As parents, we often put a lot of blame on ourselves for what we cannot offer our kids. When Christmas or birthdays roll around, we feel guilty when we can’t afford the latest and greatest iPads, video games, designer shoes, or state-of-the-art cell phones. Perhaps we feel embarrassed that, when it comes to housework, we’re barely keeping our head above water, and it’s all we can do to start the laundry, run the dishwasher, and feed the dog. And if that’s not bad enough, we have the tendency to compare ourselves to what other moms and dads can offer their teens. Instead of being able to take a family vacation to Disney World, perhaps all you can do is pack the car up for a weekend with Grandpa and Grandma in Peoria, Illinois (I love people in Peoria; this is just an example). While other teens you know are taking private ski lessons, learning Italian in Europe, or going out to a movie every weekend, you feel like you’re letting your teen down because you’re not able to offer the same types of experiences. So we start to believe that we don’t pass muster as parents.
Mom and Dad; let me encourage you today. The bottom line is, there’s only one thing that your teen needs from you. It doesn’t involve money. It’s got nothing to do with exciting opportunities. It’s not even about offering protection from the outside world! To be the parent God has called you to be, all you have to do is offer your child a relationship. A relationship with your son or daughter is, hands-down, the most important thing you can give your child. Why is it so critical?
Your Child is Disconnected
Teens today are disconnected from life. A recent study showed that the average child spends about ten hours a day staring at a screen. While a constant stream of interfacing has led to a boom in adolescent communication, it has also led to a breakdown in meaningful connection. We assume that teens are building relationships because they are on Facebook or Skype, or are texting, blogging, or using any number of social media outlets. But that’s simply not the case. Learning how to build meaningful connections starts with mom and dad. Your relationship with your teenager is the model for how they connect with other people. When you take time to sit down and have a conversation eyeball-to-eyeball with your child, you’re giving them what Facebook and Twitter cannot; a personal relationship.
Parents; you shape the ideals for the husbands and wives your children will one day marry. You’re also the main example of character, conviction, and values for your teens. From you, they will understand the importance of compassion, forgiveness, and mercy. You get to be a daily model of what it means to be a godly person in today’s world.
You are so important in the life of disconnected teens. The personal relationship you offer your teen can never be replaced. Trust me on this; if your son or daughter is not finding a relationship with mom and dad at home, they will look for it elsewhere. They will seek to fill their relational voids through dating, friends, academics, sports, or destructive habits like drugs and alcohol in order to find a sense of value and love.
Don’t ever think that your relationship with your teen can be replaced. It’s simply too valuable.
Your Child is Pulling Away
While I have attempted to encourage you today, maybe you’re feeling even more disheartened. Though you desire a better connection, maybe your teen has made it clear that he doesn’t want a relationship with you. You’ve tried to mend the fences and build some bridges, only to have those fences and bridges burned.
If you truly want a better relationship with your child; don’t give up! Any relationship worth having takes time. It won’t happen overnight. And even in spite of past hurts and disappointments we can always move forward and strive for a clean slate. But it will take work.
If something has come between you and your teen, sit down with them face-to-face and start asking those tough questions to get to the root of the issue. Start by saying, “You are very important to me, and I’m sorry if our relationship hasn’t been what it should. But I want to change that. So what could I do to make our relationship better?” Be prepared to patiently listen to the response, even if it’s painful. Criticism is never easy to hear, but this is a chance for your teen to share her heart, and for you to hear how you can improve. It will require humbleness and self-evaluation. But think of it as in an investment towards a greater, future reward.
Of course, I know that some kids may say, “There’s nothing you can do to fix our relationship. I don’t want anything to do with you.” And while that is a devastating blow to any parent, keep moving forward. Tell your son or daughter, “I am really sorry to hear that. But I don’t want to miss out on having a relationship with you, so even though you may not like me now, I’m still going to pursue you.” Now, that is not easy. But remember how God’s interacts with us: Romans 5:8 says, “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Even when we wanted nothing to do with Him, God continued to pursue a relationship with us. And He can give us the strength to do the same thing with our teens, as well. Don’t be belligerent in your attempts to improve your connection with your teen, but don’t walk away from him either. A relationship with your child is too important to let it slip by.
Rules of Engagement
If you want to improve your relationship with your teen, let me offer nine suggestions, or “rules of engagement”:
- Make many of your conversations about your teen. What are his opinions, feelings, or thoughts on a subject?
- Share something personal about yourself. Let your child know about a mistake in your past, a particular emotion, or surprising thought. Show her that you are human and imperfect.
- Share your heart in short bits. No long diatribes or hour-long monologues.
- You don’t always have to be right.
- You don’t always have to have the answer.
- Your final sentence doesn’t always have to end in a period. Let your teen have the final say once-and-a-while.
- Never use one-on-one time with your teenager as an opportunity to criticize.
- Acknowledging your mistakes provides the opportunity for your teen to share his.
- Don’t judge a teen’s comments. Maybe they’re foolish, or dumb, or incorrect. But if you blast them, chances are your teen won’t share his thoughts with you again.
I hope that this call for relationships is encouraging. We often think we have to be constantly doing in order to be a good parent. But in reality, being a good parent is all about being. It’s not about the possessions we give our kids. It’s not about the cleanliness of our homes. To be the best parent you can be, all you need to do is strive to have a loving and personal relationship with your teen. Everything else is secondary.
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. Here you can download the Parenting Today’s Teens App, a great way to listen on your schedule.