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3 Tips for Softening the Heart of a Teenage Child Who Wants to Push You Away

By Dennis Rainey

When you’re raising teenagers, it is absolutely essential to become a student of your child’s heart. You need to know what communicates love to your child.

Tip #1: Be there.

When our kids were between the ages of 13-15, Barbara and I were convinced that some of them snuck out and went to some kind of secret teen “boot camp” that trained them in how to push their parents out of their lives. It was maddening. At one of the most dangerous times in their lifetimes, they tried to distance themselves so they could do life “their way.”

As parents we felt like we could lose a child to their peers. We determined that with God’s help we weren’t going to become passive, but instead pursue them and do all we could do to pierce the barrier of isolation they were erecting.

We found that we had to “be there.” Not preaching and handing rules and regulations, but give them our “presence.” Being there says, “You are valuable, I love you and I’m not done pursuing you.”

So much of good parenting takes place when you’re in the hanging-around mode—on duty, ready to participate creatively and positively in the shaping of your child by listening, asking a question, giving a hug, offering an observation, or lending a hand.

But what if your teen is full of an “attitude” ... giving you a “lip whip,” with every word coated with battery acid? Nothing you say or do—even how you look—qualifies you for membership in the human race. That’s when, if you haven’t already demonstrated it, you need to kick in gear the next tip …

Tip #2: Show tough love.

This kind of love is tender but rock-solid, resolute in using natural opportunities to let your child experience consequences of rebellion, disrespect, and disobedience.

Let’s say that, about the time you are enduring verbal humiliation, your child mentions that he’s going to a football game tomorrow night and proclaims, “You’ll need to drive me there—the game starts at 7 p.m.”

Consider using this kind of response: “I’m sorry, but your selfish, disrespectful attitude—the way you have been talking to us and giving us orders—is not acceptable. You want to go to the football game and want me to take you? Before I can do that, you need to demonstrate that you respect us as your parents and are worthy to be trusted. You need to deal with your arrogant attitude. You need to show me that you are teachable, that you are listening respectfully to me.”

Pause and watch the response. And if it’s not what you want, be ready to deliver the punchline: “You are sitting out the game at home.”

Too many times we threaten discipline, but don’t allow the pain of consequences to finish the delivery of the message.

Yes, we were “mean” parents when we took away the car keys for ignoring our curfew ... when we declared a “no media month” for cheating and watching screens (against our orders) when we were on a date ... and when we had a child paint our screened porch for stealing money out of my billfold.

But we are the parents. We are not running a popularity contest; instead we are doing our best to build character in our children’s lives while they are young so they won’t be a grown fool as an adult.

Tip #3: Persist in your love for them.

When stiff-necked arrogance and selfishness is allowed to run full course, your teen can become dangerously isolated.

Some friends of ours, Bill and Jenna, had a daughter who chose to withdraw into her own world. They noticed that when Theresa entered the sixth grade that she began walling herself off from people, especially her family.

Theresa holed up in her room for hours and became increasingly distant and self-centered. Around her 16th birthday she became increasingly preoccupied with her online friends, all kinds of games and apps on her mobile device, listening to music, and organizing her room.

Realizing that their daughter was sliding farther and farther away from them, Bill and Jenna prayed and fasted for her one day a week. In addition, Bill purposefully pursued a relationship with Theresa by taking her on dates, playing games with her, and hanging out in her room.

Many of these efforts were met with outright rejection. But Bill kept loving her. Theresa bristled when Bill tried to hug her, and she even turned away from him when he tried to give her a good night kiss on the forehead.

Theresa was gripped by a selfish heart, an attitude that said, “I don’t need you. I don’t need anybody. And I don’t want you to have access to my life.” She didn’t share her clothes with her sister. She fought constantly with her brother. She didn’t accept loving discipline or correction from her parents. Her heart remained cold for most of her early teenage years.

But Bill and Jenna never quit loving Theresa. When she didn’t believe in herself, they believed in her. When she ignored rules, they loved her enough to discipline her. When she rebelled even more, they took her in their arms and loved her.

Once at 3 a.m. they bailed her out of jail for driving while intoxicated. Bill and Jenna lovingly pointed out to Theresa that her rebellion was not just against her parents, but also against God.

By the time Theresa turned 20, she was just beginning to realize how pride and rebellion have clutched her in their jaws. Ever so slowly her heart began thawing. God used the magnetic power of true love to soften her hardened heart.

I’m reminded of the Apostle Paul’s words in Galatians 6:9: “Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary”

As much as you’d like to, don’t quit! Keep loving.

Ask God for victory

It’s at times like this that parents feel like we are in a spiritual tug of war for our child’s life and soul. This is not the time to let go of the rope; it is the time to ask God for victory on your child’s behalf.

We were still raising four teenagers while writing a book about raising adolescents. We remember one chat with one child about an issue that demanded teachability and humility. The conversation was sprinkled with statements by our teen saying, “I know. I know. I know. I’ve heard your lecture already. I know what you’re going to say before you say it.” This teen was exasperated and unteachable. It wasn’t the first time.

Finally, we asked, “Are you going to be teachable? Are you willing to learn and grow? Or are you going to keep resisting the truth and thereby delay your maturity?”

Then we reminded our child of something we say quite frequently: “Nothing bad that you do can cause us to love you less, and nothing good that you do can cause us to love you more.”

The result was a deeper conversation in which our child’s defensive guard began to drop, and we once again challenged this young person to take another step toward adulthood and maturity.

As you face some of life’s most challenging issues with your child, do not forget that love ultimately changes a person’s life. Your love may be used by God to soften a teen’s heart that would otherwise grow hard and become the toxic soil of a wasted life.

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