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Teen vs. Parents: Who Wins?

article by Janet Treadway

A tragic court case brings home the ugly reality of some dysfunctional family relationships. What is God's solution?


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Recently I watched with near disbelief a video recording of a court proceeding concerning a New Jersey high school senior who was suing her parents. The girl claimed her parents essentially abandoned her, mostly because she wouldn't break up with her boyfriend. She moved out of their house two days before she turned 18 and had been living with her best friend's parents.

In a lawsuit, the girl asked a court to have her parents pay the outstanding tuition for her private high school, pay her living and transportation expenses for the foreseeable future, use money from an existing college fund to pay for at least some of her college education and pay her legal bills. She also asked for $651 weekly to cover her living expenses.

The judge pointed out that she had been suspended from school twice, had a problem with drinking alcohol and had been removed from being a cheerleading captain. The judge went on to tell her and those assembled in the courtroom, "What kind of parents would [your parents] be if they didn't set down some strict rules?" 

The judge ruled against the girl, cautioning that the case could lead to a "potentially slippery slope" of claims by teenagers against their parents.

The courtroom video also briefly showed her parents, who were sobbing. My heart ached as I watched them weep. It was painfully difficult to watch the girl's mother crying, being a mom myself.

How many of us mothers lay awake at night worrying over our children, even when they are adults? This girl's parents had reportedly provided her with the best schools and even bought her a new car. They simply wanted her to abide by their rules for her own good while she lived under their roof.

Sometimes parents have to make tough choices, as was the case regarding this teen. Now she has deepened the wounds to an even greater degree by taking her parents to court. I'm reminded of Proverbs 10:1: "A wise child brings joy to a father; a foolish child brings grief to a mother" (New Living Translation). Certainly, these parents' joy was taken away as they sat in court being accused and sued by their own daughter.

This story reminded me of what is prophesied to happen in our world as it enters the last days before Jesus Christ's return: "In the last days there will be very difficult times. For people will love only themselves and their money. They will be boastful and proud, scoffing at God, disobedient to their parents, and ungrateful" (2 Timothy 3:1-2, NLT).

Moreover they will "lack normal affection for their families" (2 Timothy 3:3, God's Word Translation) and be "treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God" (2 Timothy 3:4, New International Version). Doesn't this sound like a lot of our headlines?

What does God have to say about honoring one's parents-and what can we do to carry out His will in this regard?

God's command about honoring parents

God tells us to honor our parents so we will be blessed with a long life. He placed so much value on honoring parents that He included this in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:12). Notice the reiteration in Deuteronomy 5:16: "Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God has commanded you, so that you may live long, and that it may go well with you in the land the Lord your God is giving you" (NIV).

Later the apostle Paul repeated this command: "Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Honor your father and mother-which is the first commandment with a promise-that it may go well with you and that you enjoy long life on the earth" (Ephesians 6:1-3, NIV).

Notice that honoring parents is the only command in Scripture that promises long life as a reward. Those who honor their parents are blessed. In contrast, those with a "depraved mind" and those who exhibit ungodliness in the last days are characterized by disobedience to parents (Romans 1:28, Romans 1:30; 2 Timothy 3:2).

God was so serious about our need to honor our parents that in Leviticus 20:9 He issued a command that anyone who cursed their father or mother was to be put to death. That may sound heartless, but it's not directed toward younger children. It covers those old enough to know what they are doing and to be held accountable for their actions. Consider what a danger to society someone would be who had so little respect for others that he would curse his own parents. Someone so lacking in decency and respect for societal norms would eventually be a danger to those around him-as God well recognized.

Honoring our parents holds valuable lessons that apply on several levels. It's the fabric of our everyday life. If we disrespect our parents, then we are also disrespecting God. When we don't honor our parents, that lack of thankfulness and gratitude can lead us to attitudes of bitterness, resentment and anger. When we allow other things to become excuses for not honoring our mothers and fathers, we make it easy for other things to come between us and God. 

Jesus set an outstanding example on how to love, care and honor. John 19:26-27 records how He showed love and concern for His mother in one of His final actions as a human being. Here at the end of His physical life, while suffering great pain, Jesus asked John, His friend and follower, to look after His mother Mary.

Positive ways to honor our parents

How can we show honor to our parents? Let's note seven specific ways.

1. Pray for your parents. How many children-regardless of their age-actually pray for their parents daily? A great way to start honoring your parents is by praying for them. It's not easy being a parent. Many times, through stress and pressure, parents can make mistakes-but they're still your parents. A strong relationship with your parents starts with praying for them and asking God to help them and to help you show love and respect.

2. Put yourself in their shoes. Reverse the role in your mind and look at how much they have done for you. Evaluate the decisions they've made by asking yourself, "How would I handle this if I was the parent of a teen?" Seek to understand their stresses from working, paying the bills, putting food on the table, running you to different activities, etc.

Imagine you're the one walking in your parent's shoes. In Freaky Friday, a 2003 movie remake, an overworked mother and her daughter who did not get along somehow switched bodies. Each was forced to adapt to the others' life for that one day. As they adjusted to their new personas, they began to understand each other more.

3. Seek to understand. Realize that your parents are not perfect any more than you are. Try to give understanding as much as you want to be understood.

4. Think before your speak. Words spoken through anger can do much damage. Whenever you reach a boiling point, stop and think before you say something you'll regret later. That goes for parents as well as their children.

5. Remind them that you care. You don't know what tomorrow will bring, so show love and appreciation for all that your parents do for you. Tell them that you love them (it melts a parent's heart every time).

6. Learn to forgive. Remember that we are all human and make many mistakes along the way, but forgiveness is a vital tool for keeping a healthy relationship intact. As the famous author C.S. Lewis pointed out, "To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you" ( The Weight of Glory, 1947, p. 125). His words echo those of Jesus Christ, who said, "For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins" (Matthew 6:14-15, NIV). Forgive!

7. Show appreciation for all your parents do for you and have done for you. William Arthur Ward, a widely quoted writer of inspirational maxims, said, "Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it." Gratitude can start with simple things like a hug, saying thanks and offering to help without being told. Sit down and write a nice note with a list of all the nice things your parents do for you all day long.

Love and respect brings God's blessing

You may not agree with your parents all the time, but love them and respect them and God will bless you for it. (I'm writing about normal, imperfect parents who are genuinely trying, not those who are abusive-that's another topic.) 

In the United States this year, Sunday, May 11, is Mother's Day, and Father's Day is the next month on Sunday, June 14. But don't wait for this annual occasion to honor your parents. Let every day be Mother's Day and Father's Day-a time to celebrate and give thanks to your parents by showing them honor, so that your life will be blessed.

For some parents, this may be a painful time because of strained relationships with their children. If you're a parent who's had a broken relationship with your child, never give up praying for him or her! Keep in mind the story of the prodigal son found in Luke 15:11-32. God will make it right in the end. There will be no teens taking their parents to court in the coming Kingdom of God. We are God's children, and He loves us very much. The commandment to honor your father and mother was put in motion for a purpose-for your good, and to learn how we will live for eternity in God's family!

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