I applaud you for taking the time to take a look at this post – especially since it sounds like an accusation. Got your attention, didn’t it? Hopefully, you aren’t placing all these barriers between you and your teen. But even one or two of them can seriously diminish the quality of your connection and your ability both to understand and to guide your teen through the critical transition years to adulthood. I invite you to seriously consider each one. Then ask your spouse for input. If you really want to go all the way…ask your teen about it. And LISTEN.
1. You react when you should be listening. If you are paying any attention at all, there are going to be times when you see and hear things in your teen’s life that concern you. That’s just real life. But your concerns don’t have to erupt into reactions. The moment you let your concerns, fears, disapproval, or disgust overtake you and spill out in some form of emotional reaction, you can count on your teen shutting down and shutting you out. Because what your teen is hearing from you in that moment is quite simply… You can’t handle it! Take a breath. Make mental notes. Ask some questions. But keep on listening!
2. You’re expecting answers and conversation in the wrong time and place. As a parent, you certainly have the right to ask questions of your teen. In fact, that’s good parenting. But if you really want to hear the full story, you need to learn your teen’s personality well enough to know what kind of atmosphere feels the safest and most inviting for him or her to open up and get real with you. It may be very different from one of your kids to the next, and may even change over time with each one. Pay attention. Your teen may get more chatty and responsive when you are alone together in the car. Dinner time together (yes, sharing a meal while sitting in the same place) is perfect conversation time for some. Bedtime is a great let-your-guard-down time with my son. Others may open up during active play or exercise time with you. When you take the time to study and learn the best setting for your teen, you communicate very plainly how much you value and respect her or him as a person. And that is a great way to encourage anyone to open up and share!
3. Your idea of talking seems WAY too much like lecturing to your teen. There are times in any family when authoritative correction needs to happen very directly and clearly. But even then, it is best to keep “lectures” as brief and to the point as possible. When you establish a parental environment where lecturing, complaining, and criticizing become the norm, don’t expect your teen to really tune in to what you are saying. And you can forget about them opening up and sharing anything real or meaningful with you. Work on turning your lecturing tone into positive instruction and encouragement. Your teen will feel much more respected by you, and may just begin to respect and trust you more in the process.
4. You aren’t asking about the things your teen actually wants to share with you. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Our kids don’t care how much we know…until they know how much we care. One of the best ways we can communicate care, value, and respect to our teens is to show interest in what is important to them. Sure, this isn’t always fun for us. Sometimes, it may seem downright weird. SO WHAT?!! If something grabs our teen’s attention, we better be willing to invest the time and effort to understand why. And that means we have to ask. And listen. Without reacting. Keep breathing. And praying. You got this!
5. You are too quick to disapprove of your teen’s friends. I know this can be one tough issue. Sometimes teens just keep being drawn to kids that really are bringing them down. And we should be paying close attention. We just need to be very careful about how quickly and decisively we voice our disapproval of the friends they choose. When you do have concerns, ask questions first and really listen to and consider your teen’s responses. Work on asking questions that invite your teen to consider important relationship dynamics for him or her self. And when you see things that you simply must point out in concern, do it directly and respectfully, not through sarcasm or cheap shots.
Perhaps posting this simple passage of Scripture in a prominent place in your home will help you remember and practice the essence of what I am sharing with you today…
My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. – James 1:19-20 (NIV)