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Helping Teens through Turbulent Times

They [adolescents] now seem to love luxury, they have bad manners and contempt for authority, they show disrespect for adults and spend their time hanging around places gossiping with one another. They are ready to contradict their parents, monopolize the conversation and company, eat gluttonously and tyrannize their teachers….”
—Socrates about 400 B.C.

The quote from Socrates, the ancient Greek philosopher and teacher, sounds like it could have been pulled from today’s newspapers. It appears teens have always experienced turbulent times, and they have been troublesome to those around them. Socrates seems to have little sympathy for the enormous changes young men and women experience during adolescence, he is focused on behaviors rather than getting below the surface. Who knows . . . as a teacher perhaps he was a victim of their perceived tyranny, referenced at the end of the quote.

Fast forward multiple centuries and teens today are disrespecting parents, showing contempt for authority, and behaving rudely, just like Socrates described, but Dr. Joe White sees things a little differently. Considered an expert on teenagers, he knows outer misbehavior will not be altered without inner transformation. He is sensitive to the extreme pressures, the pushes and pulls from all directions that can eventually topple teens. And he can relate to the rampant rejection often experienced during adolescence, pain for him that God has shown to be powerfully purposeful. Having ministered to thousands of teenagers for more than five decades, Joe assesses his turbulent teenage years: “Being the little loser taught me to care. To this day I have a soft spot for hurting kids. I’m always ready for a letter or phone call or conversation with a teenager . . . who is like I was.”


Adolescence and Puberty 

Moving from childhood to adulthood is anything but easy! This journey involves passing through the unpredictable stage known as adolescence. If your child is in this transition, you face the challenge of uprooting weeds of immaturity while sowing seeds of autonomy.

  • Adolescence is the transitional period of growth between childhood and adulthood characterized by dramatic emotional, social, and physical changes. 
  • Puberty is the age at which a person is first capable of sexual reproduction, characterized by dramatic physical changes.  The onset of puberty occurs in girls between the ages of 10 and 17 (usually around 12) and in boys between the ages of 12 and 19 (usually around 14). 


Telltale Issues of Troubled Teens 

  • Emotional withdrawal (avoiding family activities, being secretive and unresponsive, arguing or being verbally abusive) 
  • School difficulties (receiving noticeably lower grades, disrupting class and challenging authority, repeatedly skipping class, lying about homework) 
  • Detrimental friendships (secrecy surrounding phone calls, excessively defensive of friends) 
  • Boundaries tested (being evasive about activities, sneaking out at night, refusing church attendance) 
  • Physical signals (sleeping or eating excessively, losing a great deal of weight, colorless skin and frequent illnesses, slash marks or burns on the skin) 
  • Appearance changes (avoiding personal hygiene, being excessively sloppy, wearing bizarre hairstyles, dressing to identify with gangs or cults) 


“A foolish son brings grief to his father and bitterness to the mother who bore him.” 

(Proverbs 17:25)




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All people have three inner needs: Love, Significance and Security

“Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.” 

(2 Timothy 2:22)


The search for Love:

  • Teenagers with a misplaced dependence say:
    “I can’t live without my friends / the opposite sex and must be told I’m loved.” (Jeremiah 31:3).
  • Teenagers with their dependence on God say:
    “I need a personal relationship with Jesus, I’m accepted by God and that I’m loved by God just as I am, no matter what.” (John 15:12)


The search for Significance:

  • Teenagers with a misplaced dependence say:
    “I have to date someone good looking, excel in sports, and have my own car.” (Proverbs 14:8).
  • Teenagers with their dependence on God say:
    I need to know I have God-given worth, realize that I was designed by God and that He has a purpose for my life, and that God will give me increased responsibilities as I am faithful in small things. (Psalm 57:2)


The search for Security:

  • Teenagers with a misplaced dependence say:
    “I have to be really popular, fit into the group, I have to belong to the right social club and have my own (things).” (Romans 12:2).
  • Teenagers with their dependence on God say:
    “I need to realize I’m a child of God and I belong to the family of God. I need to be disciplined and not yield to the pull of the world, view God’s truths as benevolent boundaries. I need to know the Lord will never leave me nor forsake me.” (Proverbs 14:26)

Picture of Passive Parenting 

God holds parents responsible to guide and direct, to comfort and correct—even if their children object. Prayerfully consider the following questions. Then allow the Holy Spirit to probe your heart for an honest appraisal of where you stand in God’s courtroom of parental accountability. 

  • Do you avoid confronting the negative behavior of your teenager? 
  • Do you fail to discuss uncomfortable situations with your teen? 
  • Do you give in easily and readily accept excuses from your teenager? 
  • Do you cover up or make excuses for your teenager’s behavior? 
  • Do you continually give your teenager another chance without establishing consequences? 
  • Do you shield your teenager from outside repercussions caused by negative behavior? 
  • Do you fail to be consistent with rules, curfews, and limits for your teenager? 
  • Do you withhold love in the hopes of changing your teenager? 
  • Do you use comparisons and sarcasm to intimidate your teenager? 
  • Do you withhold discipline because of a fear of losing the love of your teenager? 


“Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter. If you say, ‘But we knew nothing about this,’ does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who guards your life know it? Will he not repay everyone according to what they have done?” 

(Proverbs 24:11–12)


Motivational Pointers for Parents 

  • Examine your motive for wanting your teenager to change. (Psalm 139:23–24) 
  • Nurture the needs of your teenager. (Ephesians 4:29) 
  • Create an environment where it is okay to fail. (Romans 15:7) 
  • Orchestrate small steps to achievable goals. (Proverbs 16:23) 
  • Use the sandwich method (praise, correction, encouragement) to confront failure. (Proverbs 15:23) 
  • Recognize and compliment positive efforts and attitudes. (Proverbs 13:12) 
  • Admit your own feelings. (Ecclesiastes 3:4) 
  • Go to the Lord in prayer. (Psalm 116:2) 
  • Ensure your own spiritual stability. (Psalm 119:10) 

Thank-Yous from Teens 

Don’t expect a bouquet of thank-yous from your sprouting adolescents for the sacrifice and worry you experience on their behalf. Blossoms of gratitude don’t usually appear until your teenagers are away from home and facing the pressures of life in a less-than-kind world. Sometimes it takes the advent of a second generation before the light dawns and heartfelt appreciation comes your way.


Live in such a way that one day you may hear— 

  • “Thank you for giving me a Christian heritage.” 
  • “Thank you for giving me honest answers to tough questions.” 
  • “Thank you for respecting my need for independence and for giving me some space.” 
  • “Thank you for giving me the freedom to fail.” 
  • “Thank you for not rehearsing my wrongs.” 
  • “Thank you for forgiving my hurtful remarks.” 
  • “Thank you for being my parent and not my buddy.” 
  • “Thank you for being friendly to my friends.” 
  • “Thank you for providing more love than money.” 
  • “Thank you for teaching me honesty and integrity.” 
  • “Thank you for displaying before me freedom from prejudice.” 
  • “Thank you for confronting inappropriate attitudes and actions.” 
  • “Thank you for saying no when it would have been easier to say yes.” 
  • “Thank you for being a godly parent whom I really respect.” 
  • “Thank you for setting a Christlike example for me to follow.” 

“How can a young person stay on the path of purity? By living according to your word.” 

(Psalm 119:9) 


Key Verses to Learn

For the Teenager 

“Flee the evil desires of youth and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.”

(2 Timothy 2:22) 

For the Parent 

“These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” 

(Deuteronomy 6:6–7) 


Key Passages to Read 

Book of Proverbs 




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