How Do I Support My Child When We Don't Agree?
We've always taught our 17-yr-old son to stand up/speak up for what is right and don't be a silent by-stander when wrong happens. However, some of his values are changing and don't necessarily reflect the values we taught him growing up. Now he's getting bullied at school because of his outspoken views, which he truly feels passionately about. We love his passion and willingness to stand up for what he believes is right, but how can we as parents be supportive and help him when we don't agree with him?
Unsure How to Be Supportive
To begin, I want to offer that it is abundantly clear how much you love your son. It is wonderful that you care so deeply for him, and want to help him learn how to navigate these difficult challenges of growing up and maturing. Thank you for being in his corner!
I believe that there are two points of interest in your question. First, there is the issue of bullying. Let me start off by saying that bullying is never okay! No one should ever be bullied, regardless of their values or views. I think that, as your son is 17, it would be helpful to sit down with him and ask him how he would like to handle the situation. Ask him if he would like to get other people involved, perhaps a trusted person in the school administration. Or see if he would prefer to manage the situation on his own. Map out a plan of action with him on how to handle the circumstances, and then develop a back up plan in case the first one does not work. Let him know that you believe in him, and that you are ready and available to help him in any way that he might need. Continue to check in with him and see how things are going, so that he can continue to feel supported.
The second point of interest is how to be supportive of him and helpful when you don’t agree with his changing values and views. This is a tricky one, to be sure! It may be that there is not one clear solution, but rather it is an unfolding process of loving, listening, and discussing views together while working hard to understand your son’s perspective. Understanding does not necessarily mean having to agree with his position. Listening to understand paves the way for relationship.
If his views do not run contrary to Scripture, it just may be that he has a different perspective than you. Perhaps he sees some things through a different lens, or has had a different experience of the topic. For situations like this, it is not about something being right or wrong; it just is different. And different can be good. Different can offer more information, bring more to the table, help us widen our lens.
If his views do run contrary to Scripture, that is a different situation. Now it is not just about perspective; there is an element of objective right and wrong. We have God’s Word to lead, guide, and teach us the way we should go. It provides guidance on what is right and wrong.
Before doing anything, I think it is important to first pray about it together as parents, and then with your son. Ask the Lord to speak, lead, and teach you both, and convey a willingness to listen and learn from God’s Word. Then sit down together and look at what the Bible says about the topic. Utilize good commentaries and Bible studies. Seek wise Biblical counsel, and encourage your son to do the same. Have kind, thoughtful discussions together about the issue. Be open and available to your son, so that he can feel safe to discuss the topic with you. Invite him to share with you, and listen. Continue to point your son to Scripture, and privately ask the Lord to speak to him through His Word.
Then, and here comes the hard part, release your son and his learning process to the Lord, especially given his age. And that can be hard! But if you try and force your son to change his ideas, it usually is counterproductive. We can trust that the Lord loves your son immeasurably more than you do, and that the Lord will hear your prayers. The Lord knows how to speak and lead your son, has a good plan for him, and will actively pursue him. Our part is to love, pray and offer guidance, and then trust the Lord for the rest. This releasing of your son is illustrative of when we move from our parenting role of being a “coach” to being a “consultant; please refer to my CMR blog “Dictator, Boss, Coach, Consultant: Which Parent Are You?”
This definitely is a difficult situation, and there is no clear, easy path. But the One Who calls us is faithful, and He will do it (I Thess. 5:24). He has such love for your son, and actively pursues. Express your love for your son, be patient, and trust the Lord’s hand and timing. And you will grow too.
Willa Williams, MA, is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. She works at the Biola Counseling Center as a therapist and at the Biola Center for Marriage and Relationships as the Consulting Therapist. She has a Master of Arts in Religion from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (Deerfield, IL) and a Master of Arts in Counseling in Psychology from Trinity International University (Deerfield, IL). She is Level 3 Trained in the Gottman Method of Couples Therapy, a Certified Prepare/Enrich Facilitator, and graduate of the Couples Institute, Level 1. Before coming to Biola, she served overseas at the Spanish Bible Institute in Barcelona, Spain, where she taught a class on counseling skills for pastors and served as the staff therapist for the students. She has been married for more than 30 years and has two adult sons and two lovely daughters-in-love. She has a passion for healthy relationships and enjoys working with couples as well as individuals. She appreciates the immense impact that healthy marriages and relationships have on couples as well as future generations.