As a child moves from his elementary years into early adolescence, it’s essential that the style of communicating with your child change with them. They are moving from “concrete” thinking to “abstract” thought. What was “non-hormonal” now becomes laced with hormones. Total dependence moves closer to independence. While they have always wanted to listen, now they want to express.
It’s important for parents to transition with their child, to change their style of communication rather than not talking at all. Sadly, if this transition is not accomplished, then the next time that communication, or lack thereof, shows itself, is when your child begins to struggle or have difficulties, and desperately needs someone to talk to.
There is a scripture that has always stuck with me as one of those that accurately reflects the condition of most teens, and the “should-be role” of most parents. It’s when Jesus says, “Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden (the condition of the teens part), and I will give you rest for your soul” (the parent’s part). The hope is that we, as parents, become that place of rest for our kids… a place where they might be restored.
Too many times parents become a place of added burden or hardship, or an extra “measure” of correction when correcting has already been done. Moms have the tendency to do the “Energizer Bunny communication” that just keeps on going and going and going, and dads have that tendency to not “go to bat” and just ignore those situations when communication is needed the most. Moms, your over-correcting is not giving your child rest. And Dad, your not “speaking up” is not restoring anyone. The balance will be that place of rest, so work hard to find that medium of the “Mom and Dad mix”.
The time to build lines of communication is before there are problems, struggles and difficulties. The time to maintain these lines is always. Never stop just because there is a conflict. Here’s an idea. Come to the dinner table, and instead of “laying down the law”, lay down some new rules. Not ones that dictate, but those that invite. Those rules might include that you (as the parent) want to have one-on-one time with your child and that you will find a special time each week to spend together. You might state that a new rule for your house is to go on a Mother-Daughter, or Father-Son special vacation each year, and do so as long as you’re alive, another might be a Family Joke Night that gets everyone laughing… just laughing, no spiritual lesson attached… just a pure time of worship called laughing.
A changing child asks for change in the way they interact with their parents. Try some of the following tips, and see if they help in your communication:
- Create a Sense of Wonder. Instead of always telling your child the answers, leave them with a question. And remember, not every question has to be answered immediately. Give your child time to think, time to ponder, time to look for an answer using all that you have given them. Give them time to wonder. They will learn to think on their own, and they will begin to come to you for answers as you model one who isn’t afraid to ask questions.
- Wait to Be Invited. Hold off on the tendency to always share your opinion (Scripture says that a fool delights in airing his own opinion) and wait for your child to ask you what you think. Silence will move a child to ask, “What do you think?” Don’t always enter the conversation unless invited. Remember that other Proverb, “Seldom set foot in your neighbor’s house, or he will grow to hate you”. Wait to be invited.
- Diffuse Difficult Discussions. Admit where you are wrong, and take the fuse out of the firecracker. Once you admit to where you have wronged, that issue can no longer be held against you. Give it up. What have you got to loose? Whenever anyone admits to me their faults, it moves my discussion with them to a place that doesn’t focus on proving who’s right and who’s wrong.
- Consider Others to Be More Important. Easy to say and tough to do, especially if you’re as selfish as I am. It’s basically putting others first, not me. And this should affect the way I speak, the way I discipline, the way I show grace, and the way that I respond when I am disappointed and upset.
Over the last 30 years, I have met with thousands of families for countless hours in desperate and difficult situations. One thing that I do know, there is hope. More times than not, the difficult phases that a teen goes through are temporary, and “this too shall pass”. The struggle for most parents is remaining engaged during those difficult times. Don’t give up, for God promises to turn your ashes into beauty, your sorrow into joy, and your mourning into dancing. The God that has put His thumbprint on the life of your child still holds him (and you) in His palm.
Q – My teen is unruly and disrespectful. What is the most effective way to discipline without loosing control of the situation?
A – They are unruly and disrespectful for a reason, and their inappropriate behavior is usually a reflection of other things happening in their life. Ask questions to probe if there is something else going on. Their immaturity demands tighter boundaries, and their rebellion demands consequences. But first make sure of what it is causing the unruliness and disrespect (ask questions). Disrespect should not be allowed or tolerated and severe consequences should be levied against a child who chooses not to respect.
Q – Sometimes I get so angry at the choices my teen is making. How can I keep anger from controlling the way I discipline my teen?
A – The focus seems to be on “your” anger… not your child’s. Anger is an emotional response to not getting what you want. It might do well to reflect on what your child is doing that is not giving you what you want, and ask why it is so important that they do that. This doesn’t mean the reasoning is right or wrong, but it does help in getting to the root of the anger. Don’t discipline out of your anger. Discipline for wanting something “for your child”, out of a longing to have them not go in the direction they are going for their benefit.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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 40 years, has two kids, and four grandkids. He lives in Longview, Texas, with the Heartlight staff, 60 high school kids, 25 horses, his dog, Stitch, two llamas, and a prized donkey named Toy.
His past involvement as a youth pastor, Young Life area director, and living with more than 2,800 teens has prepared Mark to share his insights and wisdom about parenting pre-teens and adolescents. You can find out more about Heartlight at HeartlightMinistries.org. You can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.
Mark is also the host of the radio program Parenting Today’s Teen; heard on over 1,600 radio outlets nationwide. Visit ParentingTodaysTeens.org where you’ll find more parenting resources and find a station near you that carries the daily 60-second features or the 30-minute weekend program. Download the Parenting Today’s Teens App for Apple or Android, it’s a great way to listen on your schedule.