I Can’t Fix Your Teen


Parents can TEACH their kids to make good choices, but they can't MAKE those good choices for them.

Have you seen the marketing from publishers promising parents of troubled teens that they have something that will fix their kid?

You know – the commercials that say things can be miraculously transformed, or nearly perfect? A quick fix by the end of the week? Try mood therapy – it can fix an angry teen. Try addiction therapy, because it can fix an addict. Buy nutrition therapy, it will fix a brain, and start playing Sudoku, because it will fix your memory, and then life will be perfect!

Expert as I might be in dealing with troubled teens, you will never, ever, hear me promise that I can fix your kid. You will never hear me promise that treatment of any kind is the way to fix another human being, or that life will ever be nearly perfect. The truth is, I can’t fix your kid, and as a parent, neither can you. Living to fix a child will cause you to miss their heart with every time you try.

Just to be clear, I’m not knocking therapy, or therapists. I’m not dissing good nutrition, or taking medication if you need it, or playing Sudoku if it helps. These are effective ways to treat symptoms. That’s not the point I’m making. Instead I’m addressing the mindset that as sinful, messed up people, we can apply a simple fix-it mentality to human beings. Frankly, I think it’s stupid to even consider it. And, I just don’t see our attempts to fix a human being or live perfectly as a principle found in scripture either.

Let me give you some examples: Despite all he tried to do for him, Abraham couldn’t fix Lot. Despite all God promised her, Sarah couldn’t fix Hagar. In every attempt to sooth and befriend him, the effect was temporary, and David couldn’t fix Saul. Perhaps the greatest example is God himself. Look at what he did for Adam and Eve in giving them the perfect life, perfect marriage, perfect environment, and perfect relationship with him, and it still didn’t fix things for them. And even though they had perfection, they still chose to rebel.

Scripture teaches that man is fearfully and wonderfully made, and that human beings are created in the image and likeness of God. Those are truths packed with layer upon layer of meaning – and not the least of which is that God made man with some of his own qualities. Like God, human beings have free will, creative energy, and the power of choice. But we are not perfect. We are saints because we are sinners, redeemed by a Savior.

So when a teen exercises his humanity, and the power to choose the wrong thing, you cannot fix it. As much as you’d like to, parents cannot make a teen’s choices for him. A dad cannot choose for his daughter when it comes to whether or not to have sex with a boy. A mom cannot choose for her son about whether or not to view porn. Parents cannot choose for their teen never to drink, or smoke, or try drugs. Does that mean parents are powerless, and shouldn’t try? Of course not!

God imbued parents with the authority to train a child in the way he should go, so that when he is old he will not depart from the goodness of life with God. But when a parent’s plans for their child go awry, when a child steps over every boundary line drawn, and when every attempt to fix a kid doesn’t work – change your mind. Realize – you cannot fix them.   I teach parents to set boundaries, create rules, and enforce the consequences. Doing so will teach a teen in making better choices. But when they blow it completely, and have damage in their life, fixing it becomes less important than redeeming it.

You can’t fix it, but you can be part of redeeming it. Just as God put a plan in place to redeem mankind through sending us a Savior, parents can be part of a redemptive process, and put a plan in place that allows for redemption in the life of their troubled teen.

Redeeming looks, acts, and thinks differently than fixing. Redemption means coming alongside, and carrying the burden together in a new way. Redemption puts anger aside, and speaks with gentleness and humility. Redemption looks at the heart with compassion. Redemption understands that there are always consequences to bad choices – always. But it doesn’t mean all is lost.

Since perfection is not possible in anyone’s life, failure is guaranteed for everyone, and we all make choices whose outcomes cannot be changed, isn’t it better to live as though the goal in parenting is redemption, instead of perfection?

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