Teenagers: Tendency Toward Legalism

Do you remember a Brady Bunch episode where Greg and his parents got into a debate about “Exact Words”?  Greg, who had been grounded from driving, when confronted about borrowing a friends wheels, insisted that his parents only instruction to him was that he was not drive the family car.    The rest of the episode is an illustration of the difficulty of livng by exact words.

What I never realized was that this episode also illustrated a more universal principle. 

According to Paul Tripp:

“Teenagers have a natural tendency toward legalism.”

What parent has not heard something like:

  • “You didn’t say I couldn’t…” or
  • “You didn’t tell me to.. today”  

I’ll have to be honest, sometimes my kids are technically correct. BUT still, …we all understand, by common sense, what should have been expected.

Such statements are merely expressions of this tendency toward legalism. 

There is no use trying to make certain we are right.  There is no sense in trying to be more clear in our instructions.  We need to recognize this for what it is: Legalism. And we need to get across to our teenagers that, in the end, legalism does no one any favors.

Our teenagers need to understand, not only the lesson Greg Brady learned in that episode, but more importantly they – and we – need to be reminded what Paul says in Galatians 3.10:

“All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law”


This is the Second in a series of six posts elaborating on the insights Paul Tripp offers in his book Age of Opportunity.  To read the others click: Teen Tendencies & Temptations.

One thought on “Teenagers: Tendency Toward Legalism

  1. Instead of legalism Dennis, how about plain old rebellion ? I think for teens, rebellion shows up in various forms. One is really testing Moms and Dads instructions. But we do the same thing to our Heavenly Father in many ways as well.

    I wonder if legalism is or can be a form of rebellion?

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