Mark Twain once said, “When your child turns 13, stick him in a barrel, place a lid on top, and feed him through the knothole. When he turns 16, seal up the knothole.”
What is it about teenagers? Why do they get such a bum rap? Are they bent on rebellion or just in need of direction? Is it possible to have normal conversations and your teen opening up to you become the norm rather than the exception.
Enough with the questions, let’s look for some answers. From the outset, be careful not to confuse your teen taking steps toward independence with that of willful rebellion. One is a natural progression, while the other is in direct opposition to your authority. From the day they were born they will be moving toward independence—that’s the way God set it up.
That’s why communication is key while you still have them at home. You will have to be intentional if you want to be able to talk with each other. Be forewarned, while their hormones are surging, at times they may clam up, lash out, or talk up a storm. So, here’s a 12-step program to open up those lines of communication.
- Take your teen on a day excursion or overnight trip with you. When it’s just the two of you, eventually they may want to open up and share joys and concerns you never dreamed they would.
- Limit their use of technology. Electronics can turn a home into a silent zone if you let them. Make dinnertime off limits to technology and
- Occasionally allow them to have a classmate or neighborhood friend join you for dinner. My kids talk more and are more engaged when there is a guest—especially if it is their guest. You’ll stumble on to unknown insights through those conversations. The supper table allows you the opportunity to affirm, teach, reinforce, listen and laugh!
- Express interest in them and teach them to be interested in others. Sometimes they clam up because they feel like other things in your life are more important than them. Is there an activity you can do together? (Working out, favorite TV show, a video game, a book to read, a Bible Study) Teach them it’s healthy for the spotlight to not be on them.
- Be perceptive when they don’t want to talk. Let’s be honest, at times parents feel more like dentists. And while it’s true that you may seem like you are pulling teeth to garner more than a one-word response (or audible grunt), be patient.
- Enlist their help on things they are wiser at doing. There are advantages to being young. I “hired” my teenage son to help me with my Twitter account. He can do it in his sleep and he’s a pro at knowing how to get followers. That simple task (simple for him!) helps him feel needed. Your teen can teach you things about your phone you never dreamed!
- Encourage positive communication in the home. If your kids talk disrespectfully to you or berate their siblings, then it’s because you’ve allowed them to. Let your teens know the boundaries and don’t bend them. Communicate your expectations clearly. Deuteronomy 6:6-7 tells us: These commandments… are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.
- Be respectful when they don’t want to talk about some personal issue. Rarely is there anything to be gained by trying to make a teen talk. You are better off to say, “Let me know if you want to talk about it.”
- Pray with your teens before they go to sleep. The years between the ages of 13-15 are crucial. Some of the best conversations occur after praying and before bedtime. The lights are out and they feel they are in a safe place. My girls tended to open up in those moments with my wife, while my son did so more with me. (Nothing scientific about that observation, that’s just how it played out in the Stone home.)
- Serve together. Some of my greatest memories of time together with my teens would be when the focus was on others instead of our family. Your kids will surprise you with how they handle being out of their setting. Conversations tend to flourish after you’ve served together.
- Support them in their pursuits. While I’ve been writing this article I’ve been praying that my son’s Varsity Baseball game would be cancelled. The forecast is light rain continuing to fall, but the game is still on. So, for two hours I’ll be seated on a wet bleacher, resembling a drowned rat…but it will be worth it afterwards when we talk non-stop replaying the game over frozen pizzas hopefully beside a warm fireplace.
- PRAY…pray that God will help conversations to flow between you and your teens. Take your verbal challenges before the Lord and ask Him to work on their heart and yours as well. Remember, each child is wired differently, so you’ll need to be intentional about communicating with each of them.
I wholeheartedly agree with the apostle John when he writes, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” (3 John 1:4) Nothing is better than that.
But the second greatest joy just may be when your teen gives you an unexpected phone call, or sends you a text of appreciation or walks into your room and mumbles, “Have you got a minute to talk?” Don’t faint, when that happens. Instead, push away from your computer, put your smart phone down and listen…and thank God that they want to communicate with you.
Dave Stone Bio:
Dave Stone is a husband to one, father to 3, and Papa D. to 1. He is the Senior Pastor at the Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, KY. Dave is the author of “How to Raise Selfless Kids in a Self-Centered World.” It’s the third book in Thomas Nelson’s Faithful Families series. When he’s not preaching or writing, he can be found sitting in the rain, cheering for his son.