19 Feb Yes, it is possible to have healthy communication with your teenager.
When I was a young man, I made a conscious decision as to what kind of father I wanted to be when I grew up. I was always going to really listen to my children. I would be open and honest and actually talk with them. And I was never going to say the phrase “because I said so!” I had no idea how difficult that would be when it came to parenting teenagers. Communication between parents and teenagers can be challenging, especially in those moments when it feels like we just don’t speak the same language.
Now let me be clear: I have, in fact, raised 4 teenagers, but I am in no way claiming that I did everything right or have all the answers. The truth is, I felt like I’ve made just about every parenting mistake known to man (and I probably made up a few new ones to boot). But despite the communication barrier and my own flaws, I managed to learn a few things that might be helpful for parents who want to communicate more effectively with their teenagers.
TRUST AND OBEY
Learn to trust your kids, and they will trust you. Discipline issues are much easier to deal with when there is trust. The connection between trust and obedience is powerful. In situations when I have had “intense moments of fellowship” with my children, I have tried to use phrases such as “I believe you” or “I trust what you’re saying.”
It is impossible to communicate with teenagers without them feeling that you trust them. Make sure that your teenager knows that you trust God and that they can trust Him, too.
COMMUNICATE CLEAR BOUNDARIES
Like most adults, teenagers operate better when they clearly understand the rules. Make sure that your teenager knows more than the rules and boundaries you have; make sure they grasp why they are necessary. Even from an early age, kids want to be given boundaries. It makes them feel protected and secure, and if done well, it will carry into the teenage years.
Make sure your teenagers know that it’s okay to ask questions about the rules if they don’t understand something. When they do ask, be willing to respond honestly. Ideally, these discussions should happen before an “intense moment of fellowship” occurs. Be as flexible as you can be without compromising standards, but adaptable as your teenager continues to mature.
LET THEM BE WHO THEY ARE
All four of my children came from the same parents, were raised in the same house, and were taught virtually the same things. Still, I am amazed by how uniquely different they are from one another. Teenagers must be allowed to develop into the unique person that God has intended for them to be.
If you have kids going through their teen years, you know a lot of development takes place during this time. Parents often have the instinct to hold tightly to their kids—or even attempt to control their actions—to protect them from themselves. But I’ve learned that there are definitely some lessons teenagers must learn firsthand. No one wants to feel like they are being controlled, so don’t be afraid to let your kids be themselves (and, if necessary, to fail). Talk to them about what they learned and then share your similar experiences. Communicating with my kids that I am here to support them, even in their mistakes, has helped them be more open to talking about those experiences.
BE REAL, BE HUMBLE
Today, teenagers highly value authenticity. It’s like they have a built-in sensor that detects insincerity. And parents, I can tell you that they can read it in us very clearly. I have always tried to be open and honest with my children. I share my successes and failures with them. I have, at times, even invited them to give input on how I perform as a parent (respectfully, of course). The lessons I’ve learned from these discussions with my children have been both enlightening and humbling. They have opened the lines of communication between us and strengthened our relationship in so many ways.
COMMUNICATE LOVE, LOVE, AND MORE LOVE
When my kids were little, a pastor gave me an invaluable piece of advice about parenting teenagers, especially daughters. He said many fathers pull away from their daughters (and sons) as they grow because it becomes awkward to keep showing them physical affection. As these fathers pull away, their body language is felt as rejection by their kids. So he encouraged me to never stop showing physical affection.
Telling your children often that you love them is so important. But communicating your love for them in other ways will only serve to strengthen your relationship. God made us to love Him and to love one another. We need love, and we need to know we are loved by those we love. If your children never have to wonder if you genuinely love them, you might find communicating with them to be much easier than you expected.
CAN WE JUST TALK?
Ready for a revolutionary thought about communicating with your children? Here it is: talk to your teenager! Many parents tell me that they can’t get their kids to have an actual conversation with them. I know talking to a teenager can sometimes feel like pulling teeth. But I have found when I take time to sit down and talk to my kids like young adults, there is depth to our communication. I don’t mean telling them what to do or asking them if they got their homework done, I mean actually having a conversation with them.
Learn about what interests them and then have a conversation about it. And when your teenagers talk, actively listen to what they are saying. You might find that your children have a lot more to share than you realize. Some of the best conversations I have had in my life have been with my children. Give it a try sometime.
Obviously, there is a lot that goes into communicating with teenagers. It can be difficult and even downright frustrating at times. But a little patience and a balanced approach in your relationship with them could open doors to connecting with them that you never thought possible. Be blessed!
Ron Lackey is the worship leader at Legacy’s Blue Valley Campus. He also leads a Motown funk band and performs in local theaters around Kansas City. He lives in Overland Park with his wife of 26 years, Kim and their 4 children.