The Secret To Why Teenagers Butt Heads With Their Parents

“Who plays soccer?” I asked. I picked a volunteer and I picked another volunteer who didn’t play soccer. My soccer star taught the non-soccer player how to pass a ball. After the drill, we had a class discussion about the role of a coach. My students clearly understood that a coach was supposed to teach, but I pointed out that it is critical that a coach CORRECTS. The players on a team will never improve unless they understand what they are doing wrong, how to fix it, and then practice the correct behavior.

I coached lacrosse for many years. One year I had a girl who was a natural. From the very start, she could catch sooner, pick up ground balls faster, and shoot harder than any of the other girls. However, as good as she was, she didn’t cradle correctly. In girl’s lacrosse, it is imperative to learn how to properly hold (cradle) your stick because the pocket is not very deep. If you change directions quickly with your stick, the ball will fall out unless you are cradling it. I gave the same instruction over and over to her, but as she could run past any of the other girls she never corrected it. My heart broke during the end of the season when she would drop the ball every time she made a sharp cut. She realized too late that the other players had now improved immensely in skill and the only way to get around them would be to cradle properly, which she had never learned how to do.

Another girl on the same team struggled with every skill. She dropped the ball every time I threw it to her and could never seem to pick up a ground ball on the first try. The difference, however, was that she listened to my corrections and did everything she could to follow my advice. It took her a long time, but eventually, by the end of the season she was the best player on the team, even better than the girl who was a natural at it! All because she was humble enough to make changes and worked hard to improve.

Humans are notorious for being defensive when criticized. We are quick to point out others’ mistakes, but we will defend our own to the grave! Never correcting, never looking for ways to improve, but going to great lengths to justify, rationalize, and excuse our behavior! That’s exhausting work! Instead of using our energy to change and improve, we use it to defend.

“‘Many will say they want to learn but feel threatened if there is the slightest element of correction in what they are given.’ Why does this seem to be a natural tendency? It may be because of our own personal pride and ego. It is an irony that we want to be viewed by others as competent and even flawless but can be resistant to suggestions that would help us get closer to that ideal. It’s almost as if we are willing to trade long-term growth for short-term appearances.”
–Paul V. Johnson, “Counsel and Correction,” CES Satellite Training Broadcast, Aug 2004

We need to be extremely careful not to trade long-term growth for short-term appearances! We need to be truly grateful for those who love us enough to correct us.

“In his last conference address, Elder Neal A. Maxwell taught us to “be grateful for people in your lives who love you enough to correct you, to remind you of your standards and possibilities, even when you don’t want to be reminded. We can each do better in this particular area in our lives. We can be more open and less defensive. We can make it easy for others to give us suggestions and be truly grateful for the help. It is not a sign of weakness or incompetence. In fact, defensiveness and unwillingness to take correction or even chastisement is a sign of weakness.”
–Paul V. Johnson, “Counsel and Correction,” CES Satellite Training Broadcast, Aug 2004

I love that last line: “defensiveness and unwillingness to take correction…is a sign of weakness.” Raymond Jones gives one of the best definitions of a fool that I have ever seen.

“Human beings don’t like correction.  They prefer to protect the position they have taken.  But, in reality, any response that takes offense to correction is inappropriate.  If the person who gives you correction is a fool, to be upset by a fool is to make yourself an even greater fool.  If the input is of value, then to not consider it places you once again in the position of a fool.”

Humility is the unique gift of not only being open to criticism, but SEEKING and being GRATEFUL for it. It is a striving and an inner desire to become better. More and more, I have come to understand that humility is an action word. It is not just a passive state. It’s not just turning the other cheek. It is swallowing our pride and, instead of defending our position, looking for ways to improve it!

The following story represents the true definition of humility

“If you were to take a long trip, say from San Francisco to Hawaii, aboard a 747 with several other people, you might be appalled if you knew who was flying the airplane.  It is not the pilots; it is a couple of guys named Fred and George.

Fred and George are two black boxes, and they really are referred to as Fred and George.  Fred is a gizmo called an inertial Navigation System.  Fred knows at every moment exactly where the airplane is and where it is supposed to be.  In the old days a human navigator took a look at his instruments and did some figuring, and by the time he had the position worked out the plane was long from that spot.  Fred knows NOW where the plane is.

George is the autopilot.  He moves the controls to guide the airplane this way and that, speed it up or slow it down.  He and Fred talk to each other constantly.  If their conversation were in English, it would sound something like this: Fred will say, “George, we’re off course two degrees to starboard.” And George will say, “O.K. Fred, I’ll fix it.”

“George, we’re off course three degrees to port.”
“O.K. Fred, I’ll fix it.”
“George, we’re forty knots below our airspeed.”
“O.K. Fred, I’ll fix it.”
“George, we’re three hundred feet too low.”
“O.K. Fred, I’ll fix it.”

This conversation continues all the way to Hawaii, and George and Fred bring the giant plane within a thousand yard of the runway in Honolulu within 5 minutes of the scheduled time of arrival.
The incredible thing is not so much the accuracy of Fred and George, but the fact that the airplane has been in error 90% of the time of its flight.  In error 90% of the time and still it lands on target and on schedule!

The secret is that George made thousands of errors in driving the airplane, but for each error Fred called out a correction and George corrected.  The flight line was made up of thousands of small jobs that criss-crossed the ideal straight flight line and still put the airplane at its destination when it was supposed to be there.  A rocket to the moon travels in exactly the same way.

If we human beings could see that we can get a 747 to Honolulu or a rocket to the moon even having been in error 90% of the time, we might be a little less uptight about being in error ourselves.”
–Raymond Jones

Raymond Jones goes on to list the fears that cause us to be so defensive:

“There’s nothing that kills performance like fear of failure, fear of being foolish, fear of being caught in error.  We are particularly prone to this fear when we contemplate the perfection of eternity, which we are endeavoring to attain.”

Raymond Jones also points out the secret to success – how Fred and George were successful in arriving at their intended designation, despite the fact they could not possibly fly the plane perfectly all the time.

“The secret to the success of Fred and George is correction.  They work as a perfect team.  Fred spots and error.  George corrects it immediately.  Some human beings work that way.  Most don’t.

To be in life means we are constantly off course.  What is important is not that we are off course, but whether or not we make the corrections that need to be made.  Human beings differ from Fred and George in one important and often fatal respect: the desire to protect one’s position.

Suppose Fred and George were human and Fred had just pointed out for the fiftieth time that George was wrong.  George, the human George, would likely reply, “Will you leave me alone!  I’m doing the best that I can.  If you think you can do any better, come and fly this thing yourself!” Fred and George, the machines, don’t do that.  They work together and get the job done.

Most people don’t make the necessary corrections because they are too busy being concerned with protection.  Most people’s failures in life are a product of protecting themselves when they should have been correcting themselves.
–Raymond Jones

The trick to achieving any goal is not flying there perfectly in one shot. Wouldn’t that be nice! The trick is to constantly make course corrections.


By definition, repentance is course correction. It is changing our sinful behavior and re-aligning ourselves with our Heavenly Father’s path. When we sin, we deviate from his path. In German the word for repentance is “umkehren” which literally means U-turn. We have strayed from our Father’s path so we must literally turn around and get back to it so we can continue making progress down it!

God has high expectations of us. “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matt 5:48). “He knows what is required, and so, to make our transformation possible, He provides His commandments and covenants, the gift of the Holy Ghost, and most important, the Atonement and Resurrection of His Beloved Son” (D. Todd Christofferson, “As Many As I Love I Rebuke and Chasten,” Ensign May 2011).

“Sadly, much of modern Christianity does not acknowledge that God makes any real demands on those who believe in Him, seeing Him rather as a butler ‘who meets their needs when summoned’ or a therapist whose role is to help people ‘feel good about themselves.'”
–D. Todd Christofferson, “As Many As I Love I Rebuke and Chasten,” Ensign May 2011

As Brad Wilcox said, “A God who requires nothing of us is making nothing of us.” (Learning not Earning Heaven, Audio CD).

“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.”
C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

“In all of this, God’s purpose is that we, His children, may be able to experience ultimate joy, to be with Him eternally, and to become even as He is” (D. Todd Christofferson). Because God loves us and wants us to return to Him, He corrects us. Unless we get good at accepting correction (truly becoming humble), we will end up resisting the very things (trials, advice from Heavenly Father, etc) that will make us more god-like!

Sometimes we want to have growth without challenges and to develop strength without any struggle. But growth cannot come by taking the easy way. We clearly understand that an athlete who resists rigorous training will never become a world-class athlete. We must be careful that we don’t resent the very things that help us put on the divine nature.
–Paul V. Johnson, “More Than Conquerors Through Him That Loved Us,” Ensign May 2011

The gospel of Jesus Christ is corrective in nature. It calls, encourages, and shows us a way to do better, live better, and become better. It is a gospel of constant improvement. If we resist correction, we will find ourselves off course, and we will miss our destination.

One of the many roles of the Holy Ghost is to correct us.

“Most importantly, we each have access to a powerful source of correction and counsel—the Holy Ghost. The Holy Ghost works on some of the same principles we have discussed. The Savior taught, “The Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance” (John 14:26).

If we are defensive and ignore promptings from the Spirit, we become less able to receive further counsel. If we are open and willing to change and follow the Spirit, we become more familiar with the whisperings and can have the Spirit as a constant companion.

Elder Maxwell said: “As the Lord communicates with the meek and submissive, fewer decibels are required, and more nuances are received. Even the most meek, like Moses (see Numbers 12:3), learn overwhelming things they ‘never had supposed’ (Moses 1:10). But it is only the meek mind which can be so shown and so stretched—not those, as Isaiah wrote, who ‘are wise in their own eyes’ (Isaiah 5:21; see also 2 Nephi 9:29 and 15:21)” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1985, 90; or Ensign, May 1985, 71).
–Paul V. Johnson, “Counsel and Correction,” CES Satellite Training Broadcast, Aug 2004


Why is it so hard to be a parent? Why do teenagers and parents butt heads so often? The Lord has mandated that parents correct their children and children, as all humans, are resistant to correction.

Parents can and must correct, even chasten, if their children are not to be cast adrift at the mercy of a merciless adversary and his supporters. President Boyd K. Packer has observed that when a person in a position to correct another fails to do so, he is thinking of himself.
–D. Todd Christofferson, “As Many As I Love I Rebuke and Chasten,” Ensign May 2011

Trying to change my teenagers’ perspectives, I taught them that their parents were their coaches. And they would be horrible coaches if they didn’t instruct and correct their kids.

Being a parent, I realize we don’t always correct in the best way. Sometimes harsh voices or glaring looks are given. However, I testified to the youth that although they can’t control how their parents correct them, they can control their attitude – how they receive that correction. Even if criticism is given in a mean tone, they could sift through it, find ways to improve, and become a better person because of it. Realize it is your parent’s job, their God given DUTY to correct you. Realize any correction can be beneficial – even if it comes from our enemies. They often don’t sugar coat our shortcomings!

“Even when we encounter mean-spirited criticism from persons who have little regard or love for us, it can be helpful to exercise enough meekness to weigh it and sift out anything that might benefit us.”
–D. Todd Christofferson, “As Many As I Love I Rebuke and Chasten,” Ensign May 2011

Sadly, if we are resistant to correction, people will stop giving it.

“Remember that if we resist correction, others may discontinue offering it altogether, despite their love for us. If we repeatedly fail to act on the chastening of a loving God, then He too will desist. He has said, “My Spirit will not always strive with man” (Ether 2:15). Eventually, much of our chastening should come from within—we should become self-correcting.”
–D. Todd Christofferson, “As Many As I Love I Rebuke and Chasten,” Ensign May 2011

As humans we often equate mistakes with failure. That could not be further from the truth. A concert pianist doesn’t become perfect at the piano in one day. He makes countless mistakes. The mistakes are not failures. They are learning opportunities. They are chances for him to learn what he doesn’t know and see where he can improve. Failure only comes if you give up all together. Mistakes are NECESSARY. From them we gain experience. We learn what NOT to do, what the BEST way is, and hopefully, we learn resilience.

Few are open to criticism and even fewer seek it, but if our goal is to become a concert pianist, it would be pretty foolish to become angry with our piano teacher and refuse her advice! God has blessed us with many trainers throughout our lives – Jesus Christ, prophets, parents, church leaders, inspired friends, etc. Let us always be open to receiving the advice from trusted sources and be humble enough to improve. As D. Todd Christofferson counseled, hopefully, with time much of our chastening will come from within. We will become self-correcting.