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12 Ways to Love Your Wayward Child

June 10, 2011

May 09, 2007 | by Abraham Piper | Topic: Parenting

My son Abraham, who speaks from the wisdom of experience and Scripture, has written the article that follows. I read it with tears and laughter. It is so compelling that I asked him immediately if I could share it with the church and the wider Christian community. There is no greater joy than to see your children walking in the truth—and expressing it so well. The rest is Abraham’s untouched. -John Piper

Many parents are brokenhearted and completely baffled by their unbelieving son or daughter. They have no clue why the child they raised well is making such awful, destructive decisions. I’ve never been one of these parents, but I have been one of these sons. Reflecting back on that experience, I offer these suggestions to help you reach out to your wayward child.

1. Point them to Christ.

Your rebellious child’s real problem is not drugs or sex or cigarettes or pornography or laziness or crime or cussing or slovenliness or homosexuality or being in a punk rock band. The real problem is that they don’t see Jesus clearly. The best thing you can do for them—and the only reason to do any of the following suggestions—is to show them Christ. It is not a simple or immediate process, but the sins in their life that distress you and destroy them will only begin to fade away when they see Jesus more like he actually is.

2. Pray.

Only God can save your son or daughter, so keep on asking that he will display himself to them in a way they can’t resist worshiping him for.

3. Acknowledge that something is wrong.

If your daughter rejects Jesus, don’t pretend everything is fine.

For every unbelieving child, the details will be different. Each one will require parents to reach out in unique ways. Never acceptable, however, is not reaching out at all. If your child is an unbeliever, don’t ignore it. Holidays might be easier, but eternity won’t be.

4. Don’t expect them to be Christ-like.

If your son is not a Christian, he’s not going to act like one.

You know that he has forsaken the faith, so don’t expect him to live by the standards you raised him with. For example, you might be tempted to say, “I know you’re struggling with believing in Jesus, but can’t you at least admit that getting wasted every day is sin?”

If he’s struggling to believe in Jesus, then there is very little significance in admitting that drunkenness is wrong. You want to protect him, yes. But his unbelief is the most dangerous problem—not partying. No matter how your child’s unbelief exemplifies itself in his behavior, always be sure to focus more on the heart’s sickness than its symptoms.

5. Welcome them home.

Because the deepest concern is not your child’s actions, but his heart, don’t create too many requirements for coming home. If he has any inkling to be with you, it is God giving you a chance to love him back to Jesus. Obviously there are some instances in which parents must give ultimatums: “Don’t come to this house if you are…” But these will be rare. Don’t lessen the likelihood of an opportunity to be with your child by too many rules.

If your daughter smells like weed or an ashtray, spray her jacket with Febreze and change the sheets when she leaves, but let her come home. If you find out she’s pregnant, then buy her folic acid, take her to her twenty-week ultrasound, protect her from Planned Parenthood, and by all means let her come home. If your son is broke because he spent all the money you lent him on loose women and ritzy liquor, then forgive his debt as you’ve been forgiven, don’t give him any more money, and let him come home. If he hasn’t been around for a week and a half because he’s been staying at his girlfriend’s—or boyfriend’s—apartment, plead with him not to go back, and let him come home.

6. Plead with them more than you rebuke them.

Be gentle in your disappointment.

What really concerns you is that your child is destroying herself, not that she’s breaking rules. Treat her in a way that makes this clear. She probably knows—especially if she was raised as a Christian—that what she’s doing is wrong. And she definitely knows you think it is. So she doesn’t need this pointed out. She needs to see how you are going to react to her evil. Your gentle forbearance and sorrowful hope will show her that you really do trust Jesus.

Her conscience can condemn her by itself. Parents ought to stand kindly and firmly, always living in the hope that they want their child to return to.

7. Connect them to believers who have better access to them.

There are two kinds of access that you may not have to your child: geographical and relational. If your wayward son lives far away, try to find a solid believer in his area and ask him to contact your son. This may seem nosy or stupid or embarrassing to him, but it’s worth it—especially if the believer you find can also relate to your son emotionally in a way you can’t.

Relational distance will also be a side effect of your child leaving the faith, so your relationship will be tenuous and should be protected if at all possible. But hard rebuke is still necessary.

This is where another believer who has emotional access to your son may be very helpful. If there is a believer who your son trusts and perhaps even enjoys being around, then that believer has a platform to tell your son—in a way he may actually pay attention to—that he’s being an idiot. This may sound harsh, but it’s a news flash we all need from time to time, and people we trust are usually the only ones who can package a painful rebuke so that it is a gift to us.

A lot of rebellious kids would do well to hear that they’re being fools—and it is rare that this can helpfully be pointed out by their parents—so try to keep other Christians in your kids lives.

8. Respect their friends.

Honor your wayward child in the same way you’d honor any other unbeliever. They may run with crowds you’d never consider talking to or even looking at, but they are your child’s friends. Respect that—even if the relationship is founded on sin. They’re bad for your son, yes. But he’s bad for them, too. Nothing will be solved by making it perfectly evident that you don’t like who he’s hanging around with.

When your son shows up for a family birthday celebration with another girlfriend—one you’ve never seen before and probably won’t see again—be hospitable. She’s also someone’s wayward child, and she needs Jesus, too.

9. Email them.

Praise God for technology that lets you stay in your kids’ lives so easily!

When you read something in the Bible that encourages you and helps you love Jesus more, write it up in a couple lines and send it to your child. The best exhortation for them is positive examples of Christ’s joy in your own life.

Don’t stress out when you’re composing these as if each one needs to be singularly powerful. Just whip them out one after another, and let the cumulative effect of your satisfaction in God gather up in your child’s inbox. God’s word is never proclaimed in vain.

10. Take them to lunch.

If possible, don’t let your only interaction with your child be electronic. Get together with him face to face if you can. You may think this is stressful and uncomfortable, but trust me that it’s far worse to be in the child’s shoes—he is experiencing all the same discomfort, but compounded by guilt. So if he is willing to get together with you for lunch, praise God, and use the opportunity.

It will feel almost hypocritical to talk about his daily life, since what you really care about is his eternal life, but try to anyway. He needs to know you care about all of him. Then, before lunch is over, pray that the Lord will give you the gumption to ask about his soul. You don’t know how he’ll respond.  Will he roll his eyes like you’re an idiot? Will he get mad and leave? Or has God been working in him since you talked last? You don’t know until you risk asking.

(Here’s a note to parents of younger children: Set up regular times to go out to eat with your kids. Not only will this be valuable for its own sake, but also, if they ever enter a season of rebellion, the tradition of meeting with them will already be in place and it won’t feel weird to ask them out to lunch. If a son has been eating out on Saturdays with his dad since he was a tot, it will be much harder for him later in life to say no to his father’s invitation—even as a surly nineteen-year-old.)

11. Take an interest in their pursuits.

Odds are that if your daughter is purposefully rejecting Christ, then the way she spends her time will probably disappoint you. Nevertheless, find the value in her interests, if possible, and encourage her. You went to her school plays and soccer games when she was ten; what can you do now that she’s twenty to show that you still really care about her interests?

Jesus spent time with tax collectors and prostitutes, and he wasn’t even related to them. Imitate Christ by being the kind of parent who will put some earplugs in your pocket and head downtown to that dank little nightclub where your daughter’s CD release show is. Encourage her and never stop praying that she will begin to use her gifts for Jesus’ glory instead her own.

12. Point them to Christ.

This can’t be over-stressed. It is the whole point. No strategy for reaching your son or daughter will have any lasting effect if the underlying goal isn’t to help them know Jesus.


It’s not so that they will be good kids again; it’s not so that they’ll get their hair cut and start taking showers; it’s not so that they’ll like classical music instead of deathcore; it’s not so that you can stop being embarrassed at your weekly Bible study; it’s not so that they’ll vote conservative again by the next election; it’s not even so that you can sleep at night, knowing they’re not going to hell.

The only ultimate reason to pray for them, welcome them, plead with them, email them, eat with them, or take an interest in their interests is so that their eyes will be opened to Christ.

And not only is he the only point—he’s the only hope. When they see the wonder of Jesus, satisfaction will be redefined. He will replace the pathetic vanity of the money, or the praise of man, or the high, or the orgasm that they are staking their eternities on right now. Only his grace can draw them from their perilous pursuits and bind them safely to himself—captive, but satisfied.

He will do this for many. Be faithful and don’t give up.

© Desiring God

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Parenting From the Inside Out

February 17, 2011

Below are excerpts from Parenting From the Inside Out by Daniel J. Siegel, M.D. and Mary Hartzell, M.ED; New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin.

Children learn about themselves by the way we communicate with them. When we are preoccupied with the past or worried about the future, we are physically present with our children but are mentally absent. Children don’t need us to be fully available all the time, but they do need our presence during connecting interactions. Being mindful as a parent means having intention in your actions. With intention, you purposefully choose your behavior with your child’s emotional well-being in mind. Children can readily detect intention and thrive when there is purposeful interaction with their parents. It is within our children’s emotional connections with us that they develop a deeper sense of themselves and a capacity for relating. pp. 7-8.

Experience shapes neural connections in the brain. Therefore, experience shapes the mind. Interpersonal relationships and self-reflection foster the ongoing growth of the mind: being a parent offers us an opportunity to continue to learn as we reflect on our experiences from new and ever-evolving points of view. p. 8.

Being able to respond in flexible ways is one of the biggest challenges of being a parent. Response flexibility is the ability of the mind to sort through a wide variety of mental processes, such as impulses, ideas, and feelings, and come up with a thoughtful, nonautomatic response. Rather than merely automatically reacting to a situation, an individual can reflect and intentionally choose an appropriate direction of action. Response flexibility is the opposite of a “knee-jerk reaction.” It involves the capacity to delay gratification and to inhibit impulsive behaviors. This ability is a cornerstone of emotional maturity and compassionate relationships.pp. 8-9.

Under certain conditions response flexibility may be impaired. When tired, hungry, frustrated, disappointed, or angered, we can lose the ability to be reflective and become limited in our capacity to choose our behaviors. We may b e swept up in our own emotions and lose perspective. At these times, we can no longer think clearly and are at high risk of overreacting and causing distress to our children. p. 9.

When we become a parent, we bring with us issues from our own past that influence the way we parents our children. Experiences that are not fully processed may create unresolved and leftover issues that influence how we react to our children. These issues can easily get triggered in the parent-child relationship. When this happens our responses toward our children often take the form of strong emotional reactions, impulsive behaviors, distortions in our perceptions, or sensations in our bodies. These intense states of mind impair our ability to think clearly and remain flexible and affect our interactions and relationships with out children. p. 13.

This unresolved issue presented itself to me as a vulnerable first-time parent, and I had intense and shameful emotional responses to my son’s crying and his vulnerability – almost finding it intolerable – and to my sense of helplessness to soothe him. Fortunately, through painful self-reflection, I was able to see this as an unresolved issue in myself and not as a deficit in my son. And this understanding allows me to easily imagine how having an emotional intolerance for helplessness can lead to parental behaviors that target that helplessness in children and attack them for it. Even with love and the best of intentions, we may be filled with old defenses that make our children’s experiences intolerable to us.  p. 21.



Restoring Fatherhood

February 17, 2011

The Key to Social Renewal  by Don Eberly

Originally printed in 1995 Modern Reformation / ACE


Rarely has the nation’s debate shifted with such breathtaking speed. Polls continue to show a significant shift in concern from fiscal to social deficits. In spite of its economic greatness, America is increasingly embarrassed in the eyes of the world for its social conditions. It is humbling for the world’s richest industrial nation to have a poverty rate twice that of any other industrial nation and to be singled out by international agencies as a world leader in child poverty and youth homicides.


At the risk of oversimplifying complex social problems, evidence continues to mount that father absence is the chief cause of most of our costly social maladies: poverty, educational failure, teen suicide, drug abuse, illegitimacy and violence.


Consider poverty. A recent study indicated that the poverty rate for children born to mothers who finished high school, got married, and waited until they were twenty to have their first child was 8% compared to a poverty rate of 79% for those whose mothers didn’t do those three things. The average poverty rate for children of single mothers presently stands at 47% percent; it is 65% for black children.


Those who would cast the problem in racial terms need reminding that black two-parent households earn two to three times as much as white, single-parent households. Moreover, as pointed out recently on this page, the rate of growth in white illegitimacy is now higher than that of blacks.


Then take crime. When family type is taken into account the relationship between race and crime and low income and crime almost disappears.


While growing numbers now agree that fatherhood has been devalued and are prepared to accept that it has some social utility, few are clear on the actual scale of father absence, why fatherhood really matters, or why its restoration is so central to American progress.


To appreciate the scope of father absence, consider that 40% nearly four of every ten-now goes to bed in a household where the biological father is absent, and that one in every two children will spend at least some time before the age of 18 with one parent.


Father absence is already competing with father presence for the norm, and the trend is expected to worsen by the turn of the century. If out-of-wedlock births is a harbinger of the future a visit to almost any maternity ward in America, urban or rural, presents a portrait of a fatherless and Dickensonian America in the year 2010.


Free societies can endure a lot of challenges-dramatic economic dislocation and a decline in educational achievement, public health and competitiveness. With the right mix of sound policy and collective resolve, many of these problems can at least be ameliorated. What free societies cannot survive is widespread crime and disorder, and the fear that violence generates.


Who is it that is responsible for the mayhem, and who is it that we fear precisely? It is males, and predominantly fatherless males who have not been properly socialized. Sixty percent of America’s rapists, 72% of adolescent murderers, and 70% of long term prison inmates grew up without fathers.


James Q. Wilson reminds us that human progress depends upon the socialization of males, a simple fact that was recognized throughout all recorded human history and only forgotten recently.


Neither child well-being, nor societal well-being is likely to be significantly improved until fathers are recognized as unique and irreplaceable. Reconnecting them to children would do more to restore a happy and healthy childhood to every child, and dramatically reduce our nation’s most costly problems, than all of the pending legislation in America combined.


So what do we do?

For starters recognize the danger of putting too much stock in national policy agendas. While policy changes are welcome, their effects are ultimately marginal. It greater prosperity and broader income distribution were the sole answer to America’s social problems American would be on the verge of a renaissance.


Consider the experience of the 1980’s a decade of surging economic growth and almost ceaseless family values rhetoric. The impact on the single parent household? It grew by 40%. Bill Clinton’s welcome interest in the family will meet the same fate if he concludes that policy tools alone are sufficient. There are no revolutionary ideas in politics.


The chief ingredients in America’s social regression involve factors that are less susceptible to fiscal and programmatic adjustments. America’s new frontiers lie in the realm of social change. A good many social problems are explained predominantly by a shift in social norms, norms which can change again. We have seen profound changes in recent decades in social attitudes on gender race, physical fitness, smoking and our treatment of the environment.


Americans are more prone than ever to sanction behaviors that are protective of the natural ecology. By contrast, in the realm of social ecology, our language turns to personal choice and expressive individualism. When it comes to human conduct that is most injurious to child well-being, America practices an unfettered Laisse Faire.


Fatherhood is predominantly a cultural, not biological, institution, which means its functioning requires social support; it dysfunctioning social opprobrium. To suggest, as we have, that it’s all negotiable, will only ensure its demise.


Recently the National Fatherhood Initiative was launched, with the help of two veteran fatherhood experts, David Blankenhorn of the Institute for American Values, and Dr. Wade Horn, former U.S. Commissioner of Children, Youth and Families. Its goal is ambitious: destroy the myth of the superfluous father within American society and restore responsible fatherhood as a national priority.


National Fatherhood Initiative wants to enlist fathers, because they matter, because most men want to be good fathers, and because good fathers need society’s support to survive. A rising social consciousness about fatherhood’s importance could change America’s social landscape .


Fathers must be reconnected to their children by rediscovering historically masculine traits of strong male nurturance. As author Richard Louv has said, “Men will not move back into the family until our culture reconnects masculinity and fatherhood, until young men come to see fatherhood, not just paternity, as the fullest expression of manhood.”


Restoring fatherhood and reversing the decline in child well-being will require social change, promoted predominantly through the value-shaping institutions in the civic sector: churches charities, and civic organizations.


A new social movement must be launched to strengthen parenting, particularly to restore the necessary social norms of responsible fatherhood. Without moral overkill, without vilifying good single mothers or decent men who have been less than perfect fathers, a new ideal for fatherhood must be resewn into the social fabric.


American’s public and private institutions should be called upon to reinforce a simple and consistent message that is heard by all, beginning at an early age: becoming a parent is important business and it requires responsibility, respect and readiness for the care of children. It is the well-being of children, after all, that must again be our highest priority.




Don E. Eberly is the Founder of the National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI), a non-profit, tax-exempt organization, the goal of which is the address the issue of fatherlessness in America. Mr. Eberly is also the Founder and current President of the Commonwealth Foundation in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, an institute promoting civic, democratic, and economic renewal. Previously, he spent eight years in Washington, D. C. , in various key positions in congress, the White House and directing a think tank. He is the author of Restoring the Good Society: A New Vision for Culture and Politics and the editor of Building a Community of Citizens: Civil Society in the 21st Century. He is a graduate of George Washington University, Harvard University and Pennsylvania State University

Twenty-four Ways to Provoke Your Child to Frustration

February 16, 2011

by Lou Priolo[1]

Below is a list of the most common ways that parents tend to provoke their child to anger. Check off the ones that most often apply to your parenting traits.

1.  Lack of marital harmony. When parents do not live with each other in harmony as God intended (Gen. 2:24; Heb. 12:15)

2.  Establishing and maintaining a child-centered home (Proverbs 29:15)

3. Modeling sinful anger (Proverbs 22:24,25)

4.  Consistently disciplining in anger (Psa. 38:1; Eph. 4:26,27; James 1:19,20)

James 1:19 So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; 20 for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.

5.  Scolding (Mark 14:3-5; Ephesians 4:29)

To scold is “to assail or revile with boisterous speech. The word itself seems to have a primary meaning akin to that of barking or howling.”[2]

6.  Being inconsistent with discipline (Ecclesiastes 8:11).

7.  Having double standards.

8.  Being legalistic (elevating your personal rules to the same level as God’s rules; you must not be Pharisaical.  One example is in Matthew 15:7-9).

9.  Not admitting when you are wrong (Matthew 5:23, 24; James 5:16).

10.  Parents reversing God-given roles as husband-father and wife-mother (Ephesians 5:22-24)

11.  Not listening to the child’s opinion or the child’s side of a story (Proverbs 18:3, 17).

12.  Comparing her/him to others (2 Corinthians 10:12) instead of comparing her/him to where the child ought to be as a maturing person in Christ (Ephesians 4:13-15; 2 Corinthians 3:18) or to where his maturity is today compared with various points in the past (2 Peter 1:3-12; Revelation 2:2-5).

13.  Not having time to talk with your child (Ecclesiastes 3:7; James 1:19).

14.  Not praising the child when it is deserved (Revelation 2:2-4; Romans 12:3; Philippians 4:8).

15.  Failing to keep promises (Psalm 15:4-5; Matthew 5:37; Colossians 3:9).

16. Chastising him or her in front of others (Matthew 18:15) for private offenses.

17.  Giving too much freedom (Proverbs 29:15; Galatians 4:1,2).

Example: How Eli the priest treated his two sons in 1 Sam 3:11-14

18. Not giving enough freedom (Luke 12:48; James 3:17).

19.  Making fun of the child (Exodus 4:11; Job 17:1,2).

20.  Abusing the child physically (Numbers 22:27-29; 1 Timothy 3:3).

21.  Calling your child names (Ephesians 4:29).

22.  Having unrealistic expectations (1 Corinthians 13:11).

23.  Showing favoritism toward one child above another (Luke 15:25-30)

24. Employing child training methods that are inconsistent with the Word of God (Ephesians 6:4).

[1] Priolo, Lou. How to Help Angry Kids. Alabama City, AL: S.E.L.F. Publications, 1996.

[2] Trumbull,  H. Clay. Hints on Child Training. Brentwood, TN: Wolgemuth & Hyatt, nd.

Thomas Manton and Family Worship

February 11, 2011

Metaphors That Highlight the Need for Home Catechisms

Feb 5, 2010 John Phillip Pesebre

Thomas Manton is a 17th c English Puritan Clergy – Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

Thomas Manton, a 17th century English Puritan clergy, presented three metaphors as the springboard for family catechisms – an old message that finds relevance today.


“Mr. Thomas Manton’s Epistle to the Reader of the Westminster Confession of Faith and Larger and Shorter Catechisms” is a persuasive essay for parents to engage themselves in the catechizing of their families. This letter served as the preface to the second edition (1658) of Westminster Assembly’s Confession of Faith. In this short essay, Manton presented three metaphors to serve as springboard for his exhortation to catechize children.

The Family is the Citizen’s Training Program of the State

Manton sees the basic need of societies for well-ordered families. The family is the first location of instruction so that if the family fails in the instructions of their children, the society will most likely fail in the instruction of the citizens. What was spoiled in the first line (Home) of defense will be difficult to repair in the second line (State). Manton calls the neglect to the training of children as a “presage” of bad things to happen in the Commonwealth of England. Disobedient children at home will become disobedient citizens of the state.

The Family is a Society That Must be Sanctified to God

Families are like societies in the sense that parents serve as governors. Manton censures the neglectful parent for abandoning their duties as the leader of their families. They offer their children to the church in the many sacraments but turn over the education to the world. One thinks these days of children who spend a great deal of time on the television and gaming consoles but without the training coming from the parents. Manton further censures them for passively seeing themselves as parents only in the “world and flesh” but not governing their families as a sanctified society.

The Family is the Seminary of the Church

Discipline at home is training for life in the church. In Acts 21:5, the disciples are said to have accompanied Paul and company, along with the disciples’ wives and children, out of Tyre. Moments before they left, they had a short prayer meeting on the shore. Manton explains that the inclusion of the children was a parental training on how to give respect to pastors like Paul.

It is in this metaphor that Manton spends a great deal of time presenting a seeming calumny of the mischief brought about by untrained children in the church. He censures the families for producing arrogant, unruly and self-praising children whose only claim is aged ignorance. He implores the families not to distress them with these kinds of children.

Because of the lack of instruction at home, these kids would swallow every heretical teaching that come their way – not having ability to discern truth.

Parents Must Take on the Task of Catechizing Their Children

It is to these three ideas — that the family is a training program, a seminary and a sanctified society– that Manton applies the wisdom of Psalms 102:28 where it talks about the continuation of the faith in the lives of the children and their descendants.

Children are what Manton calls as “pliable, and, like wax, capable of any form and im_pression.” Manton expresses the pragmatic value of catechizing because he thinks that catechisms:

1.             instill principles that have proven useful in the faith

2.             are brief statements

3.             are easy to remember

4.             can be a seed planted in the garden of memory

5.             will serve as restrainer for youthful lusts and passions


Manton, Thomas. Mr. Thomas Manton’s Epistle to the Reader of the Westminster Confession of Faith and Larger and Shorter Catechisms (accessed January 4, 2010).


Copyright John Phillip Pesebre. Contact the author to obtain permission for republication.

Read more at Suite101: Thomas Manton and Family Worship: Metaphors That Highlight the Need for Home Catechisms

One effect of an abusive parent

February 1, 2011

Another feature of the formerly battered child’s personality is an inability to form deep relationships with an adult, an attitude one child psychiatrist in the field calls ‘Hail Fellow Well Met.’
Inglis, Ruth. Sins of the Fathers. NY: St. Martin’s Press, 1978. p. 86

Leading Your Lost Teen Home

January 31, 2011

By Mark Gregston|Christian Post Guest Columnist

When you’re lost, having someone to lovingly lead the way back home is a wonderful blessing. That, not shaming or lecturing, is what teenagers need from their parents when they are lost.

Mark Gregston

A few years back I bought a GPS (Global Positioning System) device. For me, it may be the single best idea since the invention of fire. It always knows right where I am…it never judges my ability (or inability) to navigate…and more importantly, it knows how to get me to where I need to go, and back home again. With as much as I travel, I don’t know how I could function without it.

Likewise, parents need to be a GPS in the life of their teenager. As teens strike out on their own, it is easy for them to get lost. They may lose their way getting to where they want to go, and end up in a place they really didn’t want to go (even if they won’t admit they are lost). Unless their parents reach out to them in a loving and nonjudgmental way, they may remain lost.

Realize that the Roadmap Has Changed

When giving directions in life, parents tend to unfold an old roadmap and expect it to be valid today. But the cultural landscape has changed. It’s like when I looked at a map of Europe the other day. Many of the countries I learned about in school weren’t there anymore; a bunch of new names and new boundaries had taken their place. In the same way, the life directions we give as parents may not fit the real world our children are living in. We tend to say, “Follow these directions…they worked for me.” Then we get a phone call, “Mom, Dad I’m lost!” Now you would think the first response would be, “Sit tight and I’ll come get you.” But some parents shame their child -“What do you mean you’re lost? I told you…”

Now, I’ve never met a child who wanted to be lost. I’ve never heard a young person say, “I want to wander through life not knowing where I’m going.” What I have heard are things like: “I failed to listen because I thought I could find my own way.” Or, “I tried what I through was a shortcut.” Or, “I looked for the landmarks; but it was dark, so it didn’t look the same.” Or, “I asked for help and was steered in a different direction; now I don’t know where I am.”

Don’t Shut Them Out

The reality is that many kids in our culture will get lost. Maybe through curiosity, or trauma in their life, or the advice of their peers they’ll get off the right path. Whatever the cause, when our kids are lost, we as parents have to take the responsibility to help them find their way back. The number one complaint I hear from troubled kids is that they feel so alone. Yes, they may have pushed their parents and family away, but now they don’t know how to bring them back. Relationships are more important than ever at this point, but they may also be under more strain than ever.

It’s vital that we as parents keep the lines of communication open, no matter how lost our teen has become. Leave the shaming and blaming out of your conversation. Yes, they’ve made mistakes and have lost their way, but it is no time to push them even further away with “I told you so’s.” Don’t allow any embarrassment you are feeling to block or shape your reaction. Remember they want your time and attention more than ever (even though they may resist it a little at the same time). Most of all they are looking for someone to just listen. Short of compromising your own values and beliefs, be willing to do whatever it takes to lead your child back to the right path.

Listen and Find Unique Solutions

My friend Dr. Jim Burns has worked with young people for many years. He pointed out to me that the teen years are supposed to be something of an experimental period–which he and his wife experienced first-hand with their three daughters. One of the girls in particular was rebelling, so on the advice of their youth pastor they decided to take her out of a Christian school and place her in a public school instead. That way, they reasoned, instead of her rebelling against the conservative rules of the Christian school and Christianity in general, she would shift her focus to rebel against the culture of the public school. And it worked! It worked for her, that is. It was a unique solution to helping her find her way back home–one that many parents might miss if they followed the old road map and forced her to conform.

It would have been easy for them to insist on their rebellious daughter being treated exactly the same way as their other girls, but it might have resulted in her being forever lost. Jim says, “When we don’t really listen, it’s easy to miss their cues and to misunderstand their behavior.” Looking back, his daughters felt valued by the time he spent with them, and for treating them as individuals. Instead of taking a cookie-cutter approach to parenting, he chose to “hang out” with them individually and listen to what was on each of their hearts. That’s what effective parents do.

Look Past the Pushback to Welcome Them Home

Some pushback typically does begin in the teen years. But I think that the job of a parent is to raise a responsible adult rather than an always obedient teen. Testing their wings of independence is part of the maturing process. You have to have boundaries, but the purpose of those boundaries is not to ensure 100% compliance but to protect your child and to show them how to live. Years ago any challenge or question (especially questioning their faith) was regarded as rebellion that needed to be squelched. I think today we have a healthier view that instead of pushing kids away, we take the time to work through things with them individually.

You’ve heard the expression that teens have to disown their parent’s faith so they can own their own faith. Likewise, we need to allow teens to test and even disown our ideals so they can create their own. When they do, they may get lost for a time, but they’ll naturally steer toward what they’ve been taught throughout their life. Like salmon returning to the stream where they were spawned, they’ll eventually find their way back home. Don’t taint that stream with emotional sewage, or dam it up with bad attitudes. All they need to hear is that they are welcome to come home.

Robert Frost wrote, “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” Create a home for your teen where they know they will always be loved and accepted, and you will have a home they will always want to come home to…no matter how far away they’ve been, or how lost they’ve become.

We talk about this issue in-depth on our radio program titled “Leading Your Lost Teen Home.”

Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a residential program for struggling adolescents located in East Texas. To learn more, go to