Children's Emotional Health and Behavioral Problems, Part 1

Causes of Rebellious Behavior

By Christopher Schwinger

The Series

Part 1: Causes of Rebellious Behavior
Part 2: Problems with Cohabitating
Part 3: Redeeming a Difficult Standoff
Part 4: The Importance of Proportionate Discipline

In April, I was assigned a mind-numbingly difficult question about what a parent should do if a son who has recently come of age takes overnight trips with his girlfriend. The mother who asked me the question said talking about Biblical morality hasn't made much difference with her 19-year-old son and that his girlfriend has a 3-year relationship in her past. She wondered what I thought about cutting off financial support for college and almost everything else under such circumstances, concluding with "I think we should limit our financial support and ask him to help pay for some things like car insurance since he has enough money to pay for vacation as a deterrent."
When answering her, I started by acknowledging that it usually doesn't work like clockwork when I've followed people's instructions about how to improve a relationship with a difficult person. The desired result is not achieved in spite of me doing everything I can. There is also always a lot of concealed background information which is very personal to people when they ask questions, making it very hard to come up with an effective solution. I told her that very few people will be persuaded anymore by the use of the Bible alone, unless Biblical concepts make sense together within that person's mind. A lot of moral weakness in people comes from learning in childhood that they're accepted only if they behave well, and it's hard to find a good balance between teaching kids about grace and enforcing discipline and rules. I think about when I was in high school and didn't have my friendliness reciprocated, causing me depression, and the pressures in school and toward gaining independence skills were so great that I felt devalued emotionally. The worst part of this was that my parents considered it "feeling sorry for yourself" when I wanted emotional validation, which would have led me in a self-destructive, suicidal direction without books that talked about God's grace, a concept which continues to inspire me. It's hard for authorities and subservient people to connect well with each other.

Then I explained some things I've learned about relationships. When people start relationships, they usually think their initial good experiences together will define the relationship long-term, and they focus more on issues like whether they get along well and could accommodate each other's careers and life goals. But there are many background issues which they should pay attention to, including what kind of relationship the girlfriend or boyfriend has with his/her parents, how respectful they are in various situations, what they believe about God, and whether they grew up with a negative sense of self-worth. In high school, I wouldn't have considered myself to have grown up with a negative sense of self-worth, but I did, I understand now, because there was no place for failure to accomplish homework or other expectations and there was no emotional acceptance unless I fulfilled the instructions, which meant I had to either work extra hard to avoid rejection or find a way to shut down emotionally so it wouldn't hurt when I was rejected. I have never been able to shut down emotionally and continue concentrating like some people, so I worked extra-hard to avoid getting rejected, and when my heart was crushed by pressures and rejection in high school, I had nothing except those books about grace: When God Doesn't Make Sense by James Dobson, Joy That Lasts by Gary Smalley, and He Loves Me! by Wayne Jacobsen, and also Psalm 22 (and other psalms) about being hated without a cause. A lot of adolescents have their own ways of shutting down emotionally, choosing to stop caring about pleasing their parents because they don't see the benefit to their soul, because they've not been taught enough about the grace of God. But this doesn't mean every parent who has a resistant adolescent or young adult child is to blame for this, but it is the case more often than not.

I've read a lot of articles and listened to numerous DVDs about counseling issues because it's had a lot of personal significance for me understanding my own childhood and ongoing issues with difficult family members, and I've concluded that even more important than whether a child grows up in a single-parent or two-parent home is whether they have their emotional struggles validated all the way along. It definitely is statistically proven that two-parent homes have a correlation with more successful kids, but the reason for that, I think, is due to the single parent being gone for work and having little time and energy for emotionally investing in the kid. Some kids who have divorced parents handle it worse than others because they're not free to unload emotionally on the struggling parent throughout the process, and I think this is why one of my cousins who is almost my questioner's son's age is not interested in church anymore, while I know of another family whose three kids of around the same age level handled a divorce without being emotionally scarred because of their father's spiritual maturity.

Also, with sexual and gender-identity issues on the rise in the world, there's a natural panic that we or our family members or friends or pastors will be susceptible. I like to think of it as being so spiritually healthy that we don't even desire the bad stuff, like when you get used to eating healthily and are able to carefully make choices when you're in an unexpected situation. If we focus too much on avoiding or fighting temptations, they get stronger, but if we focus on building up a healthy sense of self-worth from knowing that a God outside us comes to us and bears our struggles — which is such a powerful concept, much more effective than the self-help method of believing we are perfect within ourselves — it breaks the bonds. I believe the reason I have had more success with anxiety issues in the last 12-15 months is because I have chosen to focus on what I do want in life instead of what I don't want, and my persistence at it has gradually lessened some of the fear.

I believe the two biggest factors in behavioral disorders are painful experiences which haven't been properly addressed (unresolved trauma), and emotional repression from being taught that your behavior instead of your deepest feelings and desires is all that matters. Sometimes children seem normal and go nuts later on, and others wonder what happened. The answer is always going to be one or both of those factors: pain that a person suppressed but couldn't continue to, and/or the suppression of individual identity. When Josh Duggar grew up having to perform according to high moral standards and fearing rejection if he messed up, that emotionally repressed him and led to a pornography addiction. I believe sexual and gender identity issues and homosexual behavior are always tied to these two causes of unresolved trauma and emotional repression also.

Next week: Problems with Cohabitating

Image Credit: Tabitha Cichy; "Time-Out"; Creative Commons

TagsChristian-Life  | Family-Life  | Personal-Life  | Personal-Relationships  | Sin-Evil

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Published on 5-23-16