Guiding Teenagers to Relate to Parents according to the Wisdom of God’s Word

Leaders who talk to teenagers about their parents often begin with the subject of obedience. Behavior and obedience are important, but they are secondary issues. The primary issue is the heart. Paul Tripp says, “The Bible attributes many important functions to the heart. It tells us that we feel, think, purpose, desire, believe with our hearts.”

A teenager’s heart will determine his or her behavior. Tripp adds: “The Bible says, in literally hundreds of ways, that human beings live out of their hearts. We like to think that it’s other people and circumstances that cause us to do what we do. However, this little bit of blame-shifting comes straight out of the garden of Eden. The Bible says that our situations and relationships are merely the occasions in which our hearts express themselves.”

God knows that if a child honors his or her parents, then right behavior will be the natural result.

The fifth commandment does not say, “Obey your father and mother.” Rather than beginning with behavior, the commandment goes for the heart. It says, “Honor your father and mother.” God knows that if a child honors his or her parents, then right behavior will be the natural result.

Commandments one through four relate to our relationship with God. The fifth commandment is the first one related to human relationships. Teenagers need to know that family relationships are second only to their relationship with God—and thus come before such issues as the church, vocational calling, and friends.

Paul instructs children to honor father and mother “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land” (Eph. 6:3). When the heart is right, life goes well. According to Rob Rienow, honoring parents sets in motion a lifetime of honoring those in authority. And honoring parents is preparation for honoring God, an authority teenagers cannot see with their eyes.

And honoring parents is preparation for honoring God, an authority teenagers cannot see with their eyes.

Teenagers need to know they will reap what they sow. If they choose not to honor parents, they eventually will not honor God and will not honor other authorities. As this happens, life always will begin to spiral down, and crises will multiply.

If Rob Rienow were speaking to your teenagers, he probably would say: “Who you are at home is the real you. That is where you reveal your true character. … Show more respect to your parents than anyone else in your life. Show that respect through your speech, your attitudes, and your actions. Honor them with the tone of your voice, your eyes, and your spirit.”

The commandment to honor parents applies to teenagers whose parents are not believers. Those teenagers need to know they honor the position of parents even if they are disappointed with their parents’ spiritual condition or behavior.

All teenagers can honor parents by showing gratitude. Teenagers dislike hearing constant negativism from parents. They need to know parents are made the same way. You can help teenagers consider what words parents most long to hear. Examples might include: “Even though I’m growing up, you still are important to me.” “I’m grateful for what you do and the sacrifices you make for me.” “Even though I push you for more freedom, I’m glad you hold the rope and don’t turn loose of me.” “I’m proud of you and glad for others to know you’re my parent.” “You’ve given me some great growing up memories.” “I look forward to our adult friendship.”

Teenagers who love, honor, and obey wise parents likely will absorb wisdom from those parents. Mark Matlock defines wisdom as “the human capacity to see life from God’s perspective, as well as the ability to recognize and act on the patterns he has revealed in his Word in order to train our minds to think like his mind.” Through a brief history lesson, you can show teenagers that receiving wisdom from their parents can have major implications.

Matlock reports: “If you look at America in the 1960s, it was one of the first times in the history of our country that we experienced such a wide-ranging disconnect between two adjacent generations. That failure led to a mostly ineffective transfer of wisdom to that ‘60s generation. … The ramifications of a generation of parents failing to pass wisdom on to their kids led to decades of heartache and stunted growth.”

Rob Rienow often tells teenagers that parents are a major factor in preparing them for their mission on Earth. Absorbing wisdom from parents is a major part of that preparation.

Unfortunately, many teenagers today have been wounded by parents. When that wounding leads to long-term bitterness, teenagers experience harm in almost every area of life. Rienow says such bitterness is like a hand grenade teenagers plan to throw at parents. Unfortunately, it usually goes off while still in their hands—harming teenagers rather than parents. A “root of bitterness” closes off their hearts and shatters future relationships (Heb. 12:15).

(B)itterness is like a hand grenade teenagers plan to throw at parents. Unfortunately, it usually goes off while still in their hands.

The only antidote to bitterness is forgiveness. And the only motivation for forgiving parents is gratitude over having been forgiven by Christ. As Paul says, “Forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” (Col. 2:13).

You can invite teenagers to forgive parents the same way Jesus forgave the soldiers gambling for His garment. The soldiers did not deserve His forgiveness, and parents who have wounded their children do not. The soldiers had not asked for His forgiveness, and parents usually have not. The soldiers had not promised to do better, and parents may continue acting harshly. But we invite a teenager to say, “I’m asking the Spirit to help me forgive my parents in the same way my Savior forgave those who crucified Him.”

Of course, this principle works both ways. Teenagers can cause deep pain in the hearts of parents. You need to invite teenagers who have wounded their parents to follow the guidance of Scripture as they seek the forgiveness of those parents.

Teenagers generally know that God has assigned parents the responsibility of protecting and providing for their children. You may need to tell teenagers that God also intends believing parents to serve as the primary spiritual leaders to their children

You can tell your group that it is to their advantage to cheer on their parents as spiritual leaders. For one thing, they will receive a spiritual inheritance from those parents. In addition, by observing, they will learn how to spiritually lead their own children some day.

Bottom line: Teenagers who honor, obey, and learn from parents are well on their way toward a wonderful life.

Richard Ross

Richard Ross

Professor of Student Ministry at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
Dr. Ross serves as Professor of Student Ministry in the Jack D. Terry School of Church and Family Ministries. He is married to LaJuana and they are parents of Clayton.
Twitter: @richardaross
Website: RichardARoss.com
Richard Ross