Real Family Talk: Drawing the Line in the Sand

How do I handle my disrespectful teenager?

Willie and Elaine Oliver
Real Family Talk: Drawing the Line in the Sand

I am the single mother of a 16-year-old daughter who tries my patience every day. She seldom does what I ask her to do and is often rude and offensive when she speaks to me. I know the Bible says we should not provoke our children to wrath, but I find that the opposite is taking place in my home, and I am tired of it. At what point do I draw a line in the sand and stop the foolishness I am dealing with from my daughter? The Lord knows I am trying to be patient and kind with my teenager. But at what point can I decide that enough is enough and put my discipline foot down with my disrespectful and uncouth child? Please help! I have reached the end of my rope with this child. 

Ouch! We truly feel your pain and have an idea of what you are experiencing, having dealt with many exasperated parents with similar challenges with their teenagers. The truth is, parenting is among the most trying and testing jobs in the world. It is much more demanding than most of us who have children ever expected it to be. This experience probably comes closest to getting a glimpse into what God must feel like every day He deals with us, His often-disobedient children. 

What makes parenting your 16-year-old even more demanding is that you are engaged in this task as a single parent. This means you don’t have the luxury of taking turns with a co-parent to get a much-needed break from your daughter when you are at your wit’s end. 

We are pleased to know, however, that you are aware of what the Bible says about not provoking your children to wrath (Eph. 6:4) and being patient and kind (1 Cor. 13:4). Yet, the Bible also says in Ephesians 6:1: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.”1 So, it is quite realistic for you to expect your teenage daughter to be obedient and respectful to you as her mother. 

What is also true is that your daughter is simply doing her developmental task by behaving in a less-than-appropriate and not-so-polite manner. It’s obvious your daughter is still in the process of becoming what God created her to be and needs your help—as her mother—to establish the necessary boundaries, or limits, that will help her respond in the best way possible in every situation, to help her succeed in all her relationships, including her relationship with you. 

The problem most parents have is finding a balance in the way they relate to their children. Some parents are often permissive with their children for fear they will be harsh with them. Good parenting, however, calls for being firm and kind at the same time, which is providing discipline without being punitive. Discipline means teaching cause and effect. This implies helping your children understand that every privilege has a corresponding responsibility. 

Dr. John Townsend suggests that “parents who embody boundaries are persistent. They stick with the rules and consequences, as long as they are reasonable. And they say ‘no’ to attempts to manipulate, wear down, or even intimidate them.”2

We encourage you to set sensible boundaries (rules) with your daughter and see to it that they are kept. There is no need to be harsh. Nevertheless, you must learn to be firm and kind at the same time to give your daughter the best chance at success. You are in our prayers as you trust God to supply whatever you need (Phil. 4:19) to be the best parent possible to your daughter. 

1 Bible texts are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

2 John Townsend, Boundaries With Teens: When to Say Yes, How to Say No (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2006), p. 32.

Willie and Elaine Oliver