Age 13 – And Defiant | Teaching Self-Government

Age 13 – And Defiant

I once heard from a mother who was having a hard time getting her 13-year-old son on board with the family vision. The other children eagerly participated in role playing exercises of following instructions and accepting consequences, but the son wouldn’t join. He wouldn’t come for family meetings or participate in activities.

To make it even more difficult, this wife and her husband were often on different sides of parenting issues. They compromised and decided that if the children didn’t watch movies or play video games during the week, they could have a block of screen time with Dad on the weekends. The 13-year-old said he wouldn’t follow the no-media rule and would just do what he wanted. Now the parents were stuck figuring out how to get their son on board with the family and agreeing to the rules.

When I first heard from this mother, I immediately thought of defiant behavior. Defiant behavior is selfish. If the son is unwilling to follow instructions, then he’s telling his parents he doesn't respect them. He’s "out of instructional control." He doesn't see a reason to accept their authority or follow theirinstructions.

For this type of behavior, I would use the Rule of Three. Make sure you first teach the family what it is. Remember, he has to be ready to follow instructions before his 24 hours starts.

Don’t present a new system, such as no media during the week, as optional. Defiant children will try to initiate a power struggle, so you need to take his focus away from himself.

When I notice my children are defiant, rude or disconnected, I know it’s time to free them from selfishness. Radio, TV, computer games, friend time and other activities all feed selfishness in a person. These things have to be replaced with family fun and relationships.  

The primary focus for everyone in the family should be family, not self. If self is the focus, then it's time to bring other things back into focus. Have a counseling session with him and ask what he wants you to do for him as his parents. Ask him what he wants life to look and feel like at home. Really listen to what he has to say. He’ll tell you exactly what he needs. He’ll probably say things like he wants to be left alone or watch TV whenever he wants.

After listening, thank him for sharing his thoughts with you. Remember that some of what he shares will be manipulative. Then say, "I want you to be happy and have what you want. Did you know that if you follow all the instructions we give you, agree to “No” answers and consequences and disagree appropriately, we will probably give you what you want all the time, unless God tells us it could hurt you? That’s all it takes to have what you want. Put it to the test. Prove that you think more of your family than yourself and see if you get the things you want.”

Explain to him that once you can see that he cares for his family and knows how to control his behavior, he can get to a point of complete trust and probably will hardly ever get “No” answers. But until you see this kind of self-mastery, he isn’t ready for the freedom he wants.

He’ll probably try to convince you that if you give him what he wants,he’ll follow instructions. Don’t be fooled. That never happens. It’s a lie to maintain his selfish behavior.  Explain to him that when you have a job, you only get paid after you’ve done the work. The money earned at work is a privilege, just like privileges at home.

When I was 14, I didn't get along with my parents at all. We were constantly having power struggles. A neighbor said to me, "Nicholeen, have you ever tried just doing what they say?" I was silent. "I bet that if you do everything your parents say, you’ll be allowed to do whatever you want to.” I decided to try it and found my neighbor was right. I went from the child who was hated to the child who was loved and trusted. I loved my home and family. I even decided that I loved doing what my parents asked me to do because serving them brought me such happiness. It’s funny that I didn't already know this, but I didn't. I can pretty much guarantee that your son doesn't know this either. Tell him and have him try it. Then show him that governing himself earns trust and privileges.   

I also recommend removing the TV and screens from the family for a while because TV is controlling your son. No one wants their family to be in bondage, but countless people mindlessly choose bondage daily because it’s comfortable. After everyone is free and thinking for themselves again, introduce the TV back to the family.

There is normal detachment from family at about age 12-15, and there is abnormal detachment. Normal detachment is things like suddenly wanting to wear different shoes than the entire family or seeming put out about family responsibilities. Each child is different.

Abnormal detachment from family is most easily noticed by an empty, dark feeling that surrounds the child. It can look like never talking to parents, always wanting to stay home alone or drastic mood or appearance changes. These abnormal behaviors are often signs of something deeper. I’ve seen teenagers with abnormal detachment who had drug problems, pornography or sexual problems or dishonesty problems.

Talk with your son. Help him see that what you're doing is for his good.