I have found teens to be some of the most honest beings on the planet. They will spill the truth and speak honestly about their lives in the right setting and situation. Sometimes, teens are brutally honest, especially of others and it calls for correction. Now, I’m not living in a fairy tale and I know they are pretty good liars too. But, perhaps, they are good liars because they are afraid to be honest. I have found that teens don’t want to hide their sin as much as I thought. Teens want to tell you about their toughest struggle in sin. Teens want to be honest, but they are afraid of hurting you. Teens are afraid of your response and backlash. Teens are afraid of what you will think of them. Lastly, teens are afraid of the consequences. Teens want you to know because they don’t know what to do. They know it’s bad to look at pornography, steal money from a sibling or have sex in their relationships, but they don’t know how to stop, nor do they have the guts to tell you. Your teens believe you can help them, but they are afraid that if they say anything you will unleash terror. Fear, shame and letting parent’s down is keeping teens from sharing the truth about their secret life of sin.
I’m not naive, I know that teens are responsible enough to be honest and shouldn’t live in fear about their moral failure, however, they do. So the question is, how can parent’s counter that fear, shame and disappointment? How can we help them be honest and overcome their fear? I don’t know if there is a cure, but I have some ideas that may help.
1. Be careful how you respond to people’s sin. Your children are watching how you handle moments where sin is revealed in the church, in other families or your own. If they hear your harsh response of “That’s no surprise,” or “What a lousy example of a Christian,” then you can bet they will lie at all cost’s. Grace, patience and correction is a healthy balance. Teach your children to be gracious toward sinners. Your words, your body language and the people you love on a daily basis teach your children more on how you will treat them than you think.
2. Be humble about your failures on a regular basis. Instead of appearing that we have it all together or defending ourselves when we actually did something wrong to our spouse or the family as a whole, we must confess and apologize in front of all of them. We fail more than we realize. How we handle failure and our own confession of sin is vital. Everything we do is teaching our children how to live as a child of God. Teach humility and confession.
3. When confronting sin or handling a confession, the mindset should be to restore our children back to a grace-filled and faithful relationship with God first. We are not trying to win the fight, throw sin in their face, humiliate or treat them as if they can be perfect, we can’t. Our goal is to help them see the importance of seeing the effects of sin in a gracious manner. Take them through acknowledgement of their wrong if they haven’t already by asking them to acknowledge what they did was wrong Biblically and in God’s sight. We want to especially introduce our children to the forgiveness of sin by reminding them of our faithful forgiver in 1 John 1:9. Encourage your child that Jesus is forgiving them with 1 John 2:1-2. We should forgive them too. Our teens should hear the words “I forgive you,” and they should certainly hear the words, “I love you.” If we really want them to feel forgiven and loved then give them a hug. Lastly, there should be discipline and there must be an agreement of the discipline. My father asked me when and where I did things so he knew how to keep me accountable. This was wise. Consider that your child may have fallen into sin because of friends, relationships, lack of parental involvement, a deep wound or life circumstances that test our faith. Going into a confrontation with some empathy will help you be cool and collect, so does walking away and getting time to think.
4. My father gave me an open invitation to come to him when I messed up and he promised he would listen and handle me with grace, but discipline would not be absent. Basically, this is what I heard, “You can come to me when you mess up in sin because I’ve been there and I promise to help you through it like I needed when I was young.” I still lied, I still held back, I still resisted, but eventually, I spilled my guts to my father. Time after time of confessing to him or my mother eventually made it easier. Honestly, I began to see the value of confessing and I enjoyed feeling the peace of forgiveness. Help your teen’s do what they already want to do. Make it easier for them to find you as a refuge. I don’t want my son and daughter to be afraid of me. I want to be a refuge, not an enemy. I want to extend the love and grace of God to their hearts.
5. Pray. Pray for God to expose the truth. Pray for your teen to come clean. Pray for the Holy Spirit to give you the grace and wisdom to handle the confession of sin. Pray for the protection of your children from the enemy. Pray they use God as their strength and learn to run from temptation. Pray that God destroys the wall of fear and shame that Satan wants to keep in place. Pray for an opportunity that you can get personal and real.
6. Scripture isn’t just convicting, it is encouraging. I believe my mother pointed me to Psalm 103 and ever since, I have found affirmation to help battle the condemnation I put myself through or that Satan uses. Post scripture on your teen’s wall on Facebook. Leave scripture on their mirror or by their bed. My wife and I have a marker board in our kitchen; when our children are able to read we will begin sharing with them scripture of grace, love and truth.
7. Confession fire. A couple years ago we took our youth group to a camp where we had an incredible night of confession. We offered the student’s a time to write down their darkest sins and burn them in the fire. But God put it on my heart to ask them if they would be willing to share what they wrote down, what happened next was incredible. One by one, student’s began telling us their darkest sins and it was emotional to say the least. My assistant and I, spent three hours around that fire hearing the pain and ugliness of sin, but we also saw the release of confession and forgiveness as we affirmed that Jesus forgives each and every one of them. Now, that was with youth pastor’s and leaders and children don’t always feel comfortable with their parents. Perhaps, you could provide a time every year or every six months where your child can spill their guts around a fire and burn the list of sins in the fire. The confession may not go as it did for us, but you never know until you try and try again. When it does happen, let there be tears, let there be declaration of scripture and forgiveness. Let there be hugs and love. And following the fire, let their be accountability and repentance.
8. Honor honesty. Show them you appreciate honesty. How one shows honor does differ with families. If my son is honest, punishment isn’t as drastic and my lecture is going to be shorter 😉 If my son comes to me to confess I am going to be happy in the end and show him, but it does not mean there is no consequence. “…the Lord disciplines the one He loves” (Hebrews 12:6).
I hope this helps you begin to create a culture of confession. Let me know if you have any ideas or things you do that has worked in the trenches of parenting!