Have you ever wondered how to raise teens who won’t rebel? Is it even possible?
Rebecca here. That’s the question I asked in a blog post three years ago. That blog post, Why I Didn’t Rebel, went viral. And it changed my life.
Now, three years later, I’ve written a book on the subject, and it’s coming to bookstores on October 3rd!
After the response from that blog post, I knew that if I was making this into a book, I had to do it well. It couldn’t just be my story–I wanted to cover a lot more than just that.
So I interviewed over 30 millennials, age 18-27, who did and who did not rebel in their teenage years. Then, coupled with psychology and sociology research, I found some patterns.
But one thing I never expected to find was this: of the kids who rebelled, all but one said that their biggest regret was that they weren’t close to their parents.
Yes, they were sad about the mistakes they made. Some had their hearts broken by sleeping with people who weren’t worthy of them. Some regret years of heavy drinking and experimenting with drugs. But that wasn’t what they regret the most. Instead, it was missing out on the relationship with their parents they feel that they’ll never really have–but might have, if things had been different.
Kids who didn’t rebel, however, didn’t face this problem.
In fact, all but one young adult who didn’t rebel said that their parents are the first people they call with exciting news, that they can trust their parents with anything, and that their mom or dad is one of their closest friends. And they’re insanely grateful that their parents and them are so close–and that they’ve always been that way.
So what makes these families so different?
Well, I wrote a whole book on it. But in one word: authenticity. Families with kids who didn’t rebel weren’t afraid to just be themselves. Yes, that sounds wishy-washy, but hear me out.
Families with rebellious kids were so scared of rebellion that they focused a great deal of their energy trying to prevent it. But in the midst of all of their rules and punishments and forced family dinners, something happened–they became unapproachable.
See, when you focus on fear of rebellion, it’s easy to let your relationship be controlled by that fear.
Hailey’s mom was so scared she was doing something wrong she started seeing disobedience when she wasn’t even doing anything bad yet!
Nathan’s family would punish even slight disobedience with harsh punishment–forgetting to clean his room would mean he couldn’t go on a summer trip to see friends he rarely got to visit. Although he recognized that he was in the wrong, the severity of the punishment made him feel that his mom didn’t understand him as a person. And his relationship with her suffered as a result.
Courtney lived in a family with untreated mental illness that no one ever talked about. Misunderstanding her family members’ experiences, she moved out at only 16 years old, believing her family would be better off without her.
In families where we didn’t rebel, though, it was very different.
Our parents weren’t afraid of our behaviors, even when we screwed up. Instead, they focused on getting to know us as people, and on letting us get to know them, as well. They admitted their faults, we talked about the hard issues, and we didn’t have strict punishments in the same way–even when we deserved them.
Parker’s family, instead of expecting that their daughter was going to rebel, knew their children and expected them to make good choices, instead of defaulting to fear of disobedience.
Rachel’s family, instead of creating harsh rules to try and control her behavior, would ask her what she thought the rules would be. For example, instead of saying, “you’d better be home by 10:00 or you’re grounded, young lady,” they’d ask, “Well, you have a test in the morning, so what time do you think you should be home?” Rachel hated it, but it taught her to make good decisions for herself.
Morgan’s family, instead of shying away from difficult topics, was open and honest with their children about the effects the divorce was having on both the parents and the children. They weren’t afraid to be vulnerable, or to talk to their children about the hard things.
When parents focus on bad behavior too much, fear starts to get in the way of relationship.
Families with kids who rebelled lived in fear. Fear that their kids would rebel. Fear that their image would be tainted. Fear that they would lose control.
Families with kids who didn’t lived in authenticity. They chose to live in hope, not fear, getting to know their kids personally instead of dictating their behavior. They cared more about their kids’ walk with Christ than about how they appeared to others. And they understood that a power struggle is never a solid foundation for a good relationship, and so maintained authority without setting up a dictatorship.
So, after researching this for a year and a half, I’d say this:
Don’t be so scared of rebellion that you forget to know your kid in the process.
Your kids need you. Not all the gimmicks.
Now here’s the exciting part…
Do you have any questions at all about how to raise teens who won’t rebel?
My mom, Sheila, is doing a Q&A with me as the final chapter in the book for pre-order customers! If you order the book before October 3rd, you’ll get an edition with the Q&A.
But we need questions!
Is there anything at all you’ve ever wondered about raising healthy teens? Doesn’t matter how weird it is, let us know in the comments and it may be featured in the book! (And if it’s not in the book, there’s a good chance it’ll be covered in a webinar or even on the blog sometime soon!)
And I just wanted to say one more thing: a great big thank you to everyone who’s read that initial blog post! You have truly made a dream come true, and I never would have been able to write this book without all of your encouragement those first few weeks! You have changed my life, and I’m not just saying that. So thank you a million times!
Interested in getting your copy of Why I Didn’t Rebel?
Why I Didn’t Rebel is available for preorder! Check it out:
Through the Thomas Nelson website
This just makes so much sense. So much of parenting advise is focused on trying to fix behavior so much so it is easy to loose sight of the relationship. And to be driven by fear is just a recipe for disaster.
You don’t plant a garden by focusing on pulling out weeds, you plant a garden by putting lots of seeds in the ground. And then when some weeds grow you pull here and there. Sometimes all the parenting advise out there is only focused on pulling weeds. It’s so sad. Even the verse of “train up your child in the way he should go” is often getting twisted. How do you teach somebody to walk on the way? You walk with him on the way and explain why you don’t take this turn or that turn and then you let them gradually walk ahead of you but keep a close watch and finally you can let them walk all on their own. The verse says nothing about punishing your kids for making a mistake or trying a different route. Yet in most Christian parenting books that’s what the focus is about. As if we could overcome the sinful nature of our kids by punishing them….
I feel like there are two truths in how as Christians we view kids… On one side they are humans made in the image of God labeled “good” by the creator but on the other side they are all sinners from youth on. Sometimes we try to fix the sinner in them with our parenting,( which we can’t) and we get this negative view of them anticipating the next sin around every corner setting them up to fail. What if we actually looked at our kids and teens as people who are created in God’s image -His beloved children and then when they mess up we feel with them and know that they need a saviour and that’s where we point them to Jesus instead of adding to the natural consequences of sin with our ridiculous punishments who can’t cleanse a heart or renew a spirit anyways…
So glad you thought so, Lydia! I completely agree. And it’s so demoralizing for kids to grow up in a house where they’re being policed every second–it’s like you can never get a breath of fresh air and feel trusted and secure. It makes a family dynamic where the child is always proving something, and that’s incredibly unhealthy.
Completely agree, Lydia. I know here Becca’s talking about teenagers, but I find the same thing when we’re talking about raising small kids. All of the focus seems to be on spanking them or teaching them to behave. The truth is that I actually did very little real “discipline” because I spent so much time just talking and spending time with my kids, even when they were little. The discipline was an afterthought; the spending time together was the main thing. When parents think that parenting is all about being strict and having firm discipline I wonder if they start seeing their kids as the enemy?
I think it’s really toxic to be so caught up in discipline and it does feel like as a culture we view children as such a burden and often they’re described as monsters who try to control us, where actually it’s more often the parents who act this way.
Just another thought that came to me: if a person rebels it usually rebellion against rules or control. We don’t rebel against (healthy) relationships… So if a parent tries to control their kids you can expect rebellion. It’s actually a healthy response to being controlled. What is so bad about it though is that the child’s response against control triggers even more ‘discipline’ from the parents. So the faulty thinking of the parents actually triggers or increases the negative behavior which then validates to the parents more use of discipline. That is true for toddlers as well as teens. It’s hard to break this cycle of thinking when you’re in it.
Anyways I think your book can be an eye opener for parents to stop controlling and start building a relationship with their teens. I suppose many parents with the fear of rebellion and the tentation to control will find your book, the title is really inviting 😉 God bless your work, Rebecca!
*Tendency- what is tentation???
Probably meant temptation
One thing that helped change my parenting for the better was switching my thinking from ‘raising children’ to’raising adults’. Keeping the long term perspective in mind has meant that absolute obedience in all the little things is less important to me than whether or not his heart is in the right place, even if/when he ‘stuffs up’. We are not far off heading into the teenage years,so I look forward to more discussion on this topic!
Yes, someone told me that when the kids were really little, too, and it changed my perspective!
Yes, my dad was trigger happy with punishment. I remember a time I had a boy in the house while my stepmother was there. I immediately got grounded and was not allowed to have my sweet 16 party. What a great article my dad and I were semiclose didn’t rebel until 18 because after being told no because I really didn’t understand why alcohol, smoking, and sex were bad for you. Now, I do that because I said so is not an answer. I agree with the other ladies I felt policed by my dad and he would not listen to me.
Here’s a question – I think it’s easier to not be fear based (in anything) if one has a strong relationship with God. Absent that, how does a parent balance their fears while trying to raise decent human beings?
Here’s another one – how do you know you’re not raising an ax murderer? What I’m saying is, if you recognize deviant qualities in your child, how do you handle it?
Is there ever a child to broken to be fixed by a parent’s love and well-meaning intentions?
Are there degrees of rebellion? I never rebelled but I was never super close to my parents either. I just thought based on what I knew from Scripture that it wasn’t worth it. My biggest rebellion was getting a 2nd piercing in both ears!
Feel free to email me privately.
Nylse–the ax murderer thing! That made me laugh.
I can’t tell you enough how worried we were about Katie when she was 5 and 6. She had no impulse control and would lie and even though she was the sweetest thing, we started to wonder if she was just a little devil or something. We prayed hard. But she actually was just young–and honestly did have no impulse control. Once she got older and the impulse control thing kicked in, she was much better.
Twice she actually stole something from a store. She came to me after bedtime just in tears and beside herself to confess, and we went the next day and returned it. A few months later, same thing. But she cried and cried about it and we talked about forgiveness and Jesus and it helped a lot. But it showed us that even though she did stupid things, she had a really good conscience.
This is interesting because I’m a teacher, and the most common (and most helpful) piece of advice I’ve received about classroom management and preventing behavior problems is to build relationships with your students–get to know them and show that you care about them. When I first started teaching, I had a lot of behavior problems because I tried to strictly enforce the rules and focused on that more than students. I didn’t know why students were so awful! Now that I’ve focused more on getting to know my students, I deal with fewer behavior problems. So it makes sense that children who don’t feel like they have a good relationship with their parents would be more likely to rebel.
Thanks for sharing!
Love that your perspective as a teacher echoes the same findings we have with families–especially since for so many kids, their teachers are the only encouraging and healthy adult role models they’ll ever have. What you do is so important!
I think nylse raises a good point — where is the line between “normal” rebellion, in reaction to maybe less than ideal parenting/discipline techniques, and serious mental health issues? How do you know when it’s time to get help? Not all rebellion is provoked by parenting techniques– this was certainly true in my family.
SUCH a good question from both of you! I actually wanted to answer that one here, and we might expand upon it in the chapter.
From my research, interviews, and personal experience, I think that the answer is still focus more on relationship than on the problem. If you have a good relationship, you can bring up things like therapy or medication in a way that will be less attacking, and won’t put them on the defensive.
Plus, if you have a good relationship with your kid you’re more likely to notice things like sudden change in mood that is more than just typical teenage moodiness. You’ll be in a better position to know what’s going on in your kids’ lives, and then know when it might be time to talk to a professional.
I do agree that mental health issues are a huge part of a lot of teenage “rebellion” especially disorders such as bipolar disorder. It can wreak havoc on a family. But a thing to remember is also that a huge protective factor for almost every mental illness is a good relationship with family and great familial social support (wrote a ton of research papers on that in my psychology undergrad 🙂 ). So I still think that the best thing you can do is get to know your kid, raise them in an encouraging instead of fearful environment, and then you’ll be better prepared to deal with it.
Of course, this is all coming from (a) psychology research (b) the interviews that I did (many of which included young adults with serious mental health issues/mental illnesses) and (c) my own experience with how my parents handled when I experienced depression and anxiety in my last two years of living with them.
My question comes with a partial answer. My question is this. How do you know if you are parenting correctly when all you can do is measure your success based on past? You cant meausre now and you cant measure/control the future. My answer is that I must have Faith in my God and Jesus Christ that I am doing Gods will by doing the best I can in my heart of hearts. I must trust God and Jesus as my freind that my children will find Him and do as I have as a parent. I am just learning the bible so I dont know where the versus for all that stuff is…but I know its in there. Essentialy whether my children rebel or not is there choice but if i lead them to God it is all I can do. The chances are much slimmer they will rebel if I truly live in Gods way. All that being said I understand that is not an easy task and we will screw it up in some ways along the way. I have. And I try to correct when I screw up. God wil take care of us. Thanks and best wishes with your book. I will have my first teen in September. He is obedient. I may need your book for the next 2 though lol.
Haha some kids are definitely more difficult than others. 🙂 I was the angel in my family, my sister was the difficult one. And she turned out great, too!
And I seriously love that question about “how can you tell you’re doing it right?” But I hope that this post and my last one on rebellion was at least a little encouraging!
I’ll definitely address that one either in the book or in a webinar sometime–I think it’s such an important one.
I have another one that I just generated after reading your response. I will use me and my brother as an example. I was the rebeller in my house growing up. My. Brother did not rebell and infact seemed to do everything he was supposed to. However, as adults we have switched roles. Now I dont claim I do everything I am supposed to but I have cleaned up my act and today I have God and Jesus as my freind and a wonderful Wife and family despite my best efforts to flush it down the toliet 20 years ago. My Brother is a Chaplain and has rebelled as an Adult by indulging in alcohol and resentment and taking actions counter to his proffession and Gods will which he knows quite well. He is still paying for his rebellion. So the question is this. So if you dont rebell as a child how do you prevent from rebelling as an adult? Maybe a little off topic but I see the question as signifigant to the purpose of your book. Essentially your book seems to have the purpose of getting your childhood right so you can live in harmony with God as an adult and live a good life…
Question: With all the talk lately on here about teaching kids sexual purity and how we are going about it wrong, etc., would you still recommend the passport to purity weekend away package from Family Life?
I’m pretty sure that I read on here somewhere that Sheila used that with both you and Katie. My daughter is turning 12 soon. Wondering if I should go through the material with her or if it has some of the terminology that is “out” as far as millennials are concerned?
I actually wouldn’t. I did use it, but it was all I had. Rebecca and Katie are working on a course this summer that I’ll be launching just after Labour Day that will have videos to explain to your daughter about her period, body changes, acne, boys, sex, etc., and then will have a second course for 14-16 year olds that will be focused on dating, more sex information, friendships, etc. And it will have a discussion guide and checklists and ideas for activities that moms can do with their daughters to help talk about this. But I think a 10-year-old hearing about her period from Katie would be a lot more fun than hearing about it from Barbara Rainey (which is what Passport to Purity is). And the problem I have with the Passport to Purity is that it asks 10 or 11 year old girls to vow to stay pure. At that age you’ll vow to never touch a boy in your life! I just think much of it isn’t age appropriate, and I’m no longer a big fan of analogies (like how sex is like glue and if you give yourself away it just because a post-it note). So I’m looking forward to their course being out!
Thank you! I’ll watch for that. 🙂
That sounds like a great resource. I look forward to seeing it soon!
I am blessed to have raised three sons who didn’t rebel (the youngest, twins, are now 21). Mostly I’m just grateful to God and thankful that he blessed us in that way. But if I were to say what I thought the keys were, I would say this:
1) Example trumps discipline. Many parents focus on strict discipline as the key, but if a hammer is the only tool in your toolbox, every problem starts looking like a nail. Children learn so much more from what they see in us than from our rules. We need to live the type of character we want to see in our children.
2) Start strict and ease up With regard to discipline, though, it’s best to be strict (but also very loving) when children are little, and then gradually give them increased freedom as they grow. Our long-term goal is to have adult children who make the right decisions on their own. Many parents indulge their children when they are little, and then clamp down on them in the teenage years, when bad decisions have serious consequences. Of course that leads to rebellion!
3) Let them be who they are Hopefully we want happy, healthy, whole children more than we want perfectly obedient, submissive robots to show off. Too much parenting is done out of embarrassment and wanting our children to look good to others. As our children develop their own personalities, we should celebrate their uniqueness and individual gifts. This does get pushback from others who don’t understand why we don’t enforce our children conforming to their standards. But I’ve seen too many Stepford families whose children went off the deep end as soon as they were old enough to get out of the house.
Just my thoughts. Blessings on the book. Everything in the post is great advice.
Great thoughts, Keith!
I rebelled as a teenager. My parents were strict, very conservative christians. I agree that a true relationship is the key to not rebelling. I felt I didn’t know who my parents were, didn’t know their hearts. I knew them as mom and dad, who love me and provide for me, but also have all these strict rules and perfect expectations. I didn’t know who they were as a person, what their lives were like before me. They never talked to me about things, unless it was to discipline me. I now have 4 kids of my own, and want so badly to parent them differently than my parents did me. I do not spank them for every little thing, I am not near as strict with them, and I try to follow the way God tells me to direct them. I try to parent from the heart and with love, not fear. My parents often don’t agree with the way I raise my kids, and that’s hard sometimes. But my biggest question is at what point are you their parent, and at what point are you their friend? Is it a combination all through their lives? Do you become more their friend as they get older, letting them make more decisions on their own with gentle guidance? And how do I know how much to tell them, about hard topics, and what’s the right age? Or do I go by the questions they are bringing up? I feel lost in this area, because I never had anyone model this for me. And I STRUGGLE with being completely vulnerable in front of them. Again, not something I ever saw from my parents. Any ideas on how to overcome that?! Cannot wait for your book to come out! Thank you so much for writing it, Becca, and thank you Sheila for always addressing the hard topics with honesty and grace.
Amber, it sounds like you’re a really good mom!
Just an idea about opening yourself up to your kids… a good way to connect with small kids is to simply share with them some of your childhood memories. Tell them stories of some of your happy memories or even some sad ones. Or things you struggled with as a kid. I think when our kids do stuff that reminds us of our own childhood we can share it in the moment. This way they relate to you easier, because they can see that you too were a kid once. I remember loving stories of my dad’s and grandma’s childhood when I was a kid. And my kids love my childhood stories, especially the silly ones 😉
Hi Amber! Those are great questions! I think for me I talked to my kids all the time, even when they were little. When they were 4 or 5 they already knew how lonely I was growing up because my dad had left. When they were 9 or 10 they already knew about all the heartbreaks in my teenage life over past boyfriends. I just told them things at the level that they could understand it, and as they got older more details were filled in. But at 4 they knew what it meant to be lonely because you had no daddy, because lots of friends were like that (and it would always be in the context of, “I’m so glad you have a great Daddy! Mommy was lonely when I was a little girl, but God gave you a great Daddy! Let’s go tickle him” or something like that).
I never thought about whether I was their friend or not. We just simply talked a lot!
Hi Sheila and Rebecca, here’s a question I have for you: What is the best way to tell your Christian parents that you don’t believe in God anymore? I have a good friend in her twenties who, after years of prayer, Bible reading, and research, is convinced that Jesus wasn’t raised from the dead and that the God of the Bible doesn’t exist. However, she grew up in a Christian home, has great parents, and wants to stay close to them. She wants to be honest with her parents about her spiritual journey out of Christianity, but she’s worried she’ll hurt her parents when she tells them she doesn’t believe in God any more. What should she do? Thanks, Kristen.
This may be covered in a different article but I haven’t spent enough time looking to know for sure. Question: what do you teach your kids about touching themselves? My young son noticed that touching his penis feels good to him. There’s a lot out there from pediatricians that it is normal and there are even christians who advise telling kids it’s normal to masterbate but my husband and I want our kids to know what the Bible says about it. How would you explain that to a 6 yr old and up?
This. So much this. Now our parents did punish us when we were really bad, but they actually spent so much of their time with us doing things us kids enjoyed (or they tried to make their stuff fun for us) that we never did. They’re the first people I call for anything.
I had the same experience, Zoe 🙂