Proverbs 1:8 begins, “Listen my son…” -- but what if he won’t? Is that just his problem? Do parents bear any responsibility to try to help their teen listen, or is our only responsibility to give wise counsel? If we know our teen isn’t listening to our wisdom, advice, reproof, and correction, what do we do? Galatians 6:1 certainly could apply here. “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.”
As parents, we need to do all we can to remove stumbling blocks and barriers to good communication with our children, seeking to help restore them to obedience in listening to us as parents. Although the final responsibility is on our teens to listen, we certainly must make sure we are not failing in some areas ourselves and creating barriers to their listening.
Here are 8 barriers to good parent-teen communication and some ideas for busting them.
1. Nagging – When your wisdom and advice are constant throughout the day, with little neutral or pleasant chatter, your words begin to lose their impact. Ecclesiastes 6:11 indicates this when it states, “The more words, the more vanity, and what is the advantage to man?” Constant nagging short-circuits your ability to get your point across and tends to overwhelm and push your teen to anger or discouragement. Perhaps you could make a list of your child’s faults. Prioritize them in order of most grievous/consequential to least. Get input from other wise parents. Focus only on the ones you feel you must. Pick a top 4-5 and then plan to keep quiet about the others until the most important victories have been won.
2. Criticizing – Certainly in parenting there is always need for instruction, discipline, and training, but as parents we must be careful to not be overly critical, especially in areas that are not related to sinful behavior. If you’re struggling with major discipline areas with your teen, then be even more careful about other criticisms. Don’t worry if his shirt is wrinkled, his hair is messy, or he wore the same shorts yesterday. Avoid criticizing him in front of others. In fact, purpose to praise your teen at least 5 times each day, either in passing comments or in a specific conversation.
3. Wisdom Spray – Sometimes parents can turn on the firehose of instruction when we need to focus on just a trickle of wisdom from the garden hose. We get started on one area of weakness or failure in our child’s life, and then we begin to pile on. “And another thing…and another thing…and what really ticks me off is when you….plus you always seem to…” Don’t unload all of your frustrations about your son’s behavior all at once. Deal with the matter at hand, and leave the other issues for another day.
4. Trying to win the war all at once. Closely related to the point above, we must realize that the war against sin in our teen’s life is won one battle at a time. Certainly sin must be conquered once and for all through the Gospel’s work in his life, but the war with the flesh is ongoing and is best handled one battle at a time. Think of how God has worked in your life. The victories have come one by one, and the focus has been on a few areas of sin at a time as the Holy Spirit brought about conviction and strength to overcome. Pick some of the battles you feel your teen is most tender about. Seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit in assessing which battle front to deal with next. Remember to praise and celebrate the victories along the way.
5. Negative, non-neutral atmosphere. I remember being told once in a seminar on leadership that I should sit behind my desk when talking with subordinates to subtly show my authority. I don’t necessarily agree with this ideology. (If you need a big desk to prove you’re a leader, you’ve probably done something wrong.) There may be places in your home that aren’t the best place to talk to your teen - places where he feels a negative atmosphere, places that remind him of past failures, places that subtly indicate that you are not interested in his opinion or his side of the story. Change the atmosphere. Go to a coffee shop, a fast food restaurant, or take a drive in the country. All of these are neutral locations and may open up communication in new frontiers for you and your teen.
6. One-way communication – Remember that, by definition, communication is a two-way street. Yes, your teen needs to listen to you, but as he grows older and matures toward adulthood, you need to listen to him, too. He may say things you don’t want to hear but that you need to hear. Listening to those comments will help reveal barriers. Perhaps he has seen inconsistencies in your life. Perhaps you need to ask for forgiveness. There may be an unreasonable teacher involved that you need to hear about, or a pressure he is dealing with outside the home that you need to know about. Ask questions and follow up questions. Listen, even though he may not be mature enough to talk without an angry outburst, tears, or bad language. Make sure he knows he is being heard. Don’t just listen to his words, either. Watch for those misty eyes or subtle gestures that indicate various emotions. More on gestures in the point below.
7. Gestures – Pointing fingers, snarling red faces, pounding fists, crossed arms, and more are all ways we communicate beyond our words. Your teen listens to you by watching these, too. You may say the right things and yet defeat the words with your gestures. Make sure your gestures are open, calm, reassuring, and kind as you talk.
8. Timing – The moment when you are feeling agitated, irritated, and angry at your teen may not be the best time to try to talk to him. Every bone in your body may be itching to go address the problem right then and there, and yet the timing isn’t right. Perhaps you’re too angry to address him, and it will be hard to speak the truth in love. If that’s not it, perhaps there is a ballgame on that night he wants to see, or he is in the middle of his favorite TV show. Take some time to stop and pray. Ask the Lord to work in his heart. Ask the Lord to give you wisdom regarding the right timing. Take some time to plan your words and how you will address the problem. What questions will you ask? How will you give him the benefit of the doubt? How can you offer praise with your rebuke? In the Bible we see that the prophet didn’t address King David right away regarding his grave sin; yet we know from Psalm 32 and 51 that God was at work in David’s heart before Nathan came to him. Learn to wait on the Lord and rely on his leading as to timing. You may find that God has already softened his heart before your conversation.
9. Super Authority Parent – As your teen gets older, you must learn to communicate with him more as you would other adults. This doesn’t mean to give in, give up parental authority, or be run over by your child. It does mean that you don’t treat him like an elementary student. Instead of a short, firm “No you can’t go,” try something like “I’m sorry, son, I don’t think it will work right now; is there another option?” Instead of “get your homework done at 3:30,” try “what time do you plan to do your homework tonight?” You may need to help him think through the homework plan, but you are also giving him some options. You are making the change from a sergeant to a coach. See this article for more insight. Click here.
What other barriers have you seen as a parent that you’d like to share here? We all can learn from each other. Continue to work at good communication with your teen. You can’t force him to listen and internalize everything you say, but you can work hard at tearing down barriers to your wisdom and advice whenever you can.
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So you found porn on your son’s smartphone or computer, now what? Here are 6 things to remember and some ideas on how to guide him through this struggle.
1. Remember that God’s grace and mercy are always greater than sin. “Where sin abounds, Grace abounds much more.” Romans 5:20. You and your son are not alone in this situation. Reminding your son that this is sinful is not enough. Reminding him that there is hope for the sinner, forgiveness and victory in Christ is the complete story.
2. Remember not to over-react. Parents and moms in particular are often outraged, disgusted and hurt when they discover their son is looking at pornography. This is normal and expected however, it is important to realize that screaming, belittling, embarrassing and/or other such tactics only serve to separate your son from one of his chief allies in this fight… you. Temper your disgust and hurt with a cooperative understanding spirit which leaves the door open to accountability and trust. If your son can trust you with talking about his struggles, you can work through this together. Some parents have even found after the initial confrontations that their son was more open to accountability and discussion when future “how ya doin with this” conversation was through texting or while driving so as to avoid awkward face to face conversation. A good verse to remember is “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. “– Galatians 6:1 (ESV)
3. Remember you may need help in this fight from a pastor or strong godly mentor. Particularly if you’re a single mom or even as a dad, you may find that helping your son find someone who he feels comfortable talking with and staying accountable with regarding his struggles is important. It may be just too awkward for him to confide in you. Your role may be more one of keeping him in touch with his godly mentor on a regular basis.
4. Remember that the real problem is a spiritual issue. Yes of course there are raging hormones, pressure from our culture, his friends and so on, but more than anything, he needs his heart to be changed and strengthened by God and his Word through the Holy Spirit. As a parent you can help in this process. You can start a Bible study with him, have prayer with him on a regular basis and help him guard his heart. (We’ll discuss resources shortly.)
Rick Thomas, Founder and President of The Counseling Solutions Group, Inc in upstate South Carolina talks about discipling a young man struggling with porn.
While I would want to disciple my children on the sin of pornography–if they were into porn, I would want to disciple them through the deeper and more insidious problems that are going on–the things that feed the porn.
I cannot over-emphasize this: our behaviors flow from our hearts and if our hearts are not shepherded toward Christ, then the kid does not have a chance.
The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks. – Luke 6:43-45 (ESV)
Some of the more insidious issues of the heart are the following:
Slothfulness - the child is lazy, meaning that he is using sex to satisfy himself rather than sex being a beautiful thing that God designed. Sex is not primarily for him, but for his future wife. He is lazy. He is not interested in what God says.
You will find laziness at the root of a lot of what the child does. Laziness is not a singular tributary out of the soul. Laziness will touch many things in this child’s life. Begin to carefully examine his whole life and you’ll find pockets of laziness in other places, not just how he thinks about and behaves toward sex.
Dishonoring - More than likely the child knows he is dishonoring his parents, but he does not care. He wants what he wants. Like laziness, you’ll also find this “dishonoring worldview” popping up in other areas of his life.
If his dishonoring attitude is not taken care of now, there will be many other repercussions in his future, e.g. how he thinks about and works for his future employer and how he loves and serves his future wife are just two examples.
Deceit/lying - He is lying and living in a lie. This is one of the more heinous sins. When a person lives a lie, then it is difficult to know if anything he says or does is the truth. Lying and deceit in a relationship will destroy a relationship.
One of the reasons we love God so much is because He always tells the truth. We can assuredly know where we stand with Him. You cannot ever be sure where you stand with a person who lies.
Self-righteousness - Porn is a form of self-righteousness. The self-righteous person has a greater than/better than attitude. Porn is the devaluing of women. The porn user is “using” women to satisfy his own selfish cravings.
Self-centeredness - As you might deduce, self-centeredness is the center of the porn users worldview. Whatever is in the center of his life is what defines him. This is who the son really is. Being self-centered will creep into every single facet of this person’s life.
Ignorance - Part of why he is not trusting God, choosing rather to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season, is because there is something he does not understand about God. There is a level of ignorance working in his life. You can find this kind of life portrayed by the life of the fool in Proverbs.
These are merely a sample of some of the things that have been going on in the kid’s heart–things that have led to his pornography use. As the parents insightfully talk to him, they will find other sinful categories working in his heart too. They will need to carefully unpack him so the roots of porn can be eliminated.
5. Remember to set safe guards in place to help prevent more access and failures.He may promise not to fail again, but the temptation is strong. It is best to look at ways to prevent access. Furthermore, ti is best that this “access prevention” is not done as a punishment, but in the spirit of working together to solve the problem. Taking away the smartphone or computer is only a short term solution and probably isn’t the solution at all. In the long run these devices are not going away. He needs to be taught how to have access to these devices but not submit to the temptations they bring.
Probably the best solution we can recommend is to put a filter on his smartphone and computer. We recommend Covenant Eyes. (www.covenanteyes.com) This filter is affordable and works well. There are several levels of protection. You can choose what is right for your son. (It may not be a bad idea to use this for the whole family.)
6. Remember that only God can change his heart. Pray for him diligently and wait patiently on the Lord to do the heart work only he can do. Yes, you can disciple, find mentors, accountability, and add filters, but only God can change the heart.
If you feel that we can be of help here at Victory Academy for Boys, please don’t hesitate to contact us. This is a struggle that we have worked through with many many young men.
In Finally Free, Dr. Heath Lambert, a leader in the biblical counseling movement, lays out eight gospel-centered strategies for overcoming the deceitful lure of pornography. Each chapter clearly demonstrates how the gospel applies to this particular battle and how Jesus can move readers from a life of struggle to a life of purity.
The only time God is pictured as running in Scripture is when He is running to a son who has miserably failed. I love thinking about this story in Luke 15. The prodigal son had previously turned his back on his Father. He wasted his inheritance on alcohol, immorality and partying. All this crazy sinful living had landed him in a pig pen slopping hogs. The Bible says he finally came to himself and decided to go home, humble himself in confession of wrong and ask to be a servant instead of a son.
I can imagine him slowly walking home rehearsing over and over his lines, “Father I have sinned before God and you…” As he nears the gates of the town his father (a picture of our Heavenly Father remember) sees him in the distance. He forgets his business and takes off in a sprint toward his lost son. In my mind’s eye, I see the grown son being literally lifted off his feet in his dad’s embrace. The son quickly begins to recite his speech, “Father I have...” he hardly gets any further when dad cuts him off with shouts of joy…” My son is home!” No mention is made of the loss, the failure, the pain or regret. All is forgiven and the welcome home party begins. The Father knew the son’s heart. He knew he had repented and he ran. God ran!! God ran to meet that boy. He ran to meet you and me too if we’ve come to him in repentance and He and all Heaven rejoice in love when we come home.
Perhaps you have a son who is lost and running away from God. Please know that God is working to draw him back. Your prayers are not in vain. Your tears are not lost. God himself loves that boy and is at work. As you are led to pray, God’s Spirit is working too. He loves deeply. Continue to hope for the day your boy comes home and you along with God run to meet him.
If you feel that we can be of help to you with your struggling teen son, please don’t hesitate to learn more about our ministry and contact us for free counsel.
Other Articles and Info you may be interested in:
Help I found porn on my son's laptop. 6 things to remember.
10 Suggestions to Help Stop the Yelling at Home
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10 Conversation Starters for You and Your Teen
Victory Academy for Boys - A Well Kept Secret For Too Long
Of course we do not claim to speak for God. However, by application, we can weave the truths of Scripture into what a letter from God might look like if written to the parent of a teen son who is struggling in his relationship with God.
We encourage you to read this and then study for yourself the scriptures mentioned and let God speak to and encourage your heart.
Dear Mom or Dad,
Don’t be afraid, I am with your son. I know when he sits down and when he gets up, when he goes out and when he comes in. I formed him and made him. I understand him even though you may not. (Psalms 139) In my time and in my ways, I will strengthen him. I will help him. I will uphold him with my righteous right hand. (Isa 41:10 and Isaiah 55:8-9) I am working every detail of his life out for his good and for my glory (Romans 8:28 and Ephesians 1:11) because I loved him before you did.
I love him with an everlasting love. While he was yet in sin, I sent my son, Jesus, to die for him. (Jerimiah 31:3 and Romans 5:8) I have laid a burden on your heart to suffer for him, pray for him, and love him. That burden you feel, it is from me. It is my Spirit leading you to love and care for his soul. I have begun a good work in him, I have lead you to love, care and pray for him and therefore it is right for you to expect that I will finish the work I started in him. (Philippians 1)
When my Spirit is leading you in prayer, he prays in deep ways that even you can’t understand, but touch the depths of my heart for your son. You may not know how to pray for your son according to my will, but he does. (Romans 8:26-27) Remember that my Spirit is at work in him even though you may not always see evidence of it. He is working to convince him of his sin, of my righteousness and that judgement is real. At the same time my Spirit is working to remind him of the free gift of salvation and a changed life through my son. (John 16:8)
I am the good Shepherd. I will look after him. When he goes astray, I will pursue him and bring him back. (Psalms 23 and John 10) You and I are coworkers together in this process. (1 Corinthians 3:9) but I am the source of his spiritual life, so let me do my work. Stay sensitive to my leading. Don’t get ahead of me, don’t lose your cool, be patient, firm, loving and continue to point him toward the truth in the Bible. Don’t get weary in the work. Your effort is not in vain. I am using you in his life even if you can’t see it right now. (Galatians 6:9 and 1 Corinthians 15:58)
Thank you for loving your son. I love him too even more than you do. Trust me even if it gets worse before it gets better. Once things got bad with my son, Jesus. He didn’t do anything wrong of course, but things did get worse before they got better. They did get better though and now everyone knows the plan was perfect. It will be perfect in your situation too. My way is always perfect. It is always good and it is always loving. (Psalms 18:30)
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