How do I help a young man going down the wrong path?




I do have question concerning a young man (about 17) who is heading down the wrong path. He is my friend's brother-in law who always gets in trouble legally. He does various things, such as smoking, and stealing, and has been sexually involved with a 14 year old girl recently. This is second or third incident with the law and the father is pressing charges against him. I am very concerned, since he was on probation at the time. His father is not much help and I can see the influence he has from hanging around with the wrong crowd. I want to help him and if he continues he is surely going to end up dead or in jail. Is there any advice you can give?

Let's start by seeing our limitations. There is really only one person who can change the outcome of this young man's life, and that is the young man himself. You can encourage him to do what is right, you can give him solid, godly advice, but if he is going to ignore you or go his own way, then there is nothing you can do for him but pray that God is merciful on his soul.

The age of majority where you live is 18. Thus the only person who has the slightest ability to force some compliance from the young man is his father, whom you state is essentially no help at all. By that I am assuming that you mean this father doesn't have the will power to stand up against his own son. Usually these same people imagine that they are "helping" their wayward children by rescuing them from the trouble that they are facing. When a person is constantly rescued from the consequences of their bad choices, they develop a mind set that nothing really matters. Whatever they chose is fine because it always works out.

In your area, a male over 16 who has sex with a female under 16 is guilty of statutory rape. Under statutory rape laws, it doesn't matter if the one under 16 is consenting or not; as far as the law is concerned a rape has taken place. If he is found guilty, he is looking at some significant jail time. The violation of probation means that whatever he was found guilty of earlier will automatically be added to his sentence.

What can you do? Have you talked with the young man? If so, what does he want to do with his life? I'm sure he wants to avoid jail, but what I would like to know is if he really sees the damage that he has done to himself and whether he truly wants to change. It is going to be a tough call because most people in these situations will tell you anything you want to hear if they think you can get them off the hook. Thus, the question is: does he want to change bad enough that he will start changing his life even if he goes to jail for the next fifteen years?

When I have opportunities to talk with men like this young man, I try to be brutally honest with them. I ask them what it is that they have done, why they have done it, and whether the consequences were just for what they did. Most avoid any blame. It is always someone else's fault. If they admit to a problem, it is generally sugar-coated to make them appear as a victim or not guilty of all that great of a crime. I usually press for details because if they choose to lie they will always get the details wrong or make contradictory claims. So long as they are willing to talk, I press them for the truth because until they are willing to face the truth about their current situation, they will excuse themselves from needing to make any changes. Meanwhile, check what he says. Don't divulge what he admits, but verify that he is telling the truth. Talk to the arresting officer, the probation officer, the father of the girl, or anyone else involved.

As an example, since we know he was having sex with a 14 year old, I would ask things like:

  • How often did you have sex with her?
  • What kind of sex?
  • Did you use a condom?
  • What measures were you taking to prevent pregnancy?
  • Were you using those measures consistently?
  • Did you ever have a condom break?
  • Was the girl a virgin before you started having sex with her?
  • Do you know if she had sex with other men?
  • How many girls have you had sex with?
  • Since there is always a chance of pregnancy, no matter how careful you are, what would have happened if a baby was conceived?
  • Would she make a good mother to a tiny infant?
  • Would she be able to continue school or find a job and still be a good mother?
  • Since you are heading towards jail, who would be raising your child?
  • What do you think your child would think about you when he gets to be a teenager?
  • Have you had an sexually transmitted disease?

Once some of the truth is in the open, start talking about why the choices he made were wrong. He'll make excuses and your job is to strip those excuses down so that he sees that his justification for his actions aren't reasonable. Hopefully he will get to the point that he is devastated by not just his current situation but by the mess that he has made in his life and the lives of others (II Corinthians 7:9-10). Only then can you start leading him through each of the choices and determining what was the better choice.

As he reaches the right conclusions, turn with him in the Bible so he can see that that was what God said and he could have known if he only knew his Bible before. The point you will be trying to plant is that God knows the best way to live life if he will just listen to God.

The one thing I don't want you to attempt is to rescue him from the consequences of what he has done. That is what brought him to this point. What happens will happen. He will have to face the consequences of his choices like a man if there is any hope for him to become a man.

This is by far just a start. You might not get far with him, but hopefully you will find a thread of decency left in him. If, after you talk with him, you have additional questions -- and you likely will -- send me another note.

See also:

Questions and Answers regarding Teenagers
Questions and Answers regarding Sexual Relations