Milestone Storehouse Parent Resources

Home / Resources / MILESTONE STOREHOUSE PARENT RESOURCES / What Do I Do When I See a Prodigal Drift in My Teenager?

What Do I Do When I See a Prodigal Drift in My Teenager?

You’ve raised your child in the church, had conversations that point them to the truth, and led them as best as you can as a parent. Now you see them making choices that move against what you both know to be good and true. What do we do as parents when we see our teenagers experiencing a prodigal drift? Let me encourage you that if you are thinking through this it shows that you’ve taken notice of your teenager’s life and are seeking to do your part as a parent. Sometimes parents can be guilty of seeing their children’s lives too harshly and sometimes they ignore their bad choices altogether. We should begin by recognizing that your teenagers’ life, like your own, is a work in progress and you want what is best for them.

I shared with a couple of parents recently how much I loved looking back at pictures of my kids that pop up on my phone from when they were much younger and smaller. To my surprise, they did not share the same feeling because they lamented how far they felt like their teenager had strayed from those days of relative innocence. The thoughts come flooding in, “What went wrong?”, “What else could I have done?” The pain you feel is very real. Did you know the Bible even talks about the kind of pain you are feeling? Solomon wrote, in Proverbs 10:1 “A wise child brings joy to a father; a foolish child brings grief to a mother.”

Solomon was filled with great wisdom, but he faced the same kinds of struggle in parenting we do today. While the grief we face is real, we still have a big role to play in their lives. The first step to parenting your prodigal well is to process feelings of guilt and frustration. Recognize that while you can control your words and actions in how you have led your children, you cannot control their responses. We must be careful not to vent frustration toward our teenagers or allow our hurt to drive our parenting choices. Find a friend you can process this pain with or consider an exercise like journaling to get these thoughts and emotions out into the open before they spill over in unhealthy ways in your home. Parents who are spiritually growing and emotionally healthy have a much better shot at leading their teens toward emotional and spiritual health. We encourage you to take time to talk with someone, read books, or leverage some of the resources for parents facing this challenge.

Here are four moves we would encourage you to continually repeat in this season.

1. Fight for influence more than control.
As a parent of a teen, you are in that difficult place of not being able to see your will carried out in their life. Many parents disengage in frustration, but the key is to value influence more than control. Leverage your influence by investing relationally in creative ways. Leverage influence by getting teens plugged into settings where other adults can be a positive influence on them. You may not have full control but you do have influence.

2. Build relational bridges.
This means you keep fighting to communicate and hang out with your teen. Find things that they like doing and make plans to do those things together. They may be emotionally separated because they feel a measure of guilt over their choices. You must fight to keep this from happening by investing in relational moments. Just because they are running away from you does not mean you have to run from them.

3. Let go of the grudge.
Never allow your child’s struggle to define them. Work hard not to throw the past in their face. Live with an attitude of forgiveness and hope. We need to be ready to celebrate and welcome back our teens when they take steps back toward us, toward faith, and toward health. Allow your teen to see the love of Jesus in you as you welcome them home.

4. Hold on to hope.
Don’t give up. God loves your teenager more than you do and that should give you great assurance. You can trust that He is committed to completing the work He began in your teen’s life (Phil 1:6). Begin praying in hope today for God’s work in the heart of your teenager and look for ways to deepen your own faith in this season.