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Keeping Up the Relationship With Your Teen Even When It Hurts

One of the hardest challenges in dealing with our teens is moving toward them when everything inside of you wants to get away. When teens go against what you’ve wanted for them, or behave in a way that violates your principles, it causes conflict that impacts the whole family. But in this article, I’ll explain why you must draw closer to your teen. I’ll also share practical ways you can maintain your close relationship with your teen, even when it hurts.


When Things Get Hard, it’s Easy to…
… react in anger. But don’t come down hard on your teen’s behavior without discovering why it’s happening in the first place. There’s a reason your teen does the things he does. I talk to parents all the time who are struggling to know what to do in response to their teen’s behavior. The pain of the strained relationship makes it hard to want to move toward the one who is hurting you. It seems easier to shut down emotionally and just walk away, but it won’t solve the problem. In fact, blowing up in anger or shutting down emotionally will likely make things worse. Moreover, that’s not what God has called you to do. It takes supernatural grace to move towards someone who is hurting you. Remember, grace is offering love and a relationship to someone who doesn’t deserve it. If it were easy, it wouldn’t require the love of God in you to show grace to your teen. Giving grace to a difficult teen is hard, but it’s also one of the most Christ-like things you can do for your teen.


Instead, Make a Commitment to…
… gain some self-control before reacting. Your first reaction is probably not your best. You may need to pause, check yourself, and revise your reaction. It will require self-control and patience as you ask hard questions and get to the heart of the problem. But you can choose to love your teen’s heart, even if his mind and body are doing things that are inappropriate. You can hate what your teen is doing and still love him. It doesn’t mean that you approve of his behavior, but it does mean that you still love your teen. Your teen wants a relationship with you, no matter what he is saying or doing, and you should never withhold your love and affection as a discipline. Instead, make a commitment to stay connected in relationship, even while you make it clear that you do not agree with your teen’s behavior.


Ideas For Moving Forward Relationally, Even in the Messiest Times…
(1) Be honest. When you bring authenticity to the relationship, your teen will respond better than if you were to “fake” your attitude or love for him. It’s okay to let your teen know that you are struggling. It’s not bad to let your teen see how imperfect you are. Model a healthy way to acknowledge your emotions, instead of bottling them up inside.

(2) Look for bright spots and affirm them. There’s a common misconception that we can’t have relationships with people we disagree with. But that’s simply not true. Did you always agree with your parents when you were a teen? Your teen is still figuring out what he thinks and what he believes, so give him some grace! Plus when you look for the good in your teen, you may find something that you do have in common! What is your child doing that contributes to the family? What is he doing that he’s supposed to? How has he grown in the last year? Affirming your teen opens the door for a relationship.

(3) Speak your love out loud. Your teen longs to hear that you love her. Don’t assume she already knows how you feel. Let your teen know again and again that there is nothing she can do to make you love her less.

(4) Make time for your child, even if it costs you. Set aside the “important” things that you are doing to listen when your teen wants to talk. Even if the conversation seems unimportant, even if you need to require that your teen spend time with you by taking him out for a meal or doing something together that he enjoys, you should do it! When you keep the communication lines open all the time, you’ll be able to communicate through the tough stuff too.


Hey moms and dads … grace is hard. It’s hard to extend the hand of a relationship when it seems like your teen is doing everything they can to destroy what you’ve built through the years. It’s hard to move towards someone you love when they’re pushing all your buttons. Your teen is getting lost and just like a coin, a sheep, or anything else that’s gone astray, Scripture would remind you to go after that child that is walking away and pursue your son or daughter just like God would pursue us, should we ever get lost. When your teen has hurt you by violating your values, keep the relationship. When your daughter has said hurtful things to you, keep the relationship. When your son embarrasses you by some foolish action, keep the relationship. Your teen, knowing that you will never leave them, speaks louder than any words you could ever say.

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.