Teen Dishonesty and Washing the Inside of the Cup
Some nights, it is the pale blue glow visible in the gap under the bedroom door that gives him away.
On those nights, I stand in the dark hallway, press my forehead against the closed door, and speak into it. “Jack, turn your phone off and go to sleep, or I’ll take away your phone again.”
“My phone isn’t on!”
Other nights, it is different but the same. The sound of eager young fingers tapping away on a computer keyboard. On those nights I tell the door, “Turn your laptop off and go to sleep, or I’ll take away your laptop again.”
“My laptop isn’t on!”
My husband and I have tried different tactics to correct our son Jack’s undesirable nocturnal behaviors. We’ve taken the phone away on many occasions… until Jack convinces us that he needs the phone for school (“Coach is gonna text about practice!”), and we reluctantly hand it back.
We’ve also installed an app on our wifi that cuts off internet access at night. This limits Jack’s technology time… until he convinces us that he needs to sync his laptop with the school server, or offers another similar excuse, and we back off to give him the access he claims he needs.
Of course, the worst of the bad behaviors — the heartbreakingly bad one — is the lying.
If you read my January blog post or this one from March, you know that I am currently experiencing the Walking with Purpose foundational Bible study Opening Your Heart in a parish-based program. (Shout out to my girls at Holy Name of Mary in Croton, NY!) Each week we meet to review another lesson from Opening Your Heart, and each week it amazes me how applicable the lessons are to my life.
A few weeks ago, my group gathered to watch the Connect Coffee video that goes along with Opening Your Heart Lesson 18, “Reaching Your Child’s Heart.” When I watch these videos it’s as if author Lisa Brenninkmeyer is speaking just to me, which is awesome, and others in my group have said the same. (Although there was one part of the video I didn’t watch because the most delicious toddler accompanied his mom that day, and when an 18-month-old is clutching your legs and grinning up at you, he just cannot be ignored!)
The good news is that the pages in the study guide reinforce what I may have missed in the video, and Lesson 18 made me rethink everything.
“Behavior is simply what alerts you to your child’s need for correction. But don’t make the mistake that so many parents make and allow your desire for changed behavior to replace your desire for a changed heart. If you can reach the heart, the behavior will take care of itself.”¹
Changing Jack’s undesirable nocturnal behaviors wasn’t working because his heart wasn’t changing.
This concept is rooted in Scripture. Lesson 18 goes on to say this:
“A change in behavior that does not stem from a change in heart is not commendable; it is condemnable. Is it not the same hypocrisy that Jesus condemned in the Pharisees? In Matthew 15, Jesus denounces the Pharisees who honored Him with their lips while their hearts were far from Him. Jesus censures them as people who wash the outside of the cup while the inside is still unclean.”²
It became clear that I needed to spend some time inside that teenage boy’s bedroom (not just talking to the door), and I needed to figure out how to wash the inside of that 15-year-old cup.
Jack and I sat down. I told him how hurtful his dishonesty was, and before I could get to the “lying is a sin” part of the talk, he interrupted.
“If you’ll stop trying to control my life, I’ll stop lying.”
I was certain there was truth in that statement. If Jack was given free reign with technology and internet access, he wouldn’t have much to lie about.
However, it was not a deal I could make. It was, I think, a deal with the devil.
The wifi in our house still shuts off at night, prohibiting internet access. And Jack is still trying to find ways around it. Apparently we are the “only” parents who restrict access to their kids’ cell phones and internet. And I think Jack might hate us for it.
Did the “inside of the cup” get washed? Not yet. That’s a place I can’t go; that’s a process I can’t force. My husband and I don’t have the power to change Jack’s heart, but we are fiercely protecting it. And when He’s invited in, God can go deep in the heart, to the “inside of the cup.” I pray that will happen.
In Lesson 18 of Opening Your Heart, Lisa includes a “Monthly Prayer List for Our Children” and one of the talented WWP designers turned it into this beautiful free printable. (Download the file, print it two-sided, and cut off the extra paper to make the perfect bookmark.) For anyone who has children or grandchildren, this list of twelve prayers is something you’ll want to save and turn to. Often.
¹ Opening Your Heart (2010-2018), p. 219
² Opening Your Heart (2010-2018), p. 220