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Connecting With Your Teen

One would think it is becoming easier to connect with our teenagers today with all of the newer, faster, and easier ways to communicate. We have Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, SKYPE, cell phones, text messaging and voicemail. But are they really doing anything to improve your parental communications?

Lately I was in a conversation where plenty of information was transferred, lips were moving, my ears were working, but there really wasn’t a connection. I asked a young teenager in our Heartlight residential counseling program how she was doing. It was a simple question in passing, and I expected a simple answer. Instead, the young lady proceeded to tell me everything about herself, everything she ever did, everything she ever accomplished, everywhere she had ever traveled and every talent she had.

She reported how she could play the guitar, the cello, the violin, the piano, the harp, the drums, the trumpet, the bass guitar, the flute, the clarinet, and the tuba. She told me about all the things she likes to do, and all the things she doesn’t like to do. She talked about how she is a swimmer, a gymnast, a dancer, an equestrian, a pianist, a volleyball queen, and a lacrosse player.

She “shared” how she was homecoming queen, the “most likely to succeed” in her class, winter ball queen, spring fling queen, and strawberry festival queen. She told me what she wanted to be, and what she did not want to be. She told me all her hopes and dreams, and all her disappointments and failures in one breathless dissertation.

You get the picture, right? All I did was ask her how she was doing! She responded like a Chatty doll on steroids, an energy bunny with a mouth instead of a drum — one that kept on going, never stopping to hear a response or to ask me anything.

I quickly realized that this one-way “conversation” was a desperate cover-up of what was going on inside her. She wanted me to know she is worth something and she plead her case based on her accomplishments.

I was saddened because I could see that this young lady really wanted to participate in a meaningful discussion, but the more she talked about herself and her achievements, the more she hid what was really on her mind. She did well at talking, but failed completely at connecting and communicating. It was like a one-way sales pitch without the closer.

When she took a breath, I finally got a chance to wedge in a better question that might open a real dialogue. Her demeanor completely changed when I asked, “What’s been the most difficult thing that has happened in your life?” Her chattering stopped, her eyes whelped up with tears, and she replied, “When my Dad died and I felt all alone.”

Suddenly, there was silence. I stood looking at her for a few seconds and instead of trying to come up with the right words to say, I just gave her a hug. She wanted to talk, but I encouraged her, “Hey, hey, hey….you don’t need to say anything.” Her mother, also standing by, began to talk in an attempt to ease the awkwardness of the situation. I quietly motioned and said to her mom,”Shhhhh….we’re communicating.”

Finally, a real connection was made. Finally, we could talk about the most important things in her life — her real self, not just her accomplishments.

The point is this . . . talking with or to your teenager does not necessarily mean you’re communicating. In fact, too much talk can actually cover up what really needs to be said. Sometimes the most important connection with your teen can happen with very few words.

Are you looking for ways to really connect with your teen’s deepest hopes, concerns and fears; or is the mode of communication between the two of you an endless stream of superficial words? I encourage you to stop the chatter, look for issues that need to dealt with under the surface, and connect with your teen in a truly meaningful way.



Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a residential counseling center for struggling teens located in Longview, Texas.  He has been married to his wife, Jan, for 39 years, has two kids, and 4 grandkids.  He lives in Longview, Texas with the Heartlight staff, 60 high school kids, 25 horses, his dog, Stitch, 2 llamas, and a prized donkey named Toy.  His past involvement as a youth pastor, Young Life area director, and living with over 2,500 teens, has prepared Mark to share his insights and wisdom about parenting pre-teens and adolescents.

You can find out more about Heartlight at, or you can call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.

For more information and helpful resources for moms and dads, check out our Parenting Today’s Teens website at, It’s filled with ideas and tools to help you become a more effective parent.

Here you will also find a station near you where you can listen to the Parenting Today’s Teens radio broadcast, or download the podcast of the most recent programs.  The Parenting Today’s Teens radio program was recently awarded the 2014 Program of the Year by the National Religious Broadcasters.

Author: Mark Gregston

Mark Gregston began working with teens more than 40 years ago as a youth minister and Young Life director. He has authored nearly two dozen books, has written hundreds of articles, and is host of the nationally-acclaimed Parenting Today’s Teens podcast and radio broadcast.