Fitzpatrick, Elyse, Jim Newheiser, and Laura Hendrickson. When Good Kids Make Bad Choices. Eugene, OR.: Harvest House Publishers, 2005. 255 pp. $12.99.
When Good Kids Make Bad Choices, authored by biblical counselors Elyse Fitzpatrick and Jim Newheiser in partnership with counselor, former medical doctor, and psychiatrist Dr. Laura Hendrickson, is a remarkably clear and practical text for parents struggling to cope with rebellious teens. In fact, though it is targeted towards these aggressively rebellious teens, it can be a useful resource for any parent that wishes to gain discernment in recognizing trouble signs in their children and gauging an appropriate response. It authors, themselves personally experienced in the area they discuss, write to encourage parents that there is hope for their rebellious teen, that they do not bear the sole responsibility for their child’s rejection, and that there are practical steps they can take under God’s authority to continue seeking to restore their relationship and bring their child to redemption.
As the text begins, Jim Newheiser shares his personal story of an idyllic family shattered by his son’s rejection of family and Christianity (7-8). He tells of the guilt, disappointment, and questioning of God’s faithfulness that ensued, and his resulting realization that he had pridefully misapplied God’s Word to the parenting task (9-11). Godly parenting, itself marred by parents’ sin, is only one factor in the faithfulness of the children, Newheiser reveals; God’s sovereignty and the child’s responsibility both also contribute to the child’s journey (20-22). Continuing to explain the Scriptural truth that children, who must cope with their own naturally sinful heart, have a choice and responsibility to follow God, the authors nonetheless realize that parents will grieve the child that chooses rebellion, and that they must rely on God’s faithfulness for their hope (24, 29, 36-37). Parents are also warned of some of the collateral damage in the home wrought by a rebellious teenager, and are advised to guard their relationship with each other and to not forsake proper attention to their other children (51, 54, 63).
In part two of the book, the authors seek to give parents a better insight into their children, including children with special issues. They begin by examining some of the worldly influences on your child that originate in his heart, such as disrespect for authority, discontent or ingratitude, laziness, secrecy, interest in other philosophies, and deception (74-78). Some external influences include rebellious peers, inappropriate romantic relationships, raunchy and sensual media, and drugs or alcohol (87-90). While the writers encourage the parents not to give up if some or many of these are present in their teen, they also instruct parents to be proactive in investigating their child, even over objections over privacy (79-80, 91). In the next two chapters, Dr. Hendrickson helps parents work through issues with their children who have been diagnosed with special problems, such as a learning disability, ADHD, autism, and others (101). Despite the difficulties the problem introduces, she reminds parents that the child still has a sinful heart that manifests itself through and around these barriers (105, 107). She advises parents to show discernment in working with their children and accessing their barriers, but to nonetheless discipline them to godliness through it (109-111). She then discusses specific issues and common treatments, and—with certain specific exceptions—generally recommends training solutions that help the child deal with the issue long-term over a short-term medicinal behavioral fix (136).
In part three of the book, the authors begin directly helping parents to address the issues head on with the right attitude and with clear standards. Reminding them that they are fighting a spiritual enemy for the souls of their children, Newheiser and Fitzpatrick call on parents to work together, graciously recognize and sympathize with their child’s sinful nature, and to engage with their children actively and intimately (141, 146-152). They take a “two-pronged offensive” approach on discipline, advising the pairing of discipline and love (159). Parents should approach the task aware of their own need for discipline, and should persistently set clear boundaries and defined consequences, with the goal of protecting the child’s soul and changing their heart (159-172). Their discipline should take place in a loving context, in spite of the anger and resentment in the relationship, and this love should be demonstrated consistently, unconditionally, and sacrificially in a variety of ways, culminating in a spirit of forgiveness (175-189).
The authors are clear that there are children who have hardened their hearts against correction, and who, short of God’s direct intervention, are out of reach of the parents discipline (193). They advise parents to seek the wisdom of the church elders and of biblical counselors, but warn that some cases will result in the child leaving on their own or at the parents’ initiative, especially if there is a better place for them to receive instruction or if they are a threat spiritually or physically to the home (194-196, 199-203). Even in this worst case, however, there is hope for parents of rebellious teens, who can look to the God who redeems and restores, and rest in His faithfulness and love (205-206, 213, 221).
In When Good Kids Make Bad Choices, Fitzpatrick, Newheiser, and Hendrickson have written a remarkably clear and applicable text. It is logically laid out, comforting parents and giving wisdom, delving more deeply in to the spiritual and physical aspects of the child’s situation, and then laying out practical guidelines in a godly context (TOC). In each section, the author’s are careful to support their case explicitly with not only wisdom, but well-chosen and applicable Scriptures. While most of the book was excellent, the best portions of the text were chapters eight through eleven, in which the authors gave thorough, wise, and practical guidelines for parents to use.
For example, in chapter nine, the authors simply, quickly, but completely warn parents of their own need for discipline, and give them clear reflective questions to reveal their need for an attitude check (161-163). Newheiser and Fitzpatrick then call on them to approach their children with the God’s attitude of discipline and with the goal of heart-change, with a remarkably apt Scripture (Psalm 103:8, 13-14) to frame their attitude and another set of questions to examine their discipline method (163-165). The authors give specific examples of ways that teens can push their boundaries—such as the internet, telephone, media, or in movies—and for each one they list specific ways in which the parents can address that issue through restriction, emphasizing Romans 16:19 as a filter with which to gauge the appropriate level of restriction (165-166). They do not just discuss the need for clear expectations, but they actually provide a formatted chart with expectations and applicable Scriptures parents can use (167-168). Finally, they give four reasonable consequences parents can use for discipline, not only explaining their use but identifying the sort of rebellion they best and most naturally address. Few books present a practical discipline approach so clearly, thoroughly, and biblically as this, and the authors are to be commended for their work.
That being said, there are certain points at which their text is weaker, digresses, or does not give quite enough guidance. In truth, these are few and far between, and are not regular patterns at all. The most unfortunate of them is the introductory chapters, in that they both color the following text as well as cause some parents to stop reading and thus miss the excellent materials following. As Newheiser speaks of his interactions with parents, he bemoans the judgmental attitudes of those who assume failure on his part. He says, “I’ll humbly admit that I was greatly convicted when I realized that at one time, I used to think such things in my heart—that is, before April 1, 2001.” His attitude in these chapters suggests that theology is dependent on circumstance, though he does, thankfully, make a valid case for his premise (11). His presentation also suggests, indirectly but noticeably, that the passage in Proverbs must be wrong, because if his kids rebelled then the promise has not been kept. While he eventually makes his case, he would have done better to acknowledge more forcefully that all parents are incapable, in the end, of being truly godly parents (10). A similar irksome quote is found in the first chapter, where the authors state “In fact, if you ask these parents the secret of their success, they’ll usually tell you that if you would just follow the right formula (the one they follow), you kids would be just like theirs.” While the author’s case is true that the proverb is not a guarantee, these parents are not so wrong to suggest that there are biblical principles to follow which can, with the Lord’s grace, lead to godly children. The authors, in this case, sound petty, especially asking for “the secret of their success” (19-20).
While the reader may have to grit their teeth a little for the first few pages, this text is an excellent resource, and is a clear and helpful guide for any parent whose teen is pushing their boundaries. It is quickly and clearly applicable, and its biblical roots are explicit and sound.