When we deal with problem behaviors of teens, it’s important to discover — and help them discover — the root issue behind their actions.
Considering the Real Issue
Especially when divergent behavior is damaging to teens or those around them, it’s easy to focus on the behavior itself, rather than the root sin issues. Why is it important to understand what’s behind the problem behavior? Because the behavior isn’t the main problem that needs to be addressed: The heart motivation is.
If all we do is address the external manifestations of a sinful heart, we’re merely encouraging Pharaseeism — arguably the kind of sinfulness that Jesus Christ loathes most. In Matthew 23:27, Jesus does not criticize the Pharisees for failing to keep the law or behave correctly; instead, He points out the hypocrisy of their pure appearances while their inner sin issues remained unaddressed. His harsh judgments of them related to their hearts, which He as God could see (1 Samuel 16:7).
In what some call His “intensification of the Law,” Christ clearly explains that not only does pleasing God mean having our outward appearances in check, but our inward motivations as well (Matthew 5:20-48). Teens need guidance in discerning the sinfulness of their own hearts, and when we focus on externals, we eliminate the chance to help them deal with the roots of their sinfulness.
Looking at Christ’s Example
From the woman at the well to the Pharisees, from the rich young ruler to the disciples, Christ used questions to reveal what was in the hearts of people. Of course, as God, He already knew. (As humans, we only think we know.)
Even though He perfectly knew people’s hearts, He rarely proclaimed to them the roots of their sinfulness; instead, He asked questions, used hypotheticals, and told stories to illuminate their sinfulness to them. He knew that sometimes creativity is needed in order to help self-deceived people to understand their sin problem.
Following Up with Help
It’s not enough to creatively draw out the sinful motivations behind a teen’s troublesome behavior. If we stop there, it’s similar to deciding to pull a weed out by the roots, grasping it tightly in your hands, and then letting go as if you’ve completed the task.
Once you’ve guided your teen in realizing the root cause of the sinful behavior, you need to make sure he or she knows what God says about that particular sin. Charts like this one or lists like this one can be helpful, as can a good, old fashioned Bible concordance.
The next step is confession (1 John 1:9) and repentance, both to God and to any people that have been wronged. The hardest part, humanly speaking, is forsaking that sinful mindset or reaction. They’ll need encouragement and accountability along the way.