Talking With Your Teenager

“And these words… shall be in thine heart: and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest… when thou walkest… when thou liest down, and when thou risest up” (Deuteronomy 6:6,7).

Question: “How can I communicate with my teenager? He either does not want to talk to me or he gets angry when I tell him what I want him to do?”

We must open up the lines of communication when there is no conflict. We are not talking enough to our children about our faith–or about anything else. Our schedule is so hectic that we all are “ships passing in the night.” Even when we take trips together we are usually all listening to a stereo system as we are hurled parallel to each other down the road. Then we criticize the teenagers who go around wearing a ‘Walkman’ or an iPhone glued permanently to their heads.

We are not talking enough with them when they are children–when they want to talk. Suddenly they are now teenagers and we are surprised and hurt when they shut us out and do not wish to talk. The time to open up communication and talk with them about life and the changes they are facing in their life is before puberty.

I have had many parents who were willing to get involved with their children in the Elementary School, but these same parents would not darken the halls of the Middle or the High School. We, as parents, are backing away at the very time when they need us the most. Their habits and attitudes many times repel us, so the conversations we do have with them become very confrontational and judgmental.

It is up to us, as Christian parents, to bridge the gap. We must first change what we are doing and then pray that they will react positively to us. Here are a few ideas:

1. When they make a “mess” – don’t ask “Why?” Just hand them a rag so they can clean it up!

If we are honest, most of our conversations with them go something like this: “Why did you…?”, “Why can’t you…?”, “How come you didn’t …?”

These are not questions. They are ‘put downs’ and criticisms. Remember there is always positive intents behind most parental ‘put downs.’

They need encouragement not criticism. Stop all sarcasm and ‘put downs’ anywhere in your home. Home should be a sanctuary and a “Criticism Free Zone.”

2. When there is a problem, focus on the Behavior not on the Person.

With a firm voice you can say, “It makes me feel angry when I find your coat in the Living Room. I would like you to hang it up when you come home. Next time I find it in the Living Room I will put it away for two weeks, and you will have to find other ways of staying warm.”

When you find it there, put it away without falling for the desire to lecture–do not argue or defend your action–do not give it back for the two weeks. Surprise! They will not freeze.

Celebrate each step in the direction of improvement rather than focusing on the mistakes.

3. Make sure your ‘Body Language’ is nonjudgmental and is saying the same thing as your voice.

4. Talk with and to them–not at them.

Take time to talk not just about ‘what’ they did but rather about how they ‘feel’ about what they did.

5. When they share something shocking, do not act shocked – thank them for sharing.

6. Make special time for them.

Make a date with them for hamburgers. Drive them to school at least once a week. Drive to church together. I make sure the radio is off, and I keep the conversation going – hoping the teen will open up to me. “What are you looking forward to today?” “What is your biggest problem today?”

7. Ask them their opinion–let them know you trust them.

If you are willing to listen to their small talk, they will be more willing to share serious thoughts.

Give them your time rather than your things; you will never be sorry!

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