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There you are, thinking you are raising a relatively normal child. You have done beautifully through their childhood years. Now in their early teen years it looks like everything is going well, but you've begun to notice some subtle changes in the way they dress. They don't like their normal clothes anymore.

They want to wear weird styles with drab, dark colors. You notice their hair begins to look increasingly offbeat and not what most people would think normal.

Your daughter is beginning to create strange effects with her makeup. You notice unusual jewelry around her neck, ankles, fingers, and wrists. She has more than one hole pierced in her ear.

Your son comes home with an earring in his ear - or more than one earring. Some young people will actually come home with multiple piercings in their ears, their nose, their tongue, their eyebrows, and their navel. Others will just talk about it as a joke, just to see how mom and dad will respond.

You are wondering how far to let this go. Is it just a phase your teen is going through? Is it something they will get over? Is it just a fad like blue jeans and T-shirts were in the '50s? Or is this something you should be concerned about?

It is particularly striking and shocking if your young person makes these outward physical changes overnight. When you see them with all the piercings and weird clothing styles, you wonder if they are still your child. You grab them and say, "Who are you?! What have you done with my teenager?!"

Time to Take Action?
What is a parent to do? Realize this is still your child, although their hair, earrings, and clothes might look extremely bizarre. If your teen is already dressing like this or is beginning to get into it, it is imperative you put the emphasis on your relationship with them and how much you care about them.

Be cautious about tearing them down because of what they look like, what they are wearing, or what jewelry they have on. Although you may strongly, vehemently disagree with it (as I do), if your approval of them is based on how they look, they will think your love is conditional.

Right now, more than ever, you must engage them in conversations that draw their heart back towards you. Don't just talk about their body piercings and hair all the time. Talk to them as a person - what they are thinking, what they are feeling, what they are going through. Get to know them all over again.

If this has happened overnight, it has probably struck you with, "I thought I knew my child. How could they possibly have done this?!" You probably did not know them as well as you thought you did. It's time to get reacquainted with your young person.

Should you be concerned about this kind of behavior? Absolutely, yes! Do not put it off as another phase your young person is going through. The mainstream of teenagers today is not behaving this way. There is definitely an element participating in these kinds of activities, but it is not the mainstream, so you do need to be concerned.

Look into the eyes and the heart of your young person to see what's going on inside. The problem is not what they did with their hair or body. The problem is the attitude that led them to do it - the need for peer acceptance and the need to "make a statement" that pressured them to feel they had to do it.

What kind of statement are they making? Who influenced them to think that by doing this they would be making that statement? From a band? From a friend? Who are these friends?

"Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind" (Rom. 12:2).

When God looks at your teen, He does not look at all this stuff on the outside, but He definitely looks at what is going on inside. What makes them feel like they have to dress in an outlandish way in order to communicate a point? Many will say they are trying to be an individual - it is who they are. That is definitely questionable. Is that really who they are?

Of course, in their own minds they are saying that is who they are because they are hearing their friends say, "This is who we are. We're making a statement." So they reason, "This is who I want to be. I want to make the same statement."

So you're still asking, "Well, why is that so bad?" If the attitude your teen is reflecting is self-destructive, one of depression, or rebellious against society, or one that says, "I don't care what you think, I'm going to do my own thing," then obviously there is a real issue and a real problem.

The Need to Fit In
Why do young people do this? They are identifying with some group - either a music group, a group of friends at school, at a hangout, on a ball team, or even in a youth group. Somehow it was put into their mind that if they changed their appearance like this, there would be acceptance by a particular group of people they regard as significant and want to impress or hang out with. They want to do whatever it takes to gain that acceptance.

Please understand, your teen will not see it like this. They think they are doing it to be their own individual. Your job is not to convince your teen that you know better and they are really doing it to be accepted, because they will probably never admit to that. You need to discover why they have the need to feel accepted by that particular crew.

Your job is to help your young person make sure they are surrounding themselves with the right kind of peers and not just whoever happens to be around. That is why it is so extremely important that you do not just live under the same roof and eat at the same table without really knowing what is going on in their life. You have to help shape and influence the environment your young person grows up in, which is largely their peers and friends at school and church.

Somehow your teen has woven themselves into this group of people who are now very significant to them. It is important, then, that you do not just pass off their friends as stupid kids. "Why do they dress like that?!" The more you think and talk that way, the more it will push your teen to identify with those kids and think you are just an old parent who doesn't understand.

It is important for you to know these kids who are your teen's friends to show that you are not dismissing them without reason or without giving them a chance. At the same time, it is absolutely imperative that you help your young person find the right kind of friends you want them to be around - those destined for success, who love God with all their hearts, and who are wholesome in every area of their lives.

Search out these young people and find ways to endear your teen to them. One way might be to meet with a great youth pastor in town. Talk with him about your young person. Ask him what their youth group might have to offer and what they could do to reach out and pull your young person in as a friend and a companion.

If your young person is a Christian and has been raised in church, they might be thinking, "I just want to reach out to other young people who are dressed like this." I caution you to be careful of that. Although it sounds legitimate on the surface, there is still great cause for concern.

Maybe your young person has a heart to minister to kids who are dressing and acting like this, so they start dressing like this and doing their hair like them. They begin to talk to them, get to know them, and do all the right things to develop a relationship so they can evangelize them. But then they start listening to them so much, they begin to defend them.

"You know what? These kids really have been misunderstood. There really are a lot of hypocrites out there. The church really doesn't understand them. I can't believe the church doesn't accept them. They went to this one church and they got so mistreated." They take on the offenses of these young people. Pretty soon they are more committed to and drawn to the people they are trying to reach out to than they are with their Christian friends.

How far do we need to go to relate and reach out in order to effectively minister? Jesus did hang out with prostitutes. He hung out in bars. But He did not become like them. He didn't dress like them. He didn't even spend most of His time with them. He spent most of His time with His disciples. So your teen's core peer group and the people they are best friends with and have the most camaraderie with should be the people who love God with all their heart - wholesome, strong individuals.

When reaching out and ministering to people who are dressed like this, it should be perceived as a ministry venture, not something they are going out on their own to do - and hope they survive spiritually. Do not play this down. It is so important they do not identify more with the group they are trying to reach out to than with a group that is loving God, has wholesome values, and a wholesome way of representing the Christian life.

What they want to do is noble, but there have been too many tragic stories of young people who have fallen away from God, because in seeking to identify, they got sucked into a peer group and pulled away from God.

If your teen is dressing and acting like this, should you immediately say, "Stop it right now!"? It depends on where they are. If they are just barely starting to change, you know their heart is still with you, and they still love God with all their heart, then yes, stop it right away - even if they don't understand.

If their heart is already gone and you say, "No more!" you could push them over the edge to say, "I'm going to do what I want to do anyway!" You have to be much more careful and diplomatic at how you woo their heart back towards you. You can enforce a rule at home, but as soon as they walk out the door, if their identity is still wrapped up with that group, your teen will put all the jewelry and earrings back on, and you have still lost them.

Your teen may not do it around you, but they will do it out of your sight; so you have lost the real battle. Some parents might say, "Well, as long as they don't do it around me, it's okay." No, it is not okay! That is not what you want. You want your young person's heart. You want their relationship. If they are already beyond that, you must be honest with yourself and realize you will have to be more tactful.

Begin to pull them in, get to know their friends, and diplomatically work through a strategy to get them involved with other wholesome young people. They will go through the motions - combing their hair right and wearing the right clothes in front of you if they must. But if you have their hair and not their heart, you don't really have them. Talk it over with your spouse and with your pastor. See what the best way to approach the issue would be.

If your young person has not started this, begin to talk about it. Make sure they understand that you won't allow it in your home. If they talk about it in any way, jokingly or alluding to doing it, that's a sign for you to start emphasizing your relationship with them.

Spend time with them and talk with them, so their heart is immediately drawn back to you. Don't even give their heart a chance to escape or to be drawn towards others who have succumbed to these kinds of actions and attitudes of rebellion.

Source: Rescue Manual for Parents by Ron Luce
Excerpt permission granted by Albury Publishing

Author Biography

Ron Luce
Web site: Ron Luce
 
Ron Luce was the co-founder's and president of Teen Mania Ministries from 1986-2015. Ron and his wife Katie dreamed to raise up young people who would change the world.
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