“Girl, how was your day?”

“Ok lah, why?”

“Don’t talk to me like that. I asked you, how’s your day?”

“I already told you it’s fine!”

“Stop rolling your eyes, don’t be rude. I’m sure you can do better than that.”

“Whatever.”

Does this conversation sound familiar? We try our best to talk to our teenager, but most of the time, it seems, we just end up having an argument—or a conversation cut short by an angry teen storming back to her room and a slamming door.

Consider, however, this thought: perhaps our teenager is responding because of what we say or the tone we use. Our verbal and non-verbal cues can evoke a negative response, even if we didn’t mean it.

Perhaps it’s useful to listen to some common grievances that teenagers have about how their parents communicate:

“If I have a problem, I feel bad enough already. I don’t want to add to it by having my parents getting all upset and emotional. I just go to my friends.”

“My parents just want to tell me their opinions. They never listen to what I have to say.”

“My dad doesn’t talk—he just shouts commands.”

While it might be tempting to come up with a rebuttal or explanation for these statements, perhaps we should think about why our teens might say such things. Are we responsible for the way they respond to us?

 

It’s Tough To Be A Kid

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Our Communication Is Not Perfect

Before we think, “There’s nothing wrong with the way I speak”, let’s take a step back to see what the Bible says about the way we communicate.

As people made in God’s image, all of us possess the ability to communicate, and this expresses and reflects our relationships with God and with others.

The entry of sin into the world and the fall of man, however, has affected our communication. Our words betray the sinfulness within, reflecting who we really are on the inside. As Matthew 12:35–36 observes:

A good man brings good things
out of the good stored up in him,
and an evil man brings evil things
out of the evil stored up in him.
But I tell you that everyone will have to
give account on the day of judgment
for every empty word they have spoken.

Because we are all fallen and not perfect, we may say things or inadvertently create an environment which make our teens feel that they need to live up to a certain standard—our standard—of holiness.

Many teenagers know all too well what their “godly” parents will say, so they choose to remain silent about their true struggles.

Many teenagers know all too well what their “godly” parents will say, so they choose to remain silent about their true struggles. They know that if they were to share their problems, their parents’ minds are already racing ahead to the “been there, done that” mode, evaluating the steps to resolve the matter, and perhaps preparing a lecture to deliver to them.

However, if we do that, we may be missing a great opportunity to really know who our teen is, what he thinks, and what he feels about his situation.

Learning to Listen

So, how can we improve the way we communicate? Here’s a useful checklist of questions to consider before you start the next conversation with your teen:

1. Do We Take Time to Listen?

Parents cannot expect to communicate with their teenagers on demand.

While we may allocate some time in our hectic schedule to listen, and expect our children to talk, we may find that they are not ready or willing to share then.

While we may allocate some time in our hectic schedule to listen, and expect our children to talk, we may find that they are not ready or willing to share then.

The reality is, teenagers not only want to be heard, but they also want to know that we are genuinely interested in what they have to say. They can sense disinterest on our part through verbal and non-verbal cues, or sense when we are listening just as a matter of duty and can’t wait to get back to our own tasks.

Be persistent, however: in the initial stages, our efforts to talk may be spurned. But if we persist in casual talk with our children, over time they may reveal more about themselves.

2. Are We Really Interested?

Having raised our children for over a decade, many of us have mastered “short cuts” for listening. We may know how to show we are listening to them physically—without actually hearing their concerns, ideas, opinions, and feelings.

When we do this, our teens will perceive that they are not being respected. And ultimately, they will stop sharing their innermost thoughts and feelings with us.

Only when we demonstrate genuine concern, will we be able to get to the heart of the matter.

Only when we demonstrate genuine concern, will we be able to get to the heart of the matter. Having heart-to-heart talks, in which we express genuine interest in what they are saying, will encourage them to share from the heart.

When they know their hearts have reached our hearts, true communication will take place. So, take time to ask them questions that will get to the heart of their struggle and be willing to empathise.

3. Are We Too Quick to Judge?

The teenage years are a time of exploration and experimentation, of pushing the boundaries and breaking the rules.

But when our teen honestly shares about a struggle that betrays his sin, are we too quick to criticise and judge? Are we so horrified by the sin that we can’t wait to lecture, mete out punishment, and demand the corrective measures without much empathy?

Colossians 3:21 instructs parents, “Do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.”

Are we so horrified by the sin that we can’t wait to lecture, mete out punishment, and demand the corrective measures without much empathy?

This means we are to avoid disciplining them excessively. While discipline is important, we can be so judgmental that we end up treating our kids with unkindness. There is no more powerful way of communicating our love for our teenagers than by treating them with gentleness, kindness, consideration, and respect.

4. Do We Expect Too Much?

Speaking implies mastery and power, while listening implies a loss of control. At work, bosses often take control of the situation by directing others and giving instructions. Underlings are more likely to listen.

Such “conversations” are also purposeful. Instructions are expected to be carried out, while discussions are expected to end with an outcome.

As parents, we not only need to learn to listen, but also be open to open-ended conversations. The process of engaging our children may sometimes be more important than the outcome.

In engaging our teenagers, however, such behaviour and expectations work against effective communication.

As parents, we not only need to learn to listen, but also be open to open-ended conversations. The process of engaging our children may sometimes be more important than the outcome. Just having the conversation is good enough; we don’t have to expect every conversation to end with a change in behaviour or thinking.

In God’s Time

Finally, let’s remember that results do not happen overnight. When man fell into sin, God was the one who made the first move and “when the set time has fully come” (Galatians 4:4–7), He sent Christ to redeem our relationship with Him and others as well.

If we seek to immerse ourselves in getting to know our teens better, the Lord will give us the opportunity to engage them.

Just as Christ pursued us, let us learn to pursue our teens even when they are silent. With time, we can show them that their struggles merely reveal our fallen sinful nature, and only Christ can free us.

If we seek to immerse ourselves in getting to know our teens better, the Lord will give us the opportunity to engage them. And remember, the outcome is ultimately not in our control—it is in His hands, and He loves our children more than we ever can.

 

This article was first published in Age of Opportunity, a publication of Singapore Youth For Christ, and is adapted with permission.

 

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