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.
Americans live at a frantic pace. I'm an American. I'm not sure what the rest of the world is experiencing, but contemporary life here in the good ole’ U.S. of A. just doesn’t fit into Mark Twain’s lazy days of floatin’ down the Mississippi. That is a bygone era (if there ever was one). Most of us find ourselves immersed in our own very busy lives.
Have you had the same moments of reflection I've had that provoke me to wonder where it all went? What's more - how is this busy life impacting my family? What's it doing to my relationship with my wife? When am I finding time to influence my children and love them toward God? The example I am living, is it leading those I love to a stronger faith in God? As Christian parents, we have a lot of things to accomplish in this time-limited, time-pressured life. Though we often get the required tasks done, in my observations, few of us get the necessary tasks done.
After reading something like that, it's easy to walk away with a serious guilt trip. That's not my intention. As I look at my own wife and children and their multitude of needs, I become even more frustrated with the pressures of my own life. Sometimes it's like I'm watching a movie where it's plain to see something bad is going to happen. I want to yell out, “No, don’t do it, can’t you see what will happen?”
But no one listens.
The scene just keeps on rolling.
Have you ever felt this way? You can see something bad is going to happen, but you're helpless to change it? What do we do? Too often we simply plod along anyway. “The show must go on,” you know!
No, the show need not go on. If it must, perhaps it needs to without you! What must go on is much simpler than what's being pressed upon us by our culture (and well-meaning Christians). "What must go on" is that we must encourage our spouses to love and good works, to walk with God (Hebrews 10:24). We must dedicate time to our children so they can learn from us who God is and why we serve Him with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strength (Deuteronomy 6).*
As a simple test of initial perceptions; have your spouse ask your children what you do and what you love. I'm humbled to think of what my children would say. They see me spend a lot of time and focus on my job and the daily details of life. I'm not sure they would initially say that I spend my time serving God. I'm afraid they would see me as a person that runs a boys' home. I hope they would say that I love God and mommy, but they might equally say that I love to take naps, watch TV, spend time at the office, hunt, fish, travel, golf, et. al.
I'm not questioning whether you or I love God. That's for another time. I'm assuming we love God. The question of the moment is two-fold.
1. Do we live like we love God more than the details, pleasures, and duties of our daily life (Deuteronomy 6:4-6)?
2. Do we take the time to communicate that to our spouses and children (Deuteronomy 6:7-9,20-25)?
If, by chance, they miss that, then they miss everything of real value, for eternity!
*For more on how to teach our children to love God with their whole being, check out the book Everyday Talk. ( www.amazon.com/Everyday-Talk-Talking-Naturally-Children/dp/097230469X )
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?
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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.”
Even with examples laid out before us it is still difficult at times to know exactly what to do and say to get our teens to listen and really hear Truth. Though it may be possible to force a person to physically hear, the most powerful impact (influence) on a person’s thinking requires some kind of connection or relationship. Proverbs 20:5 teaches that people of understanding will “draw out” the deep things going on in the hearts of others.
When a teen lies to you, you have a few options, including ignore it, yell at him, or lay down consequences. There may be times when each of those options seem appropriate. I find that a fourth response is best in the long run.
Identify with his motivations and connect him with Truth. I think it is healthy to admit that none of us are very far away from any particular sin. Many times it is very difficult for teens to accept correction or responsibility for their actions when it is so easy to point the finger at some flaw in their parent, or pastor, or sibling (or whoever is applying the pressure at the moment). Biblically the key to solving strife (relational conflict) is humility and truth. That is well stated in Ephesians 4:15 as truth wrapped in love. Wrapping truth in love provokes thinking about motivations of the heart, at least in-part, because when acting in humility and love we take attacking and offending out of the picture and join with them in the discussion of truth. Biblical truth becomes the light in the situation and does the work of revealing the heart. As a parent I am then freed up to love and help them (sometimes with consequences) learn how to implement truth in their actions.
Mark Massey is director of Victory Academy for Boys, Amberg, Wisconsin. Take a look at VictoryAcademyForBoys.org
One of the struggles we face as we work with our teenagers is pushing our great wisdom on them at the moment of their struggle. While sometimes it is crucial to parent “in the moment,” many times they just aren’t ready to hear it. They just made a decision to think a certain way and you are telling them that their thinking is wrong. That is hard for all of us to hear. Proverbs 20:5 is my go to verse that challenges me to be patient, kind, and as understanding as possible in an effort to have my teen open his heart. Stepping back and letting the dust settle often reveals a door of opportunity to discuss the deep things of his heart. The problem arises when our idols get in the mix and we get offended or impatient and begin to demand their change or belief in what “great wisdom” we have to say.
Truth is that most, or at least many times our teens know what is right and wrong, the difficulty is found in learning how to go against feelings and live what is right. The flesh is just so powerful and they are at a stage of life where feelings and limited knowledge foment deficiencies in their decision making.
Take a step back. Wait a bit. Remember that almost all problems can be given a little time. Think through your own version of their struggle and pray for God’s wisdom to find that right moment to positively challenge their thinking. You are their mentor, God’s influencer for Him.
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Author & Editor
Author and Editor
We're a group of folks who love helping teens and families. We also love learning and sharing what God has taught us in our over 50 cumulative years of working with families and teens.