Methinks She Scoffs: How Parents Can Disciple a Sharp-Tongued Teen

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As a former 10th grade teacher, I can spot a scoff at 100 yards.

I’d love to tell you some scoffing student stories from my time in the classroom, but something tells me that would violate major international treaties and make me morally obligated to pretend I don’t love John Hughes films—and we can’t be having that.

So why does scoffing matter? Isn’t teendom synonymous with haughty laughter, jeers, and the infamous steely stare? Ridicule certainly multiplies in the fertile ground of the insecurity petri dish (which is really just a fancy way of referencing the halls of our local high schools). When I wrote “Scoffing Isn’t Funny” for TGC, it hit a chord with many parents and teachers of teenagers. Those who interact with teenagers know how disruptive a scoffer’s heart can be in any setting, but especially a group one. A scornful attitude can cast a pallor of disdain in the room, plant skepticism among others, and undermine authority within a home, a classroom, or youth ministry gathering.

But far more important than our inconvenience or disruption as parents is how strongly the Bible warns against scoffing. We see Job cautioned to take care lest wrath entice him into scoffing (Job 36:18), and King Solomon sets scoffers in direct opposition to the wise throughout Proverbs (Prov. 13:1, 15:12, 21:11, 29:8). At the crucifixion, the rulers jeer at Jesus, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself” (Luke 23:35).

It seems we have no choice but to warn those we love of the slippery slope of a scornful heart, and to look within ourselves to see if we must be the first to repent.

Stuffing Our Ears Against the Mockingbirds

A scoff feels so personal, doesn’t it? When you’re the adult on the receiving end of a teen’s sneer, it’s easy to lose focus and allow our emotions to come charging forward in indignation at such a response. But when it comes to specific attitudes in our teenagers, it’s really more about that child or student’s heart than about our need for self-justification. And this is hard, isn’t it? It’s hard to lift our eyes off ourselves and cast them onto the big picture of God’s kingdom.

As parents, teachers, D-group leaders—in Christ we have the wherewithal to pursue beyond the bad attitude. Just as Christ loved us by subjecting himself to the scoffing, despising the shame, and enduring the cross for the joy that was set before him (Heb. 12:2), we can view the hearts of the teens we love as “worth-it-enough” to move beyond our own injured ones. In our heart’s response to what Christ has done for us, we are given the ability to step toward a teen’s ridiculing or belittling heart in love and pursuit. This takes some serious fortitude and humility—the kind reserved for those who are assured of who they are in Christ.

As we address scoffing with the teens we love, I’ve found it helpful to consider three actions to settle our hearts and minds on Christ before engaging:

Check Our Hearts

I can spot scoffing easily on a 10th grader because they typically haven’t achieved the full skill set of polite adult society—but in my own adult heart, the jeers can be much more subtle. It takes a lot of self-evaluation to ask God where we’re setting this poor example—or where we’re hiding a scoffer’s heart behind a chuckle of feigned superiority, or the type of passive-aggressive aside that makes gossip look like child’s play. Before we can repent of sin, we must identify it. Where does Job 36:18 apply to me? In Job’s case, wrath enticed him to the scoff. Where do I need to repent of such anger myself?

Repent of the Same Sin

After I left the classroom to raise my own babies, I would run into former students out in the wild who would invariably ask me some variation of the same question: “How different is it having your own kid?”

The answer never really changed: not much. Because whether it’s with a toddler or a teen, sin is sin, just packaged differently. I’m still the one responsible before the Lord as to how I respond to it and whether or not I choose to address it.

Yes, scoffing looks one way in a 15 -year-old girl and another in this 40-year-old woman. But praise be to the name of the Lord: the tonic for both is the same. When we see something that frustrates or disgusts us in another, a safe place to start is and will always be confession before the Lord over our own shortcomings. It’s from the place of belief and rest in the full covering and forgiveness that Christ has purchased for us that we can safely enter into the last action: motivating the hearts of those we love to further pursuit of Christ.

Call Our Brothers and Sisters to More

These teenage scoffers are our spiritual siblings! Sure, they look like your kid or your student or that especially troublesome corner of your Sunday school classroom, but kingdom eyes, dear friends – it’s our ultimate hope that they are actually our brother or sister – co-heirs with Christ to the fullness of God’s plan and kingdom. Co-heirs equals full sibling status with the church, just as any who profess Jesus’ righteousness as their only hope for salvation. May we be granted the relational capital from these younger siblings coming up behind us in age and stage to enter in when necessary and say, “Hey whoa, take it easy. What’s going on behind that scoff?”

Sure, it’s the kind of conversation that you’re not likely to find in the masterful back and forth of a John Hughes movie, but it’s just the rhythm of dialogue that’s likely to produce lasting fruit in the lives of the teens we love.

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