Repairing Relationships with Your Teen

If you’re gonna build a submarine, you will deal primarily in the sphere of math and efficiency. If you’re gonna build a relationship, you will deal primarily in the sphere of long conversations and valuable inefficiency. The deeper and better the relationship, the more you will depend on artistry to get you through. Relationship is not the cherry on top of the ice cream sundae. It is the whole dessert, the meal, and the appetizer. Relationship is the Polar North of all human interaction. A good, healthy relationship is what our souls were made for, and without it we suffer and become weak, willing to accept stupid, cheap substitutions and even acts of self-harm in attempt to numb the ache.

In my practice as Family Ministry Pastor, it is all too common for me to meet families where dads have a fractured to nonexistent relationship with their teenage sons or daughters. Some of the push pull of a relationship between a teenager and parent is natural as the teen stretches for independence. But what I typically see are relationships that are starved by neglect, hardened by time, and the source of great family discord.

There are four laws of Thermodynamics. The first law is, “Energy can neither be created nor destroyed.” I can’t really remember the others, but I think the second one is something like, “Don’t swim for twenty minutes after you eat.”  There are, I believe, also laws of relationships, some negative and some positive. I’ve come up with a few, but there are certainly others:

  • Neglect is an act of violence.
  • Fear is relational poison.
  • Manipulation displaces relationship.

When a relationship has been damaged, one or more of these laws may have been violated. If you are trying to repair a strained relationship with your teen, there will be little you can accomplish until you have identified the source of the wound. It is best to assume the source of that wound is you. Sorry. Most often, the damage is our fault.

If you have neglected and ignored your kid–even for the very best reasons in the world–you need to take action, but not just any action. Often, when we men want to repair a damaged relationship, we error with the “Grand Gesture.” You know, the easy, huge, one-time effort to prove that we really are not the jerk we appear to be. Resist the “Grand Gesture.”

Taking a wounded and angry 15-year-old to a basketball game is not going to make him feel better. He may like the game; you might spend $300 for the tickets; but if all you do is go to the game, you will be out big money and bring home an angry, ungrateful kid. In this scenario, the problem (your neglect of him) was not even addressed, and all indications are that you will do it again without remorse. Despite your efforts, the relationship might be even more damaged by the end of the evening.

How should we repair a damaged relationship? Healing this kind of wound requires much more than one big event. More is required than you or I have at our ready disposal. We need guidance and support from the Holy Spirit. This is not common sense stuff.  We need supernatural sense here.

God has given us many stories in the Bible and many examples of how to do this best. You must go to the one you have offended (your kid), confess your sin to him, and, for crying out loud, alter your pattern so that you don’t go back and ignore him again. Far from the “Grand Gesture,” this requires a thousand small offerings, repeated for a really long time.

In our modern culture, we tend to think in computer/machine metaphors.

If I write the code correctly, the program will work properly.

If the machine is broken, just replace the broken part, and it will be fully repaired.”

I would suggest that when talking about people, these are the wrong kinds of metaphors. People are not fleshy machines or really complex computers. People are a different category entirely. A better metaphor for people and relationships is a garden.

If a plant is wilting, you do not “fix it.” You gently water it and then you water it again in a day or two. In time (not instantly), it drinks in some of the water you gave it, and it slowly perks up and looks for warmth and sunshine. Under the right conditions, it grows quite naturally. If you don’t water it again, it will wilt again. The health of a young sprout requires small amounts of water hundreds of times. This takes ongoing commitment. Humans are even more complex and more fragile. The health of a relationship requires many small offerings of sacrificial actions, kind words, interested questions, and small, bite-sized encouragements, not three big ones. 

Resist the “Grand Gesture” and opt for thousands of small offerings given over time that will be measured in years.

Thousands of small offerings are healing, life-affirming, and will bond one heart to another. Apologize for your neglect to both God and your son, then nurture both of those relationships. That is how we really bloom.


Dave Carl is the Family Ministry Pastor at Stonebriar Community Church and is responsible for the ministry focusing on children birth through graduation and the parents who love. With a ministry philosophy based on Luke 10:27 his primary focus is to give parents the skills to raise kids who truly love Jesus and want to serve others. Dave has a passion for ministering to families in crisis in our community. He has spent several years pouring into fathers and husbands and helping them learn that they need community, were designed to guard and protect, and that they really can be the spiritual leaders of their family.

Dave and his wife Cathy of 20 plus years have three children with one married, one in college and one in high school. Dave is an avid woodworker and loves to write. He see’s all stories in the form of pictures in his head and he would love to connect with you!

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