Did you hear about Ben?
No, I didn’t. What happened?
Well… this isn’t gossip; it’s just so you can pray for him. He got caught smoking pot. Apparently, he’s been doing a lot of drugs lately. And I think he might be sleeping with his girlfriend.
Really? That’s sad. Maybe his parents need to get more involved in his life. You know, bring more discipline. Keep him in line. That’s what I do with my kids. I lay down the rules in my house, and if they break the rules, they pay the price. If I caught my kids smoking pot, they’d face some serious consequences. My kids would never smoke pot.
Keep him, and his parents, in your prayers. They need it!
We’ve all had an experience similar to the one described above. A teenager in the church gets caught in sin. Maybe it’s drugs, sex, an eating disorder, cutting, or porn. It doesn’t really matter what the issue is. What does matter is how quick we are to assign blame to the parents of the child.
Many of us, either consciously or unconsciously, hold to the idea that if we do all the right things as parents, our children will turn out okay. If we educate them properly, faithfully teach them the Bible, and pray for them on a daily basis, they will become Christians, pursue holiness, avoid sin, and serve faithfully in the church. We treat parenting like some sort of divine equation. If we input the right things into our children, our children will then output the right things. If this, then this.
When a teenager goes AWOL, we immediately assume that the parents must have failed him in some way. His parents must not have brought enough discipline into his life. His parents must not have prayed for him enough, read him the Bible enough, sent him to VBS enough. If his parents had done the right thing, the child wouldn’t be plunging headlong into sin.
We really need to stop blaming parents for wayward teens.
First, only God can cause a teenager to be born again. In reality, there is no such thing as a “wayward” teen. There are only two types of teenagers: spiritually dead teens and born-again teens. A spiritually dead teen will always act according to his nature. He will plunge into sin with great delight because that’s what sinners do. That’s what you and I did before God caused us to be born again. It shouldn’t surprise us when a teen in the church dives into sin. If he isn’t born again, that’s exactly what we should expect him to do.
In Romans 8:7–8, Paul describes the unconverted teenager:
For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
The unconverted teenage girl is hostile to God. She absolutely cannot submit to God’s law, and she absolutely cannot please God. We shouldn’t be surprised when she has sex with her boyfriend. After all, isn’t that what non-Christians do?
Should her parents do all they can to restrain her from sin? Of course. But the reality is, they may be able to curb her behavior, but they can’t change her heart. Only Jesus Christ, the mighty warrior and sinner’s friend can accomplish such a great task. When we blame parents for the sinful behavior of their teens, we put the parents in the place of God. We must stop expecting parents to do what only God can do.
The second reason we need to stop blaming parents for the sinful behavior of their teens is that blaming cuts the parents off from what they desperately need. When a dad is dealing with the craziness and heartbreak of a son on drugs, what he needs most from those in his church is shoulders to weep on. When a mom is dealing with her sexually active daughter, what she needs most is to be reminded of the mighty God who saves even the hardest of sinners. Parents don’t need condemnation or criticism, they need grace. They need their fellow brothers and sisters to come alongside of them, to pray with them, and to pray for them.
As members of the body of Christ, we are called to bear on another’s burdens, and there are few burdens heavier than parenting. There are few things that weigh heavier on a parent than the salvation of their son or daughter. When we blame parents for their teenager’s sinful behavior, we fail to help the parents bear the heavy burden they are carrying.
Are parents called to faithfully shepherd their children in the ways of the Lord? Of course. Will parents fail in a variety of ways? Of course. Despite these things, let’s stop blaming parents for the sinful behavior of their teens. When a teen in the church is sinning, let’s come alongside her parents with love, prayer, and support. Let’s fulfill the law of Christ by loving one another, instead of blaming one another.
Stephen Altrogge is a writer, pastor, and knows a lot about Star Wars. Find out more at The Blazing Center.