The number of prodigals today is staggering. Everywhere I go, I meet someone who is dealing with a rebellious child. Many of these children are well into their 30s and 40s.
According to statistics, eighty-eight percent of children raised in an evangelical Christian home will leave the church by the age of eighteen. Most will turn away from authority, parental values, and biblical teaching, losing their potential, their health, and their destiny—sometimes even their life. As a parent or guardian, is there a way to prevent this from happening?
When my son and daughter both took a dark path toward drugs and alcohol as teenagers, my husband and I were devastated. We had done everything we knew to raise our children in a loving and godly environment, thinking we had done all the right things. Our children went to Sunday school, VBS, and Christian camps. They never listened to secular music or read secular books. They could quote Scripture verses and knew all the words to the most popular Christian songs. Born again and baptized at a very early age, they were good, upstanding, obedient kids. What could have possibly gone wrong?
The truth is: Even good kids rebel—and even good parents can end up with a prodigal.
Looking back, one of my biggest regrets is not establishing a healthy foundation and creating reasonable boundaries when my children were small. When we have guidelines in place, it’s easier to recognize the conflicting signals as our children hold tightly to us with one hand and push us away with the other. This means they’re struggling for independence, which is exactly how God designed them. Just like a baby bird cannot stay in the nest forever, our children must learn to fly. Our job is to let them go but to remain a soft place for them to land when they fall.
My greatest challenge as a parent has been the ability to be firm without becoming angry. This is why boundaries are so important, no matter what age your children happen to be. It’s crucial to make reasonable rules everyone can live with and to enforce them when they’re broken. Children and teenagers will test the limits continually, and they are counting on consistency, even though they don’t consciously realize it. It makes them feel loved, secure, and safe.
It’s also important to be open, honest, and transparent with our children. They can see through pretense. We should be quick to apologize when we mess up. It’s also wise to admit we’re not perfect and don’t have all the answers. Our kids already know, and they will respect our honesty and humility—whether they show it or not.
When our children are small, it’s time to be the parent, the adult—not the cool friend. There will be plenty of time to be friends later. Children need a guide, an example, a stable, focused adult to give them direction.
Whether you’re dealing with a prodigal or searching for ways to equip your smaller children to face future temptations, God’s Word is filled with wisdom, instruction, and promises for those who will dare to believe and trust Him. In my book, Praying for the Prodigal, you will find many of His promises, along with advice from the prodigal’s point of view and thirty days of prayers and Scriptures to give you strength and courage as you travel this parenting journey.