Excerpts from Chapter 2

Understanding Your Teen Biblically

The message on Greg’s office voicemail was from his wife. The topic was a familiar one.

“Greg, would you talk to Sarah again about her attitudes and behavior? Please do it this evening if you can. She’s become more and more disrespectful and is doing less and less school work. Whenever I try to talk to her she gets angry and shuts down. If I bring up anything having to do with the Lord, she just rolls her eyes. Please don’t tell her that I called or she’ll be really mad.”

Is there a way Greg can talk to Sarah and elicit something better than a “Get outta my face!” response? How could a youth worker[1] go about helping Sarah?

Can either of them expect Sarah to ask for help on her own? Not likely. Will she be open to talk about the disrespect she has shown toward her mom? Probably not. Is she a Christian? Based on her attitude, it’s hard to tell. Even if she makes a profession of faith, is she motivated to do Christ’s will right now and at home and at school? It doesn’t look that way.

Is she likely to welcome any discussion about her attitudes and behavior? Or about the things she’s doing to hurt herself and others? Or about the example she is setting for her sisters, others at school, or in the youth group? Probably not. Will an immediate attempt to use the Bible to address her attitudes or words of disrespect bring her to a broken and repentant spirit? In all probability, she’ll see any such offers “to help” as “just one more lecture” by someone “trying to change me” who “just doesn’t understand me.”

Angry and unmotivated teens can and do think. But they do not do it with the maturity, responsibility, and spiritual commitment that Christian parents and caring youth workers consider to be vital. Sarah’s universe is more circumscribed, and she is at its center. The Bible recognizes this to be true of such seething or simmering young people. But it does not offer us feeble or benign counsel as we face them. It coaches us in skillful ways to talk to them, serve them, and motivate them.           

Eight Biblical Lenses For Seeing Our Angry Teens Clearly


Godly wisdom for helping these teens comes through a series of teachings or principles that work like lenses. When we peer through these lenses at our teens we find a way to talk to them, connect with them, and motivate them to make biblically wise choices. When parents or youth workers use the biblically crafted approach explained in this book, angry young people will usually see them as respectful, helpful, and worth listening to. Remarkably, the teens will usually come back for more of the same.

Too good to be true? Not at all. “When a man’s ways please the LORD, he makes even his enemies to be at peace with him” (Proverbs 16:7). This is not an absolute promise, of course. Jesus’ own life and death bears that out. But the principle almost always holds true. If we view our angry teens as God describes them, and if we relate to them as he counsels us, we can be agents of our teens’ peace—in their relationships with other people and in their relationship with God.

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3. Common grace, God’s general goodness to all, allows any sinner to make some wise choices.

However horrible Sarah’s behavior is (or, for that matter, any other sinner’s), she is still capable of making wise choices. God has created her in his image, and by virtue of being his human creature she can make good decisions.

It is true that every aspect of Sarah’s character has been infected by sin. Paul made that clear in his letter to the Romans cited above. But it is equally true that God has endowed Sarah and everyone else, believer or unbeliever, and even people within pagan cultures, to make some choices that allow them to live orderly and enjoyable lives. Egyptian sun worshippers could teach Moses culture, literature, mathematics, and management. In God’s time, this knowledge would help Moses to lead Israel. Babylonian officials could teach Daniel and his young teenage friends about the language, culture, law, and government of their pagan captors. Their training would position them to function as significant civil authorities in that country and put the true God of the Covenant on display before the world of that day. Greek and Roman emperors and governors could create roads, spread peace and education, make international travel possible, and create laws that would later be used to speed the spread the gospel.

Sarah, too, can make good decisions. She can make poor ones, of course. But the lens of Scripture confronts us with the fact that there is more to a teen than her sinful choices. These sinful choices should not be minimized. But wise interaction with an angry teen will mean that we keep in mind and share our belief that she does have the capacity to make wise decisions—if she wants to.

4. God’s goodness accounts for “wise wants” that lie (often deeply) within our teens.

People want peace, love, joy, and acceptance by God (or a god). These are some of the “wise wants” that God has wired into our natures. Teens appreciate beauty, fairness, justice, sacrifice, and kindness. They value truthfulness, integrity, loyalty, freedom, and respect. The list of virtues they esteem, to one extent or another, goes on and on. This does not mean they practice these things. Their self-centeredness, like ours, gets in the way of being what they want underneath.

In its naked and unrestrained form, our sin would destroy us and everyone else. But such uninhibited, total abandonment to one’s own self-glorification never reaches full flower in any of us. Something restrains us. By common grace, there is in everyone some measure of respect for virtue. Paul refers to this general human desire by noting that “the requirements of the law are written on their [and our] hearts” (Romans 2:14-15). The sense of the moral law of God—what is right, admirable, and desirable—is imprinted on each of us as creatures of God.

These desires are in angry teens too. In Proverbs 10:4, for example, Solomon says, “A slack hand causes poverty, but the hand of the diligent makes rich.” When parents are urged to reason with their youth about laziness and poverty, they can do so because the connection between diligence and wealth makes sense to young people. All of the Proverbs have assumptions of “wise wants” like this lying beneath them.

One more example may make these assumptions more visible. Solomon’s counsel that “sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness” (Proverbs 16:21) may make sense to a teen with a caustic, sarcastic tongue because she probably wants to be persuasive. She wants people to see things her way. She’ll be able to compare the effects of the speech and language she uses with the effects that “sweetness” produces.

More will be said in the next chapter regarding this important scriptural assumption about young people. Learning how to tune into these wise wants will set the stage for you to communicate with your teen because you are appealing to what is motivating her—some constructive, God-imprinted desires, whether she recognizes him as their author or not.

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Stop, Look, Listen: Learn


Beginning at 7:51 a.m., January 12 2007, world-renowned violin virtuoso Joshua Bell, dressed as a common street musician, played for 43 minutes at the top of an indoor escalator system serving the L’Enfant Plaza subway station in Washington, DC. An artist who commands more than $1,000 a minute for his performances, Bell played six classical masterpieces on his $3.5 million Stradivari-designed violin from the early 18th century. More than 1000 commuters hurried past Bell. Only a few gave him more than a passing glance, one recognized him from a concert she had been to the night before at the Library of Congress, and a grand total of $32.17 was tossed into his open violin case. In the presence of greatness, virtually no one recognized him and none honored him as arguably the greatest violinist in the world!

Joshua Bell was part of an experiment sponsored by the Washington Post to study how context affects the way people respond to a person or event. In other words, how does what I’m looking for affect what I see? Three days before, Bell had sold out Boston’s stately Symphony Hall at $100 per ticket for a “pretty good” seat, according to the Post article. Those concert-goers had been expecting a spectacular artist and were duly rewarded. Indeed, every other time Joshua Bell plays his violin in public, people are astounded. But the busy, chilly commuters on that January morning, coming upon a violinist in jeans and a baseball cap playing for spare change, allowed their observations to take the path of least resistance. As a result, they saw what they expected to see: nothing particularly noteworthy.

What will you expect to see the next time you talk with your angry teen? If you look through the lenses God holds before us in his Word, you will see what you may not have noticed before, or perhaps have not noticed in a very long time. Rather than the conversational equivalent of hurrying past on your way to something more important you will stop, and look, and listen. This is someone whom God expects you to approach with love and respect and wisdom and thoughtful, careful, honest, biblical speech. When your teen senses that attention and regard from you, you can expect the uncommon reward of attentiveness. That is how the door begins to open, how the walls begin to come down, and how you can start to past the Get outta my face response.

Read excerpts from Chapter 3


[1] Throughout this book, “youth worker” will serve as shorthand for any non-family member whose role includes efforts to help teens. This may be a school counselor, youth group leader, youth pastor, or other youth counselor. The assumption is that these youth workers are able freely to discuss the Bible and faith. When I refer either to a Christian school or a youth group setting, please understand that these are interchangeable.

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