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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The Bible reminds parents and specifically dads not to provoke their children. Ephesians 6:4 says, "Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord." What does it mean here when it says not to provoke your child to anger? The phrase "do not provoke your children to anger" basically means not to do things that cause them to be irritated, frustrated or even enraged. We (especially dads) have to be constantly aware of our actions and our child's reaction to make sure this is not occurring. It is important to remember that anger and frustration can show itself differently in our children based on their personalities. Some may actually become enraged and yell, cuss or even fight. Others of a more introverted temperament may become withdrawn, discouraged and defeated, feeling like they can never measure up to our expectations.
We came across a great article by Pastor John MacArthur highlighting 8 ways that parents may be irritating children and not even realize it. Here are the 8 ways from Dr. MacArthur.
1) Well–meaning overprotection is a common cause of resentment in children. Parents who smother their children, overly restrict where they can go and what they can do, never trust them to do things on their own, and continually question their judgment build a barrier between themselves and their children—usually under the delusion that they are building a closer relationship. Children need careful guidance and certain restrictions, but they are individual human beings in their own right and must learn to make decisions on their own, commensurate with their age and maturity. Their wills can be guided but they cannot be controlled.
2) Another common cause of provoking children to anger is favoritism. Isaac favored Esau over Jacob and Rebekah preferred Jacob over Esau. That dual and conflicting favoritism not only caused great trouble for the immediate family but has continued to have repercussions in the conflicts between the descendants of Jacob and Esau until our present day! For parents to compare their children with each other, especially in the children’s presence, can be devastating to the child who is less talented or favored. He will tend to become discouraged, resentful, withdrawn, and bitter.
Favoritism by parents generally leads to favoritism among the children themselves, who pick up the practice from their parents. They will favor one brother or sister over the others and will often favor one parent over the other.
3) A third way parents provoke their children is by pushing achievement beyond reasonable bounds. A child can be so pressured to achieve that he is virtually destroyed. He quickly learns that nothing he does is sufficient to please his parents. No sooner does he accomplish one goal than he is challenged to accomplish something better. Fathers who fantasize their own achievements through the athletic skills of their sons, or mothers who fantasize a glamorous career through the lives of their daughters prostitute their responsibility as parents.
I once visited a young woman who was confined to a padded cell and was in a state of catatonic shock. She was a Christian and had been raised in a Christian family, but her mother had ceaselessly pushed her to be the most popular, beautiful, and successful girl in school. She became head cheerleader, homecoming queen, and later a model. But the pressure to excel became too great and she had a complete mental collapse. After she was eventually released from the hospital, she went back into the same artificial and demanding environment. When again she found she could not cope, she committed suicide. She had summed up her frustration when she told me one day, “I don’t care what it is I do, it never satisfies my mother.”
4) A fourth way children are provoked is by discouragement. A child who is never complimented or encouraged by his parents is destined for trouble. If he is always told what is wrong with him and never what is right, he will soon lose hope and become convinced that he is incapable of doing anything right. At that point he has no reason even to try. Parents can always find something that a child genuinely does well, and they should show appreciation for it. A child needs approval and encouragement in things that are good every bit as much as he needs correction in things that are not.
5) A fifth way provocation occurs is by parents’ failing to sacrifice for their children and making them feel unwanted. Children who are made to feel that they are an intrusion, that they are always in the way and interfere with the plans and happiness of the parents, cannot help becoming resentful. To such children the parents themselves will eventually become unwanted and an intrusion on the children’s plans and happiness.
6) A sixth form of provocation comes from failing to let children grow up at a normal pace. Chiding them for always acting childish, even when what they do is perfectly normal and harmless, does not contribute to their maturity but rather helps confirm them in their childishness.
7) A seventh way of angering children is that of using love as a tool of reward or punishment—granting it when a child is good and withdrawing it when he is bad. Often the practice is unconscious, but a child can sense if a parent cares for him less when is he disobedient than when he behaves. That is not how God loves and is not the way he intends human parents to love. God disciplines His children just as much out of love as He blesses them. “Those whom the Lord loves He disciplines” (Heb. 12:6). Because it is so easy to punish out of anger and resentment, parents should take special care to let their children know they love them when discipline is given.
8) An eighth way to provoke children is by physical and verbal abuse. Battered children are a growing tragedy today. Even Christian parents—fathers especially—sometimes overreact and spank their children much harder than necessary. Proper physical discipline is not a matter of exerting superior authority and strength, but of correcting in love and reasonableness. Children are also abused verbally. A parent can as easily overpower a child with words as with physical force. Putting him down with superior arguments or sarcasm can inflict serious harm, and provokes him to anger and resentment. It is amazing that we sometimes say things to our children that we would not think of saying to anyone else—for fear of ruining our reputation!
You can read more from Dr. MacArthur on this subject by clicking here. John Piper also has some great thoughts on this particular verse as well. Read that here.
We hope this article has been a blessing to you. If so, here are some other articles from Victory Academy for Boys you may find helpful as well.
Read more helpful articles from Mark Massey and the staff:
How We Help Parents at Victory Academy
10 Conversation Starters for You and Your Teen
Why We All Need Counseling
Victory Academy for Boys - A Well Kept Secret For Too Long
Does Our Family Need Victory Academy or Some Other Help Outside our Home?
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For most parents when their children are young it is easy to have a close relationship. Hugs, prayer time, the words "I love you" all come very easily with young children. However as the teen years advance, relationships between parent and child can suffer. Whether a father and daughter who rightfully find close affection a bit more awkward or a father and son who have a growing difference in interests, or perhaps it is a mom who is struggling to allow her "little boy" to find the independence of being a young man, parent / teen relationships can be complicated at times. However as parents continue to find the need to exercise control over their teenagers with rules, standards and limitations, relationships becomes all the more important.
Loving relationships are the glue that hold families together and help smooth over the arguments, struggles and growing pains that every family faces during those teenage years. The principles of the Bible apply at home just as they do in relationships at work and church. Principles of love in 1 Cor. 13 such as thinking no evil, assuming the best, not holding grudges etc. need to be adhered to. There are many other relationship principles as well such as the principles of reconciliation found in Matthew 5 and other places. We can study principles such as "Don't let the sun go down on your anger, don't let your anger lead to sin." (Eph. 4:26) and so many more that can and should be found.
Take time to build relationships. Find common ground and utilize it. Go out for coffee or shakes (food is almost always common ground) watch sports together, learn to play a video game. Perhaps you hunt or fish, sew or bake, whatever you can find to engage in with the goal of building the relationship, do it!
Don't only spend time when there is an issue. Make "deposits" in their lives as often as you can by spending that time with them, saying "I love you" or sending them a text from across the room letting them know you're proud of them. These deposits allow you to make "withdrawals" and yet not damage the relationship when there are disagreements or discipline issues.
If rules and regulations are enforced in a teen's life without an on-going love infused relationship, rebellion will be the result.
What ways have you nurtured and enhanced the relationship with your teen lately? Why not shoot them a text right now and invited them for ice cream soon?
Download our Whitepaper on Ten Things Parents Miss by Executive Director, Mark Massey. Click Here
Wondering if your teen needs to be away from home for awhile to get help? Read Mark's helpful guide on making this difficult decision. Click Here.
Watch a video on a Victory Kind of Life to learn more about Victory Academy for Boys. Click Here.
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1. “I love you.” If you love someone, let them know it. Tell them and show them often. You may think they know it, and they might, but it is always nice to say it. I Corinthians 13 reminds us that we can be smart, sacrificial and sound wonderful in our speech, but if we don’t have love, we are nothing. Tell your wife, your son or daughter, call your mom and dad. Even in the struggles, an "I love you" sure can't hurt.
2. “I was wrong, forgive me.” One of my professors in college encouraged us to substitute this phrase for “I’m sorry.” In saying, “I was wrong” there is no doubt in the offended and hurt person’s mind that you know you hurt them and desire their forgiveness and restoration of the relationship. We can not be rightly related to God if we have broken and torn relationships with others. Perhaps you need to use this phrase with your teen today. Don't wait for them even if they were wrong too.
3. “Thank you.” In Luke 17 we read about those with leprosy who Jesus healed. He literally changed the rest of their lives. Things were different because of His intervention. Only one returned to say thank you. There certainly have been people who have made a difference in your life. People whose intervention changed things for the better. Do they know you are thankful? What about old friends, parents, your children, their teachers, a coach or former pastor. Make sure they know you are thankful. “Thank you” is never said too late or too much.
4. “I will .” We must say “I will” to God as he speaks to us about things he wants us to do or change, but we also need to say it to others. Jesus showed us in John 13 his willingness to wash his disciple’s feet. He then commanded us to do the same. Look for needs you can meet, and then when you see it, say, “I will.”
5. “I can.” Have you hit some brick wall in your Christian life? Do you feel defeated because of a sinful habit, or lack of prayer. Perhaps there is some difficult trial you and your teen are going through. In either instance, it is easy to say, “I can’t make it.” Paul reminds us that we CAN do all things THROUGH CHRIST who will strengthen us. A great lesson we must learn is that in myself I can’t, but in Him, “I can.”
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