better than another because there is a right and a wrong. So, what does it mean to grow up and be an independent adult? It means being willing to accept responsibility for your choices.

You are at the age when you can begin making your own choices. But, let's admit the truth here, you don't have that much experience at making good choices. These final years in your parents' home is the time when you can start making your own choices, but your parents are there to put on the brakes when they see you are going the wrong direction. It is rough on you because you only see you are being limited. You often don't see the chain of consequences that you are being protected from. A good portion of this is due to the fact that your brain is still developing. One of the last areas of the male brain to develop is the section that judges the consequences of decisions. Teenage boys tend to be rash. If I asked, you probably could give me a list of dumb things you've done that sounded good at the moment but were really a disaster because you didn't think the problem all the way through. Eventually you will get there, but it doesn't generally come until your early twenties.

Meanwhile, it is rough on your parents. They feel like they are constantly in reactionary mode. They are trying to think one step ahead of a clever teenage boy, allowing him freedom and at the same time keep him from harming himself. I know a number of parent who have a hard time dealing with the pressure.

Understanding this, then let's discuss the fuel that gets thrown on this fire. It is a known fact that teenagers are unable to accurately read body language. People who study such things think it has something to do with the rewiring of the brain, but they aren't sure. There is a period of time that all teenagers go through where they assume greater emotion from those talking to them than really exists. A parent can be annoyed while the teen sees it as extreme anger. The teen then reacts to perceived anger with anger, and things quickly get out of hand.

I'm explaining all of this so you can see what it happening between you and your parents from the outside. If you want to stop getting mad at your parents you need to stop letting your emotions rule -- a very hard thing to do as a teenager.

Second, to be an adult, you need to accept the responsibility of your decisions. It is so easy to blame other people. It is easy to fall into the trap of exaggeration. "You don't let me do anything fun!" It is easy to say, but I very much doubt it is close to the truth. If you make a bad decision, and your parents say "no," then as an adult you need to figure out what dangers they are seeing that you are missing.

Let's take an example, you might tell me that your girlfriend's parents are going to be out of town, so you plan to spend the night at her house so she'll feel safe. You're going to sleep on the couch downstairs, so nothing is going to happen. Is that a wonderful idea? And I'm going to say, "no" because I understand the strength of sexual temptation. A male and a female who like each other in an unmonitored place is a recipe for things going further than either thought would happen. Plus, there is the problem of reputation. Even if nothing happened, others are going to assume something did happen. Now, instead of getting mad, you ought to accept the fact that you might not understand the dangers. Look at the problem again. The real problem is not whether you get to stay at your girlfriend's house. The real problem was her safety. So, you should find an alternative that doesn't put you and she in danger of sin. Perhaps an older woman at church can put her up for the weekend. By looking at alternatives, it is no longer insisting it has to be my way but that a problem needs to be solved in a safe manner.

When you insist on being right, you aren't acting as an adult. Adults understand that they make mistakes. "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us" (I John 1:8). So when someone opposes us, it isn't about me (that's pride getting in the way); it is about what is best.

When you feel your anger rising, I want you to tell your folks, "Excuse me a moment, I need to work off some steam." Then go and do something strenuous: run around the block, do jumping jacks, do push-ups, etc. until you are sweating, exhausted, and your mind clears. Then think about what the real issues and concerns are and go back and tell your parents as calmly as you can that here is the problem you see and you would like their advice on how to reach a good solution. After they scrape themselves off the floor from shock, you'll have a wonderful discussion.

And when you need a neutral sounding board, you are always welcome to write.

Thanks again for giving me really good advice on how to react to my parents. I guess I should think before I speak, but it really is hard at times. I just want to be able to feel comfortable with them as a teen that's all.

It is only hard when you let your emotions control you. That is why James told us, "So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God" (James 1:19-20). Emotional responses are rarely reasonable.

To be comfortable, start by realizing is not you against them. They are on your side, wanting what they believe is best for you. I have a challenge for you. Before this week is out, I want you to figure out one thing that you really appreciate about each of your parents. Then tell them how much it means to you. Just one thing -- more will come across as insincere.