8 Keys to Better Communication with Your Teen

by Mark Gregston

People were made to communicate and be in fellowship with one another, so when our need to connect is stifled or lacking, it creates within us a longing to engage.  I can remember when I was a kid, I spent lots of time talking to my mom, but having conversations with my dad wasn’t the norm.  Now, that was partly due to the era and the way things were done back then, but not having that communication with him created a void in me that made me realize I not only wanted something different, but I wanted to do things differently, too. 

The way that today’s teen communicates may have changed—they may talk more with their thumbs, and less with their mouths—but it doesn’t mean they’re not interested in connecting with you.  Teens really do want parental involved in their lives; they just want it on their own terms.  So, if you’re interested in learning how to keep the lines of communication with your teen open, then keep reading because I’m going to share eight tips that will help you keep the art of conversation with your teen alive and thriving. 

Eight Keys to Better Communication 

  • Watch your parenting style.  These three styles are no longer effective once your child hits the teen years: the perfectionist, the authoritarian, and the judge.  These three styles will shut down the lines of communication between you and your child faster than you can say, Bye, Felicia
  • Quit correcting them all the time.  Your teen lives in an appearance and performance-based world, so, if the only thing they hear from you is constant correction, they’ll quickly tune out and miss out on the wise guidance that you can provide.  Research shows that it takes four affirming statements to counter one negative statement, so, watch what you’re saying to your teenager and how you’re saying it. 
  • Spend more time listening than you do talking.  We’ve all heard the phrase, God gave us two ears and one mouth—well, it’s true.  Use them accordingly.  When you listen to your teen first, they’ll be more likely to listen to you later. 
  • Determine to leave your conversations open-ended or leave your teen with a question.  There are very few meaningful conversations can be wrapped up in one sitting, and only a handful of questions require immediate answers, so leave the door open for more.  When the time arises, welcome them back with a friendly smile and the opportunity to engage in deeper discussion and a more meaningful connection. 
  • Toss the ball in their court.  Ask them questions that make them think and reflect on the topic and issue at hand.  Leave them with something that will stimulate a deeper thought. 
  • Keep the discussions about them and only share your opinions about a situation when they ask.  Proverbs 18:2 tells us that “a fool finds no pleasure in understanding, but delights in his own opinions.”  Mom and Dad, don’t be that person. 
  • Remember that every conversation doesn’t need to be a lesson.  You can answer their questions, but be sure to leave room for your teen to learn and solve problems on their own. 
  • Sometimes silence is the not only the best response, but it’s the greatest answer.  Again, Scripture reminds us that “even fools are thought to be wise and discerning, if they keep silent.” 

Tips on Changing the Dynamic oConversation 

The truth is your teen wants to talk, and they want to talk to you!  So, ask questions, and then follow the conversation where they take it. 

Put your phone down and wait for your teen to follow suit.  If they don’t follow your lead, set some boundaries regarding phone usage. 

Ask yourself whether technology and social media are distracting you.  Set the example by being engaged with your child.  Less tech time, more teen time. 

Learn if your teen’s fascination with the phone and social media is a mask.  Is your teen seeking value from a virtual world because they aren’t feeling valued in the real world? 

And finally, listen to what your teens are telling you.  They want to be heard just as much as you did when you were their age, so listen. 

Conclusion 

Mom, Dad … your teens want to talk.  They just don’t know how to because they’re being raised in a culture where it’s more about communicating with their thumbs than with their mouths.  They live in a world where it’s more about presentation than content.  More about appearance than the condition of the heart.  You haven’t been replaced, you’ve been nudged out—not by a generation gap, but by technological influence that thrives on appearance and presentation.  And your teens are consumed more by social constructs and defaults than by intentional ignoring.  Your role is to break through this cultural influence and give them an example of what a deep and meaningful conversation is all about.  So, you have to be intentional if you want to be more influential than what they are learning from their phones. 


Making Your Relationship with Your Teen a Priority

by Mark Gregston

May 22, 2020

My foray into the world of teens came as a result of working for a ministry that focused primarily on teens—and having relationships with them.  It was interesting to me as I moved on to work with other ministries over the years, that complaints would come in that I was too heavily focused on developing relationships, and not heavy enough in developing spiritual rituals.  Fast-forward forty years later, and we’ve come to understand that relationships are the foundation for everything.  Recall what the apostle Paul said: We were ready to share with you not only the Gospel of God, but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.  And we’ve found out that one of the most important things we can do is to cultivate an authentic relationship with our kids. 

So, pause for a moment and take stock of your relationship with your teen right now.  Is it on the right track?  Or have you and your child wandered down a path leaving you unsure of how you got there, or even how you can get back?  It doesn’t matter whether your relationship is in crisis or calm, there’s always room for growth and improvement, and here are a few bits of wisdom that will help you and your teen as you travel down the road of life together. 

The Most Important Relationships 

In the pursuit of doing what we think is important we sometimes miss out on what’s most valuable—investing time in our kids’ lives.  It’s the same things that God wants with us because it’s through this relationship and our relationships with others that we have the opportunity to not only share the words of the Gospel with others, but also to show the Gospel being lived out in a comforting and safe way to a hurting and sometimes disbelieving world. 

God placed you in your child’s life because you have the opportunity to speak truth in their lives when they need it the most.  All too often, the tendency for us as parents is that as our children grow up and become more independent, we leave them alone.  So, they ultimately feel like loners, and they go off and start having other relationships, and doing other things that distract them from the good path they’ve been on in order to fill the void in their life. 

We all long for relationships, it’s how God made us, and teens are no different. But they are going to rebuff you, it’s just who they are at this age.  They will tell you they hate you, they will roll their eyes at you, they will talk back to you.  But you can’t give up.  We are children of the King, and He has transferred His capacity to love on to us, so if you give it enough time, the love of God will pour out of us and into their lives. 

It’s been said that rules without relationship will lead to rebellion.  But conversely the flip side of that coin is true, as well.  Relationship without rules leads to chaos.  Being a parent, or the one in authority, requires balance and maybe a bit of an engineering degree in building.  But you can do this because God has modeled the plan, and relationships with His children are important to Him. 

Who Needs to Change? 

When it comes to relationships, there’s only one person you can change—that’s right, you.  And to help facilitate change in your home, ask yourself these questions: 

  • Do I provoke my teen? 
  • Do I have an anger problem? 
  • Am I training my teen to be a successful adult? 
  • Have I communicated that anything and everything else in my life is more important than my relationship with my teen? 
  • Am I critical? Or sarcastic? 
  • Do I like to talk or do I like to listen to what my teen has to say? 

Today’s teens are getting shortchanged in the relationship department by social media and it’s becoming more difficult to develop good, long-lasting relationships.  And that’s why it’s so imperative that the positive changes start with you. 

It can be difficult to have those discussions about the issues plaguing your teens when you haven’t mastered the issues yourself, so if you find yourself struggling with any of these areas, seek wise, godly counsel from a trusted friend.  When you do, you’ll make the appropriate changes that will help you and your teen become the best that they can be! 

Conclusion 

Mom, Dad … I can’t say this enough, you are the most important relationship that your teen will have in their life.  As they get busier and the demands on their life increase, you must work even harder to ensure your place in their life.  If you’re like me, it’s easy to get busy.  But if you’re too busy, you’ll ask yourself one day, where did the time go?  If you don’t spend time with your teen, it will pass before your eyes, and you’ll one day regret not pouring more of yourself into their life.  And if you’re not pouring yourself into them, someone else will.  Your teen will never get from someone else, what they can only get from you.  God has placed you in their life for a reason, and that reason can only be found in a relationship with them. 


What’s Behind Your Teen’s Behavior?

by Mark Gregston

May 15, 2020

For over 30 years, Heartlight Ministries has been working with teens. While similar ministries focus on teen behaviors, we took a difference approach.  We knew that if our sole focus was on the behavior, nothing would ever change because the attention is placed on managing a symptom, and not the problem.  So, we dug deeper to discover what the behaviors represented.  We found that teen depression is typically caused by expectations not being met, dishonesty is a product of fearing consequences, and disobedience doesn’t happen on its own—there’s always a reason, so you need to figure out what’s driving the behavior.  Teens don’t typically wake up one day and say to themselves, “well, today’s the day that I shake things up.” 

All behavior is goal oriented, and you don’t get to an abnormal state of being without something abnormal happening.  One of the hardest tasks for any parent is to look beyond the outward behaviors to the motivation under the surface, and the only way to do that is to look into the eyes of their heart and discover what’s driving their actions. 

More than you See 

Behavior is a visible expression of an invisible desire.  We call them “heart-drivers.”  With their limited knowledge and understanding, teens use heart-drivers—coping mechanisms to try to correct the underlying issues that are overwhelming them.  It’s their way of seeking to resolve the issue. 

So, do you want to guess what the issue is behind the majority of these heart-drivers?  Control.  For example, loss causes a feeling of helplessness and uncertainty.  Most teens perform or act a certain way to impress people and gain control over situations.  Perfectionism is a perfect example—that behavior is one that’s often motivated by trying to balance out an imperfect situation.  And the same could be said for appearance, masking and avoidance, anger and vengeance.  All of these outward issues are motivated by the desire to act in a way that enables the teen to remain in control. 

It happens more often than we think, and it was certainly true in Blake’s life.  After his parents struggled to get a handle on his anger, disrespect, depression, and general disobedience to anyone in authority, Blake was enrolled at Heartlight.  Through six months of rage episodes and two arrests for destruction of Heartlight property, Blake finally started to open up to a couple of counselors he could relate to.  Everyone agreed that he was an amazing kid, so they knew there had to be something lurking under his tough guy exterior, but they didn’t know exactly what it was. 

It turns out that when he was fourteen, his 18-year-old babysitter had abused him.  And out of the guilt and shame he felt, Blake tried to compensate for his lack of feeling in control by controlling the situation and projecting a tough guy persona in order to protect himself from further hurts. 

Truth and Consequences 

If we are to love as God loves us, then we’re going to need to understand that he cares deeply about our hearts, and as such, we need to care deeply about the hearts of our kids.  And that means that we can’t just let things slide.  It’s important to have rules and guidelines. 

Consequences give power to the rules you set, and “attention getters” will let your teen know that their destructive behavior isn’t going to be tolerated. 

As a parent, your job is to know the heart of your teen, regardless of the acceptable or unacceptable behavior.  So, make sure that while you’re holding to the consequences you’ve set, you’re also finding out the reason behind your teen’s choices.  And remember, it’s only unacceptable behavior that comes from unsolved relational issues. 

Deeping the Relationship 

When you address the heart issues, you’ll be able to show your teen the only real source of value we have –God.  And when you begin to look behind the behaviors and seek a teen’s heart, you’ll be able to connect at a deeper level. 

Don’t forget to take action—talk, laugh, spend time together, and really show your teen that you’re more concerned about “who they are,” rather than “what they do.” 

Conclusion 

Mom, Dad … people ask me all the time how I live with teens who are constantly violating expectations and engaged in inappropriate behaviors.  And I tell them this: you must love your teen more than you hate their behavior.  Don’t determine your love for your child based on whether their behavior is acceptable or unacceptable.  Love them for who they are … not what they do!  I’m not saying you should ignore their inappropriate behavior.  You can’t do that, but you can move toward them at a time when their behavior is pushing you away.  It’s called grace—loving them the same way that God loves you.  It’s not always easy, but it is essential in order to have a long-lasting relation with someone very special—your teen.