Every parent of a teenager wants to build a strong line of communication with his or her teen. But sadly, the opposite is most often true. I’d like to share with you some simple tips to improve your communications with your teen.
You may wonder what the best timing is for building good lines of communication with your teen or pre-teen. That’s simple. Do it NOW, before problems, struggles and difficulties begin. And never stop working at it, even when there is conflict.
As your children move from the elementary years into early adolescence, it’s essential that you adapt your style of communication to the changes taking place with your child. What was non-hormonal now becomes laced with hormones. Total dependence moves closer to independence, and that affects how your teen interacts with you. Unless you change with them, there will be conflict and broken communications.
There is a scripture that I believe 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, and a life of training, has already been done. Moms have the tendency to do the “Energizer bunny” communication that just keeps on going. And dads have that tendency to tune out when communication is most needed.
Moms, your over-correcting does not provide the rest your child needs. And dad, your refusal to speak up does not restore. What is crucial for your child is the balance of the mom and dad mix, which will result in that place of rest.
But to achieve this balance, it is important for us as parents to transition with our children, to change our style of communication. If we can successfully make this transition, then the day when our children begin to struggle or have difficulties and desperately need someone to talk to we are the ones they will turn to.
Now, let me give you some advice on how to build that bridge–how to make that transition…
1. Start by laying down some new rules, not ones that dictate, but those that invite. In fact, these are rules for yourself, not as much for your child, including making it a priority to have one-on-one time with your child. For example, you might state that a new rule for your house is to go on a mother-daughter, or father-son special vacation each year. Another might be a Joke Night that gets everyone laughing, just laughing, no spiritual lesson attached, just pure fun time together.
2. Ask Thoughtful Questions…create a sense of wonder. Instead of always telling your child the answers, offer them thoughtful questions. And remember, not every question has to be answered immediately, or at all. They will learn to think on their own, and begin to ask you questions as you model one who asks questions. The questions themselves can lead to the right answers, without preaching.
3. PAUSE…and wait to be invited. Hold off on the tendency to always drive the conversation and share your own opinions (Scripture says that “a fool delights in airing his own opinion”). Don’t break genuine interest, but poignant moments of silence (especially when they are not accustomed to silence from you) will move a child to ask, “What do you think?” Try not to force your opinion unless it is invited.
4. The statement “I Was Wrong” (when said by the parent) diffuses difficult discussions and might just bring you amazing results in your communication with your teen. If you handled a situation poorly, admit where you are wrong. You will take the fuse out of the firecracker when you do that. Once you admit you blew it, the issue can no longer be held against you. Anger puts up barriers and must always be diffused before communications will open up.
5. Give Them Respect…consider others to be more important. Easy to say, and sometimes tough to do. It’s basically putting your child first and showing them respect, even as you demand that of them. This should affect the way you speak to them (you wouldn’t yell at, belittle, or talk down to someone you respect), the way you discipline, the way you show grace and the way you respond when you are disappointed and upset.
I want to challenge you today to commit to building a relationship with your child, and that starts with good communications. Make time to communicate and really get to know your teen. And no matter how strained or difficult your relationship might be, there is always HOPE. It may take time and persistence, but keep at it in a loving and natural way and they will eventually open up.
Remember, don’t give up — for God promises to turn your ashes to 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.
Recently, someone sent me this e-mail that captures precisely what I’m talking about in this article.
Dear Mark…Our son is on a terrible life path, he is extremely difficult to talk with because he simply will not say more than a few words about anything. We can’t get him to explain what’s going on at school, what he’s thinking, why he does things. His mother and I have tried everything from screaming (I know this was not the right thing and it’s only happened once) to being loving, gentle. Our son is the quiet one in the middle of a family of very verbal people. Even in counseling our son refuses to speak with us much at all. He is secretive and hangs out with the wrong crowd. He has been caught with pot. He spends most of his time holed up in his room like a hermit either sleeping or watching TV, or out with his crowd. Can you give us some advice?
My Answer: The clue to your question is that your child is the quiet one “of a family of verbal people.” Everyone else’s verbal power might be causing your son to shut down. If he can’t get a word in edgewise, then he just quits talking. I think he probably talks quite a bit when he is out with his crowd.
There are some important checks you should make when trying to figure this out. It’s always a good response to first look at where you might be wrong before jumping to the conclusion that your child is in the wrong. So start by asking yourself some difficult questions:
Do I allow my child to express himself, or do I constantly lecture, criticize, warn, and instruct him?
Does everyone in the family react negatively to him when he speaks?
Is he always challenged, argued with, told he’s “stupid” in so many words, or ignored?
Sometimes teens don’t talk because everyone else is talking for them. Maybe no one really listens or he is shamed by what he is feeling and shamed by what he is saying about it.
Your son is not talking for a reason. Questions we need to ask include: Has he been abused? Has he been ridiculed? Has he been emotionally hampered by some event in his life? Has he experienced something that you don’t know about? And before you answer that question ask yourself, “Do my parents know everything that happened to me?” So, what makes you think you know everything about your son?
Behavior is always there for a reason. If you can’t get to that reason, it would be good to have him spend some one-on-one time with someone who can “connect” with him….a counselor, youth minister, teacher, coach, or a close relative. Chances are he has a lot to say, and either doesn’t feel comfortable sharing with you or feels shamed by something and chooses to keep quiet. It’s only after searching all areas of his life that you may determine the next steps.
My impression is that your son is involved in more than you think (It’s never what you could imagine, but always more than what you think). Smoking dope, not talking, sleeping all the time, secretive, not so good friends…..sounds like the makings of a disaster. And if your attempts to “reach” him haven’t worked, you speak the truth when you say that it might be time for him to be away from you and from his friends.
Right now, you are dealing with the unknown. As you begin to understand exactly what you’re dealing with, then you can more readily determine what to do. BUT whatever you do, I would encourage you to act quickly. When teens spin out of control, they spiral at an increasing rate. Things may get worse before they get better. But knowing what he’s into and dealing with it is better than not knowing and letting the situation get totally out of hand.
It’s a long answer to a rather short question, but filled with many important lessons for all parents to acknowledge.
So, Moms, Dads…do this for me today. Be diligent in asking your teen these questions today. First, “Do you think we have good communication within our family?” And second, “How could I be a better communicator?”
Ask them to be honest and don’t discount their answers or tell them how they have it all wrong (a first step in changing the way you engage with your teen). Just listen, acknowledge your appreciation for their honesty, and spend some time thinking how to engage differently. And if they tell you that the communication is fine, and that you’re a great communicator, ask them to sleep on it and answer tomorrow after they’ve had some time to think about it. We can all improve on the way we engage with all our kids. Hopefully they’ll come back to you with some great feedback.
“Monkey see, monkey do,” Moms and Dads. The way you communicate with them will be the way that they learn to communicate with you.
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 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.
Visit www.HeartlightMinistries.org to find out more about the residential counseling center for teens, or call Heartlight directly at 903. 668.2173. For more information and helpful other resources for moms and dads, visit www.ParentingTodaysTeens.org, 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.