One of the biggest complaints from parents and teenagers alike is that there is often little or no communication between the two groups. Perhaps you’re like one discouraged mom who said to me, “I’ve tried to talk with my daughter but she just shuts me down. I’ve tried everything to let her know I care but she just won’t let me in any more.” Or maybe you’re like the frustrated dad who told me the only thing his son would ever say to him was “you just don’t understand.” In such cases teens and parents alike are hurting. Parents would love to know how to talk to their kids and most teens would love for that to happen; they simply think their parents are out of touch. The good news is there is something that can be done to keep the lines of communication open between you and your teenager.
First, show genuine interest in your teen’s life. Often a teenager will perceive his parent to be too busy to really talk. The times that conversations do occur, your son or daughter might think you’re preoccupied even though you think you’re talking. Your one word responses or grunts say to your teen that you do indeed have other things on your mind. Make sure you’re actually listening and engaging. Speak with understanding. Ask questions. Be interested in what your daughter is even if you have no interest in it at all. Make every effort to ask heart-felt questions and get wrapped-up in what your child is wrapped-up in at a given moment.
Second, be truly empathetic with your teen. Your daughter may be trying to open up or tell you something really important in her life. If you respond with opinions that don’t seem connected to her world, if you spit out platitudes or orders without seeming to empathize, if you don’t seem to take into account every factor weighing on your child’s heart, or if you tend to give advice on the go, your child will get the impression that you want her to do certain things but you’re not really interested in what she’s going through. When she feels that, she’ll begin to shut down more and more. You have to identify with what she’s feeling even if you don’t completely understand why she would feel the way she does.
Third, don’t give your teen the third degree. Even when your son has done something wrong you still want to communicate and not do anything to shut him down. Sometimes we can approach our kids like prosecutors cross-examining a hostile witness; and they feel that way too. Rather than pelting your son with questions like “what did you do; who was with you; don’t you know better; haven’t we taught you better; what were you thinking; how could you do such a thing; have you lost your mind; can I get some answers; and the like, try a more biblical approach. Gently ask your teen what happened and give him time to explain in his own words. Let him know you love him no matter what, that you’ve been through similar struggles, and that you really want to help. Help him to clarify what his motives were and talk about how to think biblically about them. Help him to understand all the reasons not to do what he’s done. Your teen needs to see you as a parent but he also needs to know that you are there to help by pointing him to Christ and not simply trying to come down on him.
Fourth, hear your teen’s heart. Understand what your teen is trying to say to you. Part of that is making sure you and she mean the same things with the words you are using. Ask clarifying questions. Say things like, “do you mean . . . ?” Not only will she appreciate it but you won’t be talking past each other. You have to hear your teen’s heart. She can’t always say it like you would say it or even the way you would like her to say it. But she is saying something and you can work to get it. Realize the dynamic works in both directions as well. In other words, you might say, “I never thought you could be capable of doing such a thing. I might have thought it about your brother, but not you.” If you say that more than once, particularly if some time has gone by, she might interpret that to mean you don’t love her or that you don’t forgive her. Translation is just as important as what you say.
Fifth, be ready to talk when your teenager is. Hectic schedules keep teens and parents separated. Your son may be ready to talk just when you were ready to read the paper or even go to bed. You might prefer to wait but the schedule may not allow it, your son may misinterpret your putting him off, he may seek an answer elsewhere, or he may not be in the mood to talk later and your opportunity will be gone forever. Rest in God’s providence and count those late night conversations as blessings, not inconveniences.
These are just a few tips. But, putting these into practice will help you and your teen to stay connected and maintain a relationship that can actually get better over time.