Whether the issue is self-injury, escapism, or other troublesome behavior patterns, many forms of treatment and therapy can be helpful. However, parents need to be aware that some responses are almost always unhelpful and even counter-productive.
Ignoring the Issue
Perhaps the excuse “maybe it’s just a phase” has been thrown around — and perhaps it’s true. But even if it is just a phase, the problem behaviors you’re seeing in your teen’s life are indicative of a bigger problem, a deeper need.
While the coping mechanisms may change and behaviors may, in time, turn into ones more socially acceptable or less noticeable, if you ignore the issue now, you may not have another obvious invitation to address the true problem. Sure, it will be uncomfortable, however real relationships are messy but well worth the effort.
Remember, God didn’t give you children in order to make (or keep) your life simple and easy, but to promote your own spiritual growth and allow you to make disciples of those children He has trusted to your care.
Feeling Like a Failure
Many parents choose to ignore these behaviors — or even encourage their children to hide their problem behaviors around others — because they’re embarrassed: They think these behaviors mean they’ve failed as a parent. The Enemy of our souls — and our kids’ souls — must take great delight in parents’ being so self-focused that they don’t do what’s best for their kids.
Imagine your child contracted a life-threatening disease such as cancer, and you feared you’d exposed them to some chemical that could have caused it. Would you pretend your child didn’t have cancer or refuse further testing, or would you get him or her any treatment that you could?
Your child’s problem behaviors may indicate that their spiritual health and future may well be at stake. Please look past yourself enough to deal with your teen’s problems, before it’s too late.
Focusing with the Behavior
Now, I’m not saying the behavior shouldn’t be dealt with at all, just that it shouldn’t be the focus. Think of what you’re seeing (or suspecting) like the “dummy lights” on the dashboard of a vehicle. Once in a while, they malfunction, but typically, they indicate problems going on under the hood.
In a similar way, problem behaviors often surface as a result of disorderly thinking patterns, or heart issues that reveal spiritual needs. Simply telling a self-injurer or video game addict or nail biter to stop the behavior — and even providing consequences and rewards to aid in the change — will likely lead to a new behavioral outlet for the felt needs that prompt those patterns.
It’s far better to deal with the anxiety, frustration, guilt, or other feelings and the line of reasoning behind them; true biblical counsel will help unveil the heart’s deceptions and compare them with the Truth of Scripture (Jeremiah 17:9, Hebrews 4:12, James 1:23-25). The result is real, lasting change that flows from the heart, outward.