Why Fundamentalists can’t raise teens

When a child is born the parents idealize their children: “Our child is the best, smartest, most well-behaved child ever to walk the face of the earth.” As the child grows the child idealizes the parents, and the child does his/her best to make the parents proud of him/her, until the child becomes a teen, mature enough to become disillusioned. The teen is horrified that his/her parents are ordinary parents, not the ideal parents the child had imagined. And the parents are horrified that their teen is an ordinary teen with all the problems that come with being a teenager. Eventually the teen accepts his parents as ordinary parents, and the feeling of horror and betrayal subsides.

But fundamentalist parents never accept that their teens are ordinary teens, who experiment with independence, figure out their own beliefs, read material that expands and challenges their beliefs. Teens prove to themselves that they can make their own decisions, by going against parental advice in the way they dress, the language they use, the substances they experiment with, and the way they explore their sexuality.

A fundamentalist parent cannot handle being disillusioned by their children. Fundamentalist parents do not have the maturity and equipment to accept ambiguity and imperfection in their children. The fundamentalist believes in the perfect church, perfect worship, the perfect life and the perfect Bible. Their church cannot be an imperfect attempt at serving God, their Bible must be a perfect representation of God’s Word, and their lives must be perfect or they have to have a quick and easy method to renew forgiveness of their wrongs.

Fundamentalist parents usually approach their teens from an authoritarian stance: “Do what I tell you or I will punish you.” Fundamentalists are usually limited to escalating their threats and punishments. They seldom have other options in their skill arsenal to deal with teen misbehavior. This is when the children of fundamentalists become the most traumatized, and the teen realizes that the parents are unable to encompass the normal explorations of teenhood.

Threats and punishments are rarely effective with teens. Teens respond better to relationship approaches to changing their behavior: “Please don’t speak to me like that–do I speak to you like that?”

Fundamentalists are also shame based. So if their teen gets into trouble at school or is arrested by the police, the parent is horrified: “Do you realize what you are doing to our family? You have humiliated us. No-one in our family has ever been arrested!”

The parents who have accepted that their teen is going to make mistakes in life, might say to their teen: “Oh! You must be so upset to have been arrested! Can I buy you a milkshake to cheer you up?” The police have already yelled at the teen, the parents don’t have to do it this time, they can play the good guys by comforting the teen. Most teens quickly get tired of interacting with the police, especially if the teen has a warm place to process his/her decisions. The mature parent accepts that they ultimately have no control over their teen, but they do have influence. Much like the apostle Paul told Timothy to be an example, and how the elders are supposed to rule by example.

About Mark

I was raised in the conservative non-institutional churches of Christ and attended Florida College in Tampa, Florida. I served as a minister for 8 years in the non-institutional churches of Christ, and 4 years at a mainline church of Christ in Vermont.
This entry was posted in Grace, Manipulation, Psychology and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Why Fundamentalists can’t raise teens

  1. althea1965 says:

    I agree with 98% of this article, but if I had a teenager who was arrested, I wouldn’t go out and buy them a milkshake.

  2. I agree with everything but your last paragraph. I grew up in a really conservative (but just this side of being “fundamentalist”) church of Christ, and I saw a lot of the shame, the constant condescension you’re talking about. Fortunately my parents both came from good sets of parents, and knew that shaming and yelling wasn’t the way to raise a kid. A lot of the people around me in the youth group got a worse deal. The church of Christ (whatever the correct capitalization is) in general does a pretty crappy job of turning teenagers into clear-headed, mature adults, and it’s largely through the emotional and spiritual abuse that runs rampant in youth groups.

  3. Pingback: Why Fundamentalists can’t raise teens » The Last Revivalist

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