Understanding the Difference between Influence and Authority


Perhaps the key to not treating your teenagers as their sins deserve is understanding the difference between influence and authority. Recall with me once again Tedd Tripp’s focal points for the three stages of child development found in Shepherding a Child’s Heart:


Ages 0 to 5: focus is establishing biblical authority

Ages 5 to 12: focus is on the development of godly character

Ages 12 & beyond: focus is on internalization of the gospel


You never want your children, especially your teenagers, to believe they are being treated as they deserve to be treated; nothing is more antithetical to living out the gospel. This reality must be grasped by parents and teenagers alike. As Psalm 103 teaches, if we were treated as our sins deserve we would all be in serious trouble!


Once your child has reached the teenage years he is in the transition period of leaving childhood and becoming an adult. This transition is not an easy one. During this time things are not helped when parents view themselves primarily as an authority. Stressing authority in the teenage years obscures the message of the gospel and puts the focus of the teenager on the behavior of his parents. Authority in this context equates to correcting and controlling behavior. It is not that you will never have to address wrong behavior this way, but as much as is possible you want to do this from the position of influence rather than outright authority. As Tedd points out, the parental role of authority actually decreases as the child grows older. During the teenage years the parental focus should be on being a godly influence instead of being the authority figure.


I have excerpted a few lines from Shepherding a Child’s Heart where Tedd discusses this important distinction between authority and influence. Note especially the comments regarding the fear of God. Rethink these words from the perspective being an influence. Read them over and let me know if you have any comments or questions.  We will look more at this in the next post.


From Shepherding a Child’s Heart:


“As a parent seeking to shepherd, you want to influence your child to respond to things that are reasonable, drawn from insight into human character based on Scripture. You are seeking to influence and provide counsel. You can accomplish nothing of lasting value simply by being an authority…”


“You must make the fear of God functional in regular living. For example, teenagers struggle with the fear of man. They worry about what their friends will think of them. They make decisions based on fearing the disapprobation of their peers. Peer pressure is simply living in the fear of man rather than in the fear of God.


What you must do is shepherd your teenagers toward living out of the fear of God rather than the fear of man. You must help them see the relevance of knowing the God who is a consuming fire.


You have to talk with them, helping them to see the ways they are experiencing the fear of man. Then, you must help them understand the bondage that is produced by living for the approval of others. Help them see the futility and idolatry of organizing life around the desire to have approbation. Help them see the true freedom found in a holy indifference to the opinion of others.”



Shepherd Press