by Mark Gregston
With the advent of Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, and all the other social media platforms that have popped up in the past ten years, you might be tempted to think that we are more connected to each other than ever before—but, sadly, the research shows that’s not the case. The internet has changed the face of how we interact and how our teens find affirmation.
On average, teens spend about ten hours online and while many of them would confidently proclaim that their posts, comments, and likes are the product of creating relationships, we know that all this social media networking is really akin to wading in the shallow end of the relationship pool—and that’s just not how relationships are cultivated or maintained. So, what are the keys to creating and modeling thriving and long-lasting relationships? Well, read on to find out!
Be Authentic and Imperfect
The most important relationship in your teen’s life is you—mom and dad. It’s not their friends, it’s not their grandparents—though grandparents are invaluable, it’s you. Around the age of thirteen, your parenting model should change from the teaching model to the training model because teens from age 13-19 have a new set of challenges. That doesn’t mean you should re-live your teenage days in order to relate to them, but it does mean you need to connect to them on their terms. Authentically learn as your child learns—what they like, what they dislike, and most importantly, who influences them. You may not always like their choices, but it’s important to understand where they are coming from.
Another way to be authentic with your teen is to be vulnerable and let your imperfections show. When you’re imperfect, it drives home the point that God is the only one who is perfect and that in turn, drives our kids to Him. Being imperfect also releases some of the pressures they face on a daily basis because being imperfect lets them know that they don’t always have to have things put together. And when you create an imperfect and vulnerable space for them, it lets them know that your home is a safe place to land when the things they face spiral out of control.
Exercise Authority to Draw Your Kids to You
But does being vulnerable with your teen and showing your imperfections mean that you have to negate your authority? The answer is a resounding NO! Authority is God-given. Jesus displayed the perfect example of vulnerability and meekness. When you’re transparent with your kids, they will follow because it enables them to see that you’re relatable—not a superhuman who can do no wrong.
It also doesn’t mean that your standards have to change, but our approach to them should. As parents, it’s our job to pass on wisdom to our kids without judgement. And if you’re wondering the best way to do that—evaluate what you’re doing. Ask your teens what they think. Ask them if they think your approach is judgmental and if it is, reconsider ways to address the situation. For me, I’m concerned with how a person interprets me and what I say because I want to make the most of our relationship. And in order to do that, I need to be understood correctly and I need to correctly understand the situation.
Feedback and the Next Steps
It’s important that as parents we learn the value of having a good relationship with others, so we can pass those values on to our teens. And to do that, we need to make sure we’re intentionally spending time with our kids—daily. Talk. Listen. Be there for them—because when you do, you’re communicating to them that you value them enough to show up. Make your child a priority and in doing so, you’ll be building trust and affection.
As Hunter, one of our Heartlight residents says, don’t just ignore the problem or think it’s just a phase. And with wisdom seemingly beyond his seventeen years, he also reminds us that sometimes, negative friend groups provide a felt need for your teen, but constantly reinventing themselves or changing to please others, comes with a price. Hunter adds, “You can’t please others without hurting yourself.”
Relationships are life, and it’s important to have them—so remember that teen distancing is the start of a problem. If that’s happened in your home, or is happening now, remember that your teen wants a relationship with you. So, sit down and have a conversation about what the problem is. It’s okay to talk, but mostly listen! And when you do talk—provide your teen with tips on how to fix the problem. Your tips don’t have to be perfect—they just have to be a step in the right direction.
Moms and Dads … sadly, your teens aren’t experiencing the level of relationships that you and I did. They don’t connect, and social engagement in their world has changed with the introduction of texting and social networking sites. And as a result, it’s our purpose to give them a taste of what true relationships are while balancing their need for us to remain as the parent of the family. Your role is to give them a taste of the character of God through the relationship that you have with your teens. Their loss is our opportunity to engage in ways that our parents never did with us. You must be intentional in your pursuit of a relationship with your teens—just as much as God pursued a relationship with us!