Tempted to Steal from a Teen?

I am convinced that more and more parents are stealing from their teenagers these days.  No, they aren’t stealing money, electronic devices, clothing, jewelry or any other material possession from their teen.  Instead, they are robbing their teens from learning how to clean up after the messes.   Even though I can go on and on about the chaos that exists in each of my teen’s backpacks, personal spaces and for that matter their entire  room, the messes to which I am referring are the mud puddles that splash on my teenagers as result of their own poor decision making skills, impulsivity and immaturity.  These are the problems that affect their grades, relationships, reputation, emotional stability and often their bank account.

What happened to the adage,  “You mess it up, you clean it up”?!  When this simple little maxim is applied to the life situations that teenagers regularly encounter, then kids have  the albeit uncomfortable opportunity to learn how to clean up after themselves.  These stressful yet powerful opportunities can empower them to become independent, self-confident, humble, and godly young men and women.  When these challenges are robbed from them by parents or other well meaning adults who think it is their job to clean up after their teenager, social, emotional and spiritual growth is almost always stifled.

Like any other parent of a teen, I must admit that there are certainly situations where I have felt compelled to jump in, fix, disguise, minimize or even dismiss a mess that my teen has created.   Recently, one of my kids was involved in a situation at school where a teacher had become very angry at them about something they had flippantly stated.  My child did in fact say some very hurtful remarks but unfortunately a peer chose to inaccurately share what my teen had stated with another teacher.   As a result the teacher asked an administrator to meet with my teenager to discuss the situation as well as the necessary consequences.

Spinning around within me were feelings of compassion coupled with anger toward my teen for speaking unkind words and frustration toward the peer who had impulsively repeated and embellished the remarks.  On top of these emotions, I also felt a measure of insecurity growing within as I imagined what this teacher may be thinking about my parenting abilities.  Thankfully, I was able to remind myself that this was not my mess to clean up.  My role in this situation was primarily to 1) listen to my teen, 2) allow his heart to be exposed (the deceit as well as the good intention),  3) speak the truth in love with regard to his choice of words and behaviors, and finally to 4) offer some options on how to wisely and lovingly “clean up” the mess they made…all by themselves.

Of course, my teenager was resistant to the idea of returning to the situation and making amends.  No teenager enjoys dealing with their own “vomit”.  Most would rather ignore it, dismiss it or have someone else clean it up for them.  But opportunities like these are not given to us so that we can steal the lesson right out from underneath them.  They can be used to help our teenagers grow socially, emotionally, and spiritually while they figure out how to be the captain of the clean-up crew.

The teen years are critical years where kids are vacillating between a regressed child and an emergent adult.  I encourage you to play a vital role in promoting the necessary growth and development that enables an adult to begin to emerge right before your eyes.

Consider your role in the next difficult issue your teen is facing and ask yourself these questions.

  • Is this problem really mine to fix in the first place?  Or does it belong to my teenager?
  • Am I rescuing my teen by shielding them from the consequences, instead of releasing them to experience emotional discomfort while they figure out a reasonable solution to their problem?
  • Am I stuck in the middle of their day to day drama in relationships at home, work, or school instead of letting them stumble through the ups and downs of the social scene (even if they get scratched and bruised along the way)?
  • Am I enabling them to become overly dependent upon me to fix their mistakes instead of empowering them to do it on their own?
  • Am I feeding entitlement or fostering humility?


More and more, I hear older adults complain about the lack of independence, humility, work ethic and character in today’s teens and young adults.  Without a doubt, many problems at home and in our culture in general are prohibiting kids from developing these qualities.   Nonetheless, I think most of us can agree that these traits tend to bloom within a person when they have had to learn how to maneuver themselves through troubling, sticky and often embarrassing challenges that life throws at each one of us.   Together, let us commit to be parents who can intentionally equip our teens to learn how to clean up their own messes so that a “harvest of righteousness and peace” may be produced within them.

No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. “Make level paths for your feet,” so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.  Hebrews 12:11-13

12 Responses

  1. Jackie,

    A good word! Do you wonder if today’s generation of parents have swung too far to the other side of the pendulum? What I mean is, it seems like in my generation or even prior to that, teens were left to their own devices with almost no supervision at all. Today, it seems like an opposite overreaction is occurring.

    I often wonder if I am over doing it with my own children re: making up for what I didn’t have: attention, discipline, and so forth. Thoughts?

    • Jackie Perry says:

      Chris, I was just talking about this very issue yesterday with some moms. Yes, I do believe that sometimes it is an overreaction to the way that so many were parented in the 70’s and 80’s. Finding a balance is always the toughest thing, I believe, in parenting. It requires a good deal of prayer, wise counsel and personal reflection.

      Thanks for reading my blog. Blessings, Jackie

  2. Rachel says:

    Jackie, another great post! Thank you for this encouragement and affirmation. It is so hard to not step in and fix things. I love the scripture you connected with this message too.

    • Jackie Perry says:

      Thanks for stopping by Rachel. I do agree that it is so hard to see our kids struggle and not want to fix their messes for them. Imagining who they can become as they are encouraged to deal with it always helps me to step back a little.

      Jackie P

  3. Andrea White says:

    Jackie, this great post came at the perfect time for me. Thank you for the encouragement!!

  4. Mary Felkins says:

    It is, indeed, so right and good to ask ourselves first as the parent if it’s our mess/responsibility to clean up anything. And I, for one, need to remember to pray hard about the answer before proceeding further. I also know, for myself, that their messes and my need to clean them up in response, sure do expose my idolatry and pride. :(

    • Jackie Perry says:

      I so agree Mary. We all need to pray, pray, pray. I can’t say that enough. I do think we often forget the power of God’s leading when we stop and ask Him to give us wisdom and direction.

      Thanks for reading my blog Mary!

      Jackie P

  5. Amy Jones says:

    I am so glad that a friend posted this on facebook. I am going to be reading all of your past posts. Parenting teens is unchartered territory for me and I am fumbling about- making plenty of my own messes along the way. Some that I wish that I knew how to “clean” up.

    • Jackie Perry says:

      Glad you stopped by Amy! Parenting teens is unchartered territory for all of us until we begin the journey. Because of that we all make messes, but with the Lord’s help He gives us grace and wisdom to deal with them. He delights in leading us when we ask for help.


  6. Powerful message to all parents, Jackie! Thank you for sharing your words of wisdom.

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