True story - Several years ago Jeannie came to counseling because her daughter, Susi, was in serious rebellion. Susi was 12-years old at the time. As I began to unpack what was going on in the home, Jeannie told me when Susi was five years old she asked her mom,
“Why does daddy love Johnny more than me?” Johnny was her three-year old brother. This interpretative question led to an obvious question from me, “What does your parenting model look like?”
Jeannie simply explained how Bill spends more time with Johnny while she spends more time with Susi. Hence, Susi logically concluded, “Daddy loves Johnny, but does not love me.”
Though the story is true, the names have been changed. It is a variation of a common theme frequently seen with troubled teens: a passive, distant dad who delegates the primary leadership in the home to his wife.
Leader dad is not an option
Nearly all troubled teen counseling is initiated by the mom rather than the dad. While most dads work during the day and it is easier for the mom to make the phone call, it typically becomes apparent during the counseling how the dad has been passive. This usually applies to their marriage and their parenting models. Passive or angry dads are two of the biggest factors in teen rebellion.
Children need their dads stepping up to the plate. Their earliest theological understanding of who God is comes from a dad and his leadership style, regardless of what his style may be.
Poor leadership by a father is leadership nonetheless. It might not be the best leadership, but he is leading even through his abdication. Leadership is not an option. The option is how will a dad lead.
There is a direct correlation between a child’s interpretation of who God is and how their dad leads, loves, and interacts with them. I have counseled scores of teens in trouble and almost without exception the patterns are clear and strikingly similar. Here are a few patterns I’ve observed:
- A passive dad gives the impression God is distant, preoccupied or disinterested in the child.
- A distant dad gives the impression other things are more important than the child.
- A child of a distant dad will find other companions by the time he/she becomes a teenager.
- Rebellious teens will be angry teens because they know this is not how it ought to be. They will feel hopeless, knowing their family dynamic will not change and they will respond in anger.
- Children of distant, passive dads are insecure. They sense something is wrong with them. Typically they seek affirmation/attention elsewhere as they grow older. Consider Susi.
Finding acceptance elsewhere
- Jeannie said Susi realized at an early age she had a gift. It was her intellect. Susi was smart.
- Jeannie also said Susi was rebellious in every context of her life, except for one. She never rebelled at school.
Susi learned she was smart, so when she began school, for the first time in her life she received affirmation, encouragement, and positive attention. Her teachers became her primary encouragers and motivators, not her father. This is why she does not rebel while at school. School is the one place she feels confident, secure, and loved. It is a safe haven for her.
To make matters worse, when she brings “A’s” home on her report card, everyone applauds, congratulates, and shows affection for her. As you can imagine, these moments of affirmation are rare and isolated in the home–her father is distant.
The bad news for Susi is how no one discerns how they are applauding her idolatry. Susi is a little idolator: she craves to be loved and accepted and when she does well in school, her craving is met. Her identity is being formed by her performance at school.
I told her mom how school would be the one place where Susi would never cause a problem. She probably will become a professional student. But this won’t stop her from being angry, insecure, and craving attention from her father.
In cases like Susi, the God-given desire to be loved was mishandled by her father. Her dad became a negative shaping influence, which helped to motivate her to find acceptance from other places.
How does the Gospel shape you, dad?
More than likely, this craving will continue to grow in Susi’s heart until it is satisfied by the love and affection of a teen boy. It’s virtually impossible to help someone like Susi until the parents repent. This is not saying Susi has no responsibility to change. She does.
God will not give her an out for her willful sinning. Nobody is allowed to sin and get away with it. She will either have to pay for her sin or Christ will have to pay for it. The choice is hers.
Her culpability does not excuse her father either. His role was to shape her toward God. He failed. He’s culpable too. If he is humble, he will own his sin and begin a process of repentance. If he is not humble, then Susi will have to work this out between her and God regardless.
Rarely will a troubled teen successfully walk through her situational difficulty if there has been negative-shaping influences which were pressed upon the kid by a poor parenting model. The child would have to be extraordinarily mature in Christ in order to change. If she is coming to counseling because of rebellion, then she is not extraordinarily mature in Christ.
The complicating problem of an un-repentant parent does make matters worse. In essence, the parents are asking their child to do what they are not willing to do–change attitudes and behaviors.
For further reading
I have over 1000 articles on our Membership Site. Below are a few of them which are related to parenting. For $4.95 per month you have full access to our site. Click I want to learn more to learn what’s involved.
- If you want to be like God, be like me
- Who do you want others to be like? Teach them to be like you
- I want to be an imperfect reflection of Jesus
- I failed as a parent. Now what?
- The parent’s secret weapon to help their children to change
- The perfect goal for your child and a few thoughts on how to do it
In this series
- Troubled Teens – Myth or Truth 1.0
- Troubled Teens and dads who lead poorly 2.0
- Troubled Teens and the false continuum 3.0
- Troubled Teens – the tale of the sinner and the Christian 4.0
- Troubled Teens – telling mom the truth – 5.0
- Troubled Teens rebel because they are rebels – 6.0
- Troubled Teens – caution for the counselor – 7.0
- Troubled Teens and the liability of counseling – 8.0
- Troubled Teens – Is there hope for my kid? – 9.0
- Troubled Teens – Where to go from here? – 10.0