So What Is Teenage Rebellion?

Courtesy LDS Media LibraryThe dictionary defines rebellion as an “open opposition toward a person or group in authority” or “refusal to obey rules or accept normal standards of behavior.” Not my idea of fun.

Here’s one example of true rebellion from the Book of Mormon. Laman and Lemuel and their unnamed followers were murmur-o-maniacs. They just could not get over their inclination to rebel against their parents and brothers and to regularly deride what was holy and good. They had their okay moments, such as when they helped Nephi build a ship (see 1 Nephi 17 and 18), but those moments did not occur until after Nephi used some supernatural persuasion (see 1 Nephi 17:52–55). Nevertheless, because they were “past feeling” (see 1 Nephi 17:45), they persisted in their stubbornness, and more than once threatened to murder their father and siblings. Family factions were eventually forced to separate. Permanently.

Those who persistently rebel cannot be redeemed. Abinadi in the Book of Mormon told a belligerent king and his false-hearted priests that they “ought to tremble; for the Lord redeemeth none such that rebel against him and die in their sins; yea, even all those that have perished in their sins ever since the world began, that have wilfully rebelled against God, that have known the commandments of God, and would not keep them; these are they that have no part in the first resurrection” (see Mosiah 15:26). If we wilfully rebel against God and His commandments and don’t repent, it looks like we won’t join the faithful in the first resurrection. And if we are not part of the first resurrection, we will not be part of the celestial kingdom. We’ll have to camp out in another kingdom. For a very long time. Not a happy prospect.

On the other hand, things are often not that bad. There is usually a lot of reasons to hope. For example, in their younger years, Alma the Younger and the sons of Mosiah rebelled against God (see Mosiah 27:11), but they fully repented—fully. Any who are acquainted with their depth of repentance and their lives of absolute devotion shouldn’t have any doubt about how well things turned out for them. So it’s not so much the rebellion that does us in: it’s sticking to rebellion, and coming back to rebellion over and over, that keeps us mired in trouble.

Consider this. It’s not easy for us to tell, but when our children rebel against us, it might not be rebellion against God and our faith and culture as much as it might be rebellion against coercive, fear-based parenting.

God entrusts us with our children’s agency, at least until they are able to exercise it on their own. As infants and toddlers, they need to be fiercely protected from the elements, from passing cars, from hot stoves. As young children, the leash gets longer and they get more freedom. They go to school, make friends, and we leave them in the care of others. As tweens and teens, they venture into romantic longings, the virtual world of smart phones, relationship experimentation, and long trips away from home. We all but unsnap the leash. And sometimes they suffer from hormone poisoning. Sometimes they rebel—and we cling.

We don’t want our children whom we love more than life itself wandering off on “forbidden paths” (see 1 Nephi 8:28) and so we restrict and grasp and and yank and yell. And what happens? Instead of drawing them back, we push them away, sometimes far away.

Any parent knows that every child is different. Each has different needs, different ways of looking at the world, different talents. Some create their own boundaries and stay within them; others cannot be contained by any boundary. We can’t blame ourselves solely when our children, in spite of our very best though imperfect efforts, go another way. They have the right to choose.

The point I want to make here is that we sometimes encourage rebellion by asking too much of our kids, by expecting perfection, or by forcing them to do the right thing. It’s counterproductive. God doesn’t compel us; why should we compel our children? We cannot be saved or damned without our permission. We may urge, maybe even plead, but if we coerce or force, we’ve gone too far. By so doing, we create resentment and in resentment lies the seeds of rebellion.

Alma the Younger, later in life, offered these words to his way-off-track son Corianton:

Therefore, O my son, whosoever will come may come and partake of the waters of life freely; and whosoever will not come the same is not compelled to come; but in the last day it shall be restored unto him according to his deeds. (Alma 42:27; emphasis added.)

Alma the Younger knew. He put his parents through the wringer himself.

If we abduct our children’s agency, we compel them and according to the Book of Mormon, we shouldn’t do that. We should teach them, reach out to them, persuade and encourage, love, and turn to heaven for help, but not force. Remember that force or the systematic denial of agency, along with its chief proponent, were voted down by a majority in premortal life. The conflict continues.

Let’s not switch sides. Don’t collar your kids out of fear. Guide more and chide less. It’s just a thought.

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