Hope for the Troubled Teen
About the Guest
Do you have a prodigal at home? Shelterwood President Jim Subers talks to parents about rebellious and hurting teens. Jim explains that many troubled teens are just looking for answers and have believed lies about themselves and God. Their rebellious behavior is often the fruit of this confusion. Jim shares what Shelterwood is doing to bring hope to these teens and their parents.
Jim Subers talks to parents about rebellious and hurting teens. Jim explains that many troubled teens are just looking for answers and have believed lies about themselves and God.
Hope for the Troubled Teen
Bob: It is not unusual for a teenager to push back on parental authority. Here’s Jim Subers.
Jim: There’s no perfect kid / there is no perfect parent; but when it gets to a situation where in your heart of hearts, you are concerned about their future and their health because of the decisions they are making—first, have a discussion with your child. If in that discussion—where you’re not accusing but you’re just saying, “Let’s talk about it,”—the more defensive they are, the more a warning sign that is to you that you need to get them some help.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, May 22nd. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. How can you tell if your son or daughter is simply stretching his or her wings or if something more serious is going on in that young person’s life? We’ll explore that today. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. We’ve talked, over the years, about parents dealing with prodigals. There are various levels of prodigal kids. There are some times when the prodigal experience is so extreme that a mom and a dad look at each other and say, “We don’t know what to do here.” They need help from outside of the family.
Dennis: Right. Barbara and I wrote a book called Parenting Today’s Adolescent where we talked about how there are different types of prodigals. One of them is in an in-house prodigal, where they are still living at home. They are not doing what Jesus talked about in the Book of Luke, where they are out slopping with the hogs—they are just causing problems and difficulty within the family. Then, there are some who are out-of-house prodigals, where they leave—and either they run away or they try to get away—
—and they are full-blown prodigals.
And we have a guest with us in the studio today, Jim Subers, who gives leadership to Shelterwood, which—would you say you deal with prodigals or not because you made a statement, just before we came on air—that made me go, “Really?” Share with our listeners what you said about most of the kids who come to Shelterwood—this residential treatment facility—for teenagers: 13 to 18 years old. Explain what you said.
Jim: First, let me say, “Yes, we deal with prodigals.” And I’ll get back to that too. But the statement I was saying off-air was that I could probably count on my fingers, on one hand, the number of kids that we’ve had in the last three-and-a-half years at Shelterwood—since I’ve been there—that I would consider truly rebellious troubled kids. Most of these kids are just really hurting and looking for answers. Through lies they’ve believed about themselves or about God—
—they’ve embraced a direction in their life that has led them into these behaviors, and they are confused. They need help!
And I tell them, regularly: “You guys don’t realize what a gift you’ve been given to be here at Shelterwood. You think your freedom has been curtailed, and you’ve been sent away somewhere to be punished; but guys, you don’t realize—90 percent of the kids in America could benefit from a year at a place like Shelterwood. You’ve been removed from the matrix for a period of time where you can actually think about life, and the deep questions of life, and what’s important. You can learn some tools that will help you forever. And Shelterwood may be your pigpen experience.” We talk about the prodigal story and how that kid finally came to a place in the pigpen where he came to his senses; right? The Scripture says he came to his senses and, then, he went back to Mom and Dad.
Well, most of these moms and dads—they just want their kid back; right? They want the child that they had before the teenage craziness happened. They want that kid back—the joy, the life, the sparkle in their eyes—and they don’t know how to get it back.
Dennis: But Jim, as you look into the eyes of a child, who is not doing well / a troubled child—you know—
Dennis: —maybe, he has been hurt by the culture / maybe, he’s been duped by the culture. You see anger. You see pushback on—
Dennis: —the boundaries / on—you’re asking them to do their homework, and they don’t do it. That seems, to me, to be rebellion; but you must not be classifying it like that.
Jim: Yes. It’s probably just nuance in the way we’re defining it. I would say their identity is not rebellious—they are not rebellious, as a person. They’re doing some rebellious behavior, but it’s coming out of a place of confusion / a place of desperation. They want to be known—they want to be loved. And most parents think it’s their job to control their kid’s behavior.
You can’t do that! You can control the consequences of their teenager’s behavior, but the child’s got to learn that; right? And so, the job of a parent is to manage the consequences of the behavior of their teenager so that, hopefully, they’ll learn the lesson.
When it gets to the place where they are putting themselves at risk—where they are going to make some decisions that could jeopardize their future—that’s when they often choose residential care.
Bob: So, as you think about the young men and the young women that you’re working with at Shelterwood—Dennis talked about in-house versus out-of-house prodigals. These are kids who have gotten to a point in their behavior where Mom and Dad say: “We can’t control this anymore. We can’t handle this.” Or is it just Mom and Dad saying, “We think time away from the culture that you’ve been involved with is going to be best”? What’s the typical scenario?
Jim: Well, the typical scenario is usually parents wait too long; right?
I mean, it would be ideal if they would move a little quicker; but you’re always hoping that they’ll just get over this—they’ll pass through this phase. But usually, Mom and Dad have delayed the decision because they don’t want to make it because it is painful. It’s painful.
Dennis: We are easily duped, as parents. Are we not?
Jim: Yes. We see some wonderful examples of skilled manipulators when they get to Shelterwood. Some of the kids have really learned how to work their moms and dads. And on the phone calls, typically, the first few days that they are with us, they are telling their moms and dads every story they can tell—pulling every trick out of the book, trying to get Mom and Dad to pull them—you know: “The foods bad,” “My roommate’s crazy,” “They hate me here,” “They keep me locked up.” I mean, it’s all—none of it is true; but they are trying everything they can to convince Mom and Dad to pull them from the program.
But the mom and dad that stay the course—I mean, I see this at graduations all the time—the kids will say: “I tried to talk you into pulling me. I’m so glad you didn’t.” Oftentimes, they’ll stand up and they’ll talk about the tremendous friends they’ve made. The thing that encourages me the most, though—is the love for their mom and dad that often has been restored—and then a renewed or sometimes a beginning faith in Jesus.
This last year, I took a team of 40 to Haiti. We had 25 kids and about 15 staff. As we got ready to go to Haiti, one of the little girls, Elizabeth, came up to me and said, “I’d like you to baptize me in the Caribbean in Haiti.” She was really pursuing the Lord and become a real leader in the girls’ house. I said: “You know what? I’d be happy to do that. The only condition I have is that you’re willing to say that in front of your friends—that you want to follow Jesus with your whole heart, and that’s why you are doing this.” She said, “I’m happy to do that.”
Well, by the time the last full day that we were in Haiti came along—this is the night before—I had had 13 young people that had come to me and said they wanted to follow Jesus with their whole heart. A couple of these were the toughest nuts in the whole campus—and that, one by one, as I prepared to baptize them in the Caribbean, they stood in front of their friends, and the staff that were there, and then all the visitors at the beach and proclaimed in a different way—every one of them did it differently—but it was all basically the same message: “I’m tired of doing it my way. I want to follow Jesus the rest of my life.”
And I’ve got to tell you that was the greatest—apart from the birth of my kids and marrying my wife—that was the greatest day of my life. I’ve been in prisons all over the country—I’ve seen lots of inmates come to Jesus—but watching these kids that we’ve worked with for some many months stand in front of their friends and say, “I want to follow Jesus,”—doesn’t get any better than that.
Bob: You have to see some of those kids—maybe not those 13 yet—
—but some kids, who step up and say, “I want to follow Jesus,” and then, six months later, not so much.
Jim: Oh, six days later! [Laughter] I mean, they’ve come right back to Shelterwood and to the friends they’ve created there, and they have to battle. They have to battle the reality. Some of them that came back from Haiti, after being baptized, struggled; but they had to learn to overcome that. So, we would have separate studies with them—“Well, what does it mean now that you’ve made this decision to follow Jesus? What does it look like for you?” And I’ve really been proud of these kids.
Dennis: You’ve got to get over the shame of sending your child to a facility because there really is a community that occurs—that’s created—by a ministry like Shelterwood that allows them to minister to each other and call one another up. It’s the best kind of peer pressure.
I want to go back to your trip to Haiti.
Dennis: What’s the thinking behind taking 25 troubled youth to a foreign country? What are you doing there? And how long are you there?
Jim: Well, it does sound kind of crazy, but it’s part of how God made me; right? I mean, my background was missionary in Japan for five years and, then, business and ministry in 40 different countries. So, I love the nations. I love what it does in your heart when you take Jesus to the nations. So, our kids need to get out of their comfort zone / their own world experience and touch the third world. The closest you can get to the third world or the developing world is Haiti right now.
We have a tremendous partnership with a ministry called Global Orphan Project. We’ve now done six trips with them over the last few years. We’ve got another one scheduled in June. It has been phenomenal to watch what happens in the hearts of our kids.
You basically go to Haiti and work in their orphanages, loving on kids. What happens is—well, I can give you a couple of stories.
One little girl felt unloved, unworthy, worthless—a lot of suicidal ideation. We’ll call her Cindy. She went to Haiti. The fact that little orphan kids swarmed her and loved on her, and she was able to love on them for several days, just kind of broke the barriers in her heart. She came back a different person and has continued in her pursuit of Jesus ever since with a new vision.
Another little girl—we’ll call her Lisa—she came to us as a 15-year-old who had gotten involved into drug abuse—gotten involved with an older boy that led to inappropriate sexual relationships—and that led into abuse.
Eventually, she learned to manipulate both sets of parents—step-parents / real parents—to where there was in-fighting between the family. It was a disaster in that home. She came to Shelterwood really feeling used. At the beginning of her time with us, she was asking questions like: “Why would anybody love me? Why would I love anybody else?” Over a period of time, she began—her questions began to change to: “Why would God love me? Why should I love God?” She told me, on that trip to Haiti—she said: “I think I know why I’m created now. God created me to love others.” She is just the most beautiful young woman; and now, she graduated from our program. She’s just finished her junior year in her high school back home and is doing very well.
So, it is kind of unusual to think that we would—
—and kind of crazy that we would take what the world would say is 25 troubled teens to a foreign country—but it’s one of the most important things we do. And we do domestic mission trips as well.
Bob: There have got to be some young men and women, who come to Shelterwood—and after a while, you say: “This is beyond us. We can’t help these kids.” What’s going on with those kids, and what do you do when Shelterwood doesn’t work for them?
Jim: Yes, that’s one of the hardest to deal with for us. Because we are not a lockdown facility and we’re not a medical facility—when a kid is very serious about suicide, for example, or there are cutting issues, or putting their health at risk—then, we’re not the place for them. But as long as we believe we can help them, we’re going to keep them with us.
And we’ve had a number of kids that—while over the course of time they are with us, they’ll have to exit out and go to a medical facility for a period of time before they can come back.
We had one young man—I’ll call him Jerry—that just about a month ago—had to leave our program. His issues were such that we didn’t think that we were the best place for him to stay / his parents agreed. But before he left that day, I said, “Jerry, tell me why you think you are at Shelterwood and what happened in your heart and in your life while you were here.” He said: “The most important thing is I met Jesus, here at Shelterwood. It’s totally transformed my life. I didn’t believe my life was worth anything—that I had purpose. I didn’t believe I should live before I came here. Now, I know that I have a future—that I have a hope—and that there is a good future for me. So, I want to thank you for what you’ve done.”
So, we’re always recognizing that graduation from our program is only one indicator of whether we’ve been successful. When a kid does leave Shelterwood and hasn’t come to faith in Jesus—
—I don’t consider that a failure if we’ve sowed truth in their heart.
So, we’ve got—I take the boys to dinner before they graduate. I’ll ask them the question—I’ll say, “Tell me where you were in your interest in Jesus and in spiritual things on a scale of one to ten—just give me a ranking of where you were before you came to Shelterwood.” Typically, the number is below five—it’s usually a one. Sometimes, a kid will say, “Negative 10”; you know? I mean, it’s the animosity they have towards anything their parents are associated with—
Jim: —they’ve just—
Dennis: Lump it together.
Jim: —lumped it together. So, then, I ask the question: “Okay, where are you now? Now, as you are graduating—in terms of your level of interest in Jesus and things spiritual, where would you be?” And almost every kid—it’s six, seven, eight, nine, or ten. That’s all I can ask for. If I can move them along the bar toward their interest in Jesus—sow the Word of truth into their hearts—
—God’s Word doesn’t return void. It’ll accomplish what He sent it forth to do; you know? We’re part of their journey toward Jesus, but some—one sows, one waters, one reaps—I love it when we get to reap.
Those trips to Haiti—I kind of feel a little bit guilty that all of my staff doesn’t get to baptize the kids. I’m the one that gets the benefit of actually that moment, but everyone of us are engaged together in the process of bringing them toward change and toward that decision. That’s why I think I’ve got the greatest job in the world because I’m the one that gets to benefit from the reaping.
Dennis: I’m going to ask you a tough question.
Dennis: What would you encourage parents to make sure that they absolutely do with their teenagers as they enter the teenage years—12, 13, 14? And I threw in 12 because, for young people today, the teenage years are starting at a younger age.
Jim: Starting earlier—right.
Dennis: They really are. What would you say is really—if you want to make sure you do one thing, as a parent, with your son or your daughter, what one thing would you encourage parents to do?
Jim: Well, I can’t answer that as one thing without saying, “You’ve got to be in agreeing prayer with your spouse,” if you’re married. If you are a single parent, it’s a little tougher; but prayer for your child is absolutely dead-on the most important thing you are doing.
And then, agreement—if you are married—agreement with your spouse on the consequences and the enforcement of the consequences for behavior that you don’t believe is appropriate. It is absolutely critical that the authority of mom and dad is established in that home. If not, then, you’re going to be dealing with Shelterwood down the road, or a program like ours, or you’re going to be having some pretty serious heartache at home.
Dennis: So, you really believe that a lot of the kids who arrive at Shelterwood are there because their parents did not enforce the boundaries and bring about consequences from their children’s disobedience.
Jim: Well, sometimes, you are dealing with great parents who’ve tried to do everything right; but a child is a freewill, moral agent. And sometimes, they don’t get it quick; right?
Jim: Sometimes, it’s in their 20’s they’re going to get it. And so, I quite honestly think that parents, who send their kids to Shelterwood, are some of the finest parents in the world. You’re only reading the parenting books / you’re only sending your kid to Shelterwood if you care—
Jim: —if you really want to do it right.
Bob: You’re not saying that having boundaries will indemnify you against a child pushing against them.
Jim: Not at all.
Bob: You’re just saying that the parents who don’t have the boundaries are headed for a rockier road than the parents who are trying to establish those.
Jim: That’s a very good way to put it, Bob. It’s both; right. Yes.
Dennis: Well, I want to thank you for your ministry. It’s a needed ministry today, unfortunately. But you know what? I’m glad it exists because parents, at points, reach a place where they can no longer do it. They need a community—a believing community—that calls their children to follow Jesus Christ and the teachings of Scripture, and that’s what Shelterwood does. Just appreciate you and your ministry there in Kansas City.
Jim: Great. Can we pray for the moms and dads who are out there listening to the program, who may be—
Dennis: Why don’t you do that?
Jim: —dealing with troubled teens?
Gracious Heavenly Father, we come to You. We thank You for the love that You’ve given us for our kids. Father, I pray for these moms and dads, that are listening now, who may be struggling with a teenager that’s kind of gone off the rails that they’re really concerned about. I just pray that You would come alongside them and give them faith and hope for the future of their child and give them wise counsel into how to go forward.
God, I pray that hopelessness, despair, fear would be driven from these homes—that You would give these moms and dads the courage to make the decisions that they need to make to do the job of parenting that You’ve given them. God, we’ve got the confidence that You love these kids even more than these moms and dads do. You do have answers / You do have solutions, and they are not to give up hope.
And we thank You, God, that You say, “Now, faith, hope, and love…” and that You would give these parents hope and love—never to give up on these children / these prodigals. God, encourage their hearts today. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Dennis: I agree. Amen.
Bob: Jim—thanks again for being with us.
If our listeners are interested in finding out more about Shelterwood, probably the easiest thing for them to do is to go to our website, which is FamilyLifeToday.com. Click the link in the upper left-hand corner of the screen that says, “GO DEEPER,” and we’ve got a link to the Shelterwood website there.
They can find out more about the work you are doing and how to get in touch with you. Again, our website is FamilyLifeToday.com. Click the link that says, “GO DEEPER.” You’ll find out more about Shelterwood.
You’ll also see information about Dennis and Barbara Rainey’s book, Parenting Today’s Adolescent. This is a book that Dennis and Barbara wrote to help moms and dads navigate their teenager through some of the tough issues teens are facing today—whether it is things like part-time jobs, and sports, and busyness, or whether it’s some of the more destructive kinds of things that teens are involved with today. The book, Parenting Today’s Adolescent, helps parents get on the same team—clarify your values / decide how you are going to address these issues with your son or your daughter as they go through the teen years.
When you go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com, and you click the link that says, “GO DEEPER,” in the upper left-hand corner of the screen, you can order a copy of the book, Parenting Today’s Adolescent.
Or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY and place your order over the phone—1-800-358-6329. That’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY.” Or again, find us online at FamilyLifeToday.com.
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We hope you have a great weekend. Hope you and your family are able to worship together this weekend. Hope you can join us on Monday when we are going to talk to a couple of young men, who—
—during their teen years / actually, during their late teen years—they veered away from the faith they had been taught, growing up. In fact, dad was a pastor. Mom and dad raised them with a solid understanding of their faith. You’ll meet the Shook brothers on Monday and hear their story. Hope you can tune in for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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