Excerpts from Chapter 8

Look Wide
to Discover Your Teen’s Solutions

Emily and her mom, Karen, were referred to me for counseling. Karen was a single mom with three daughters. Emily, 15, was out of control, according to her mom. Her disrespect, defiance, profanity, and angry spirit had taken Karen to her wits’ end. She had asked the youth pastor to meet with Emily, but apparently that hadn’t helped. Emily was no stranger to the Bible. She had been brought up all her life in a sound, Bible-believing church. But she seemed to care very little about the Bible or what God said. Recently, Emily had beaten up her older sister, age 17, and regularly picked on her 13-year-old sister. She was a big as her mom.

Karen came into the waiting area of my office first. A few minutes later, Emily sauntered in. They didn’t speak. Karen sat down and Emily stood looking in the other direction. Anger was written all over her face. She was obviously here against her will.

When I greeted them and invited them into my office, Karen came in first and sat at the far end of the oval dining-room type table I have. Emily took a seat as far from her mom and me as possible. Karen tried to smile and be friendly. Emily made no effort at all at to be friendly or polite.

I asked Karen, “What brings you here?”

“Emily is physically abusive and verbally abusive with me and her sisters. She has made poor choices in friends and is just out of control—in my face with yelling and cursing.”

“How do you see it, Emily?” I asked.

Emily was slouched in her seat, looking down at the floor, trying to look disinterested. She wouldn’t look at me. “She just yells and won’t listen. She gets loud and yells at everything. She makes up all kinds of rules and doesn’t give me any space. She blabs my business all over the neighborhood.”

“So what would you like to be different?” I asked

“I’d like her to not yell at me. Not keep me from my friends. Not make every little thing into a big argument,” Emily said.

“Karen, what would you like to be different?”

“I’d like her to speak with respect. To not yell and use profanity with me. To not be in my face.”

“Emily, when was the last time the two of you were able to talk without yelling; when things went well between the two of you when you talked?”

Emily was thinking. “A couple of weeks ago we talked. She started to yell but then we talked and things ended OK.”

“What was that conversation about?” I asked.

“I wanted to be out with my friends and she was making me come in earlier. So we talked about it and she changed and let me have my friends on the porch.”

“Is that the way you remember it, Karen?”

“Mostly. I told her to come in and she got upset but then we both calmed down and she explained that it was getting darker earlier. She had a good point I hadn’t thought of. So I said she could stay out and have her friends on the porch if she wanted to.”

“Were you OK with that, Emily?”

“Yeah,” she said, a bit more upbeat.

I asked, “What did you do that helped make that work well, Emily?”

“Well, I didn’t get angry or yell.”

“Ok, that’s what you didn’t do, but what did you do? You did some things in that conversation that made it work for the two of you.”

Emily was now beginning to make more eye contact. “I listened. I spoke calmly and didn’t get upset. I explained how I saw things.”

“So you listened, spoke calmly, and explained things from your perspective?”


“And how did that work?”

“Well, Mom didn’t get angry. She listened and spoke calmly, too. Then she changed the rule and I could stay out on the porch.”

“Karen, did you think this worked well, too?”

“Yes. We were able to talk about it and work out the differences. Emily gave me some information that I really hadn’t thought about. So I changed the time she had to be in.”

“And Emily, you were OK with that?”


The Search for Exceptions

The core of this chapter involves searching through your teen’s past for “exceptions.” The goal is to identify a time when the teen behaved in a way that would seem atypical now, but which resulted in a wise want being met.

Exceptions are Solutions from the Past That Produced Desirable Outcomes

Exceptions are wise choices the teen has made in the past that resulted in the kind of experiences she wants to have now. Among other things, Emily wanted to be able to talk to her mom and get her point across. In the conversation above, she discovered that one way she could do that was to do what worked for her in the past. She could talk instead of yell, and speak respectfully to her mom. She and her mom agreed: this had worked in the past and had the promise of working to head off future potential conflicts.

In the providence of God, exceptions are a gold mine of solutions to help a young person get what she wisely wants. “After all, it worked in the past, didn’t it?”

Exceptions Emerge from God’s Providence

Agur, the sage of Proverbs 30, identifies wise choices made by ants, conies, locusts, and lizards (Proverbs 30:24-28). Each of these creatures practice a level of wisdom consistent with the nature God has given them, and they are held up in Scripture as examples for us to follow. Agur, in effect, says, “Use the opportunities (as ants do), places of refuge (as conies do), ability to cooperate (as locusts do), and perseverance (as lizards do) that your creator has given you.” His counsel is, “look at the resources God has put in your past and present, and use them to create solutions to the challenges you face now.”

In Revelation 2:5, Jesus’ rebuke to the church of Ephesus ended with his admonition to “Repent and do the things you did at first.” What they had wisely done in the past gave them an agenda for the present and the future.

Exceptions Can Be Found in the Teen’s Experiences

On many occasions, well-meaning adults may have already tried to point your angry teen in the direction of solutions. Solutions may have been suggested to him on the basis of:

  • How much teachers care about the success of their students
  • How much a pastor can help because of his extensive training in the Word of God
  • The providence of God in placing him in his particular family to receive guidance from his particular parents
  • The sufficiency of Scripture to address every problem
  • A counselor who has encountered a similar situation

Certainly, each of these solutions has validity. But to an angry, bitter, spiritually resentful teen, or one who has “had it up to here with religion,” are solutions such as these likely to be welcomed? The sad reality is that clearly explained, graciously communicated scriptural principles will probably have little or no appeal. Nor is it likely to matter who suggests them. Any counsel that sounds like you or God or some other authority is telling your angry teen what he should do, is likely to be politely tolerated, if not outright rejected.

In the “porch incident” conversation with Emily and her mom, both were able to learn things that could help them with everyday conflicts. As our discussion continued it was clear that both mother and daughter felt they were being treated with respect in that conversation.


Wrap up: Look Wide

As you look wide through the teen’s life for exceptions, and draw these to his attention, you accomplish several things.

  • You make use of the teen’s experiences in a way that can help him…without offering “advice” from adults who “don’t understand” or are “always telling me what to do.”
  • You provide practical, wise options to a teen who may feel like anger is the only way to get what he wants.
  • You can collaborate with your teen, working together to find solutions, rather than having to be the “expert” with all the answers.
  • You can find successful things the teen has done and genuinely commend him for them.
  • You can avoid getting preachy about what the teen “should” do.
  • You give hope to the teen by pointing out what he’s done before successfully.
  • You keep the ball in the teen’s court without pressuring him to change, because he sees for himself the options, positive and negative.

Read excerpts from Chapter 9

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