Battling with a Rebellious Prodigal Child


We often hear of the story of the Prodigal son who rebelled and left his father to seek out his own independence with drinking, sex, gambling, and living the high life.  

Today, parents have prodigals who live in the home too. Take the case of one mom whose young adult son refuses to acknowledge his parent in the same room.  He spends hours on his phone or gaming console.  He exerts his independence through backtalking and disrespect of his mom and dad. He leaves the house and doesn’t tell anyone where he is going.  He comes back late and leaves telltale signs that he was out partying and most likely having sex.  The last thing he wants to hear is about God.

Then there is the daughter who is shut down emotionally and cuts her family out of her life.  She says nothing at the dinner table other than she is an atheist and doesn’t need to pray for her food, hides in her room all day, and announces that she can’t be around others in her family because they are just too toxic for her.  

Prodigals. You love them and you can’t stand their attitude at the same time. You wonder, “Where did I go wrong? My parenting wasn’t that horrible. Why are they being so ungrateful and rebellious?” 

Peers often say that it’s a hormonal thing. Maybe it’s their passage through life. Although true to some degree if you have a normal child, however, what if your child has emotional disorders or mental issues? What then is the answer to their outbreaks, risky behavior, total upheaval, and ungratefulness? Do we excuse their behavior because of their issues? 

I used to cater to the idea that it wasn’t our daughter’s fault when she was ungrateful or rebellious because of her problems.  In fact, the words, “used to” are my present words after I learned why she was acting out and defiant. 

Our children learn at a young age about right and wrong, being obedient and being unruly,  Although my daughter has several disorders, that never stopped her from knowing what was right and wrong. For many teens and young adults, they just find a reason to justify their sin.

My granddaughter is two and a half and she knows exactly what she is doing at her age. Just the other day, she was taking something from the kitchen counter she was not allowed to have, staring right at you with a big smile on her face as if her smile would just melt your heart to let her do the unthinkable. Well, my daughters are no different as young adults.  They will step out of the boundary lines that I presented to them to keep them safe, to gain discernment and wisdom, and to find joy in obedience. Yet, they think they know better.

When our child is really rebellious and unloving, we ask ourselves, “Doesn’t my child love me?  Why is she/he treating me in this manner?” We do eventually find out that there is an agenda behind some of that behavior.  Just like the Prodigal’s son, his agenda was to get the money from his dad, then split town and party till the sun went down.  Which in retrospect, that did happen.  He ended up wasting all his money, lived in a pigpen, hadn’t had anything to eat, and looked like any other servant in town. All awhile, his dad was imagining his son to be dead, devastated that his son will never come back, and so heartbroken.  Those same feelings we are struck with when our child acts out with destructive or risky behavior as well as the rebelliousness within.

While our children are living with us, it presents several problems in getting our child to repent of their ways and change that attitude.  We must determine WHY they are acting out in the first place. Once you find out, it takes some of the pressure off of you as the parent. After understanding some of the reasons why my daughter was rebellious, I was able to look at her with a totally different view.  

I learned that there were peer pressures within her own age group. I found that she wasn’t this tough, threatening behavioral child wanting to kill others or destroy her own life. She was in fact, scared, insecure, having feelings of worthlessness, filled with anger from so much hurt and pain.  This just added on to so many other serious issues that she had with nothing to lose by being rebellious.  

So what can we do to change things around for our child when they exercise this behavior?

Foremost, we need to be Pray for our teen or young adult.  The only way their behavior can change is when their heart changes.  They need a heart makeover. This of course does not negate the issue in which for certain situations, medical intervention is needed such as medications, rehab, etc….  Medications and a rehab can often provide an avenue for the heart to change when your child is in a better mental state.  In my case, we have not been able to find suitable medication for our daughter, however, prayer has been such a tremendous influence upon her issues in a good way. 

Communication is another key.  Finding resources to draw your child back into conversation and communication is another valuable tool to help you filter their behaviors and find the root of it.  Watching a movie together that they can relate to, but one of which you are educated on or have an understanding as well as enjoy can lead to good conversations. Picking an outdoor adventure that involves team building activities in which your challenge requires another person to rely on and encourage you and vice versa to retain that goal.  

Include a mentor that you and your child admire greatly and who has the same goal as you the parent.  It can be a life coach, a youth leader, etc…but the point of bringing in a mentor or life coach is to draw your child into communication and relationship again within the family.

Get a counselor that you and your child like.  That is half the battle.  Your teen/young adult will feel that they have someone on their side who will listen to them and their heart of what they are going through.  Note: Get yourself a counselor to help relieve your stress, worries, and concerns. Ask them to give you tools that you can incorporate into your relationship with your struggling teen/young adult.  

Take time out! Yes, take time off from being so hard on yourself.  Go out!  Get a cup of coffee and meet up with a friend at a park and take a nice talk and walk trip.  Make a bucket list of things you have always wanted to do and start to check off that list.  Pick up a new hobby.  Read a book that you heard was really good. The list is endless.  Start focusing on YOU!  

Your child is in that stage of not knowing who they are, not really loving themself, and are broken inside. Can we truly love them just as they are?  Yes!  Just as Jesus himself loved us so much that he bore the cross for our sin, our rebelliousness, and pride, He loves our children just as much.  We are not battling against our teen or young adult. We are battling against the principalities of darkness that try to keep our child broken and to wreak havoc in our home. Remind yourself of this every time another battle rises up.  Go straight to prayer.

Even when things look bleak, continue to pray.  What we are not able to do, GOD CAN!  He doesn’t need our help, but He looks to us to keep the prayers coming.  Don’t give up, give IN to God! 


We can pray against the negative will of our children by bombarding the forces of hell with spiritual warfare and by trusting God and His Word as we stand firm in our confession. We must determine not to give up as we continue loving the person and hating the sin., Our godly example and actions under all circumstances will have a lasting impression upon our children.  The secret is in your belief that God’s power within you is greater than the power of the enemy. (pg.68, Satan, You Can’t Have My Children by Iris Delgado)


Photo by Ayo Ogunseinde on Unsplash

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  1. Janis Van Keuren on September 30, 2020 at 1:49 am

    An enlightening post, Stacy!

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