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Building Communication With Your Teen

by Robert Laurent

The quieter you become, the more you can hear.

Before a teen can receive spiritual truth from his or her parents, communication lines usually need to be restored Following are some practical ideas on how to do that.

1. Don’t jump to conclusions.

If you’re suspicious about a certain situation, make a sincere effort to gather as much information as possible before drawing any conclu­sions. Parents have a tendency to overreact on the basis of insufficient evidence and they “fill in the gaps” by assuming the worst.

2. Respect your teenagers’ privacy.

You have no more right to read their personal letters, listen in on their phone conversations, or search their rooms to satisfy your suspi­cions than they would have to violate your privacy. Your rationalizing devices may tell you that it is your responsibility as a parent to know everything you can about your teen, but God never does a right thing the wrong way. Knowledge gained deceitfully will solve nothing and only further alienate your teenagers.

3. Try to retain a sense of proportion.

The son who does not sit in the front pew taking notes in not des­tined to be an atheist. The daughter who has not done daily devotions for months will probably not turn out to be a drug addict. There is no need for you to panic or exaggerate the situation. Both time and God are on your side.

4. Avoid asking rhetorical questions.

Communication stalls when teens have to deal with a question that even if taken seriously, can elicit only an impudent reply. If you were a teenager, how would you like to answer, “How many times do I have to tell you to stop that?” or “Why won’t you ever listen?”

One question, that teens dread the most is, “What do you think you’re doing?” If parents could detect their teenagers’ thoughts when asked such a question, they might hear: What do you mean, “what do I think I’m doing?” I know exactly what I’m doing. The problem is “what do you think I’m doing?” It doesn’t matter what I’m actually do­ing, I’m in trouble because of what you think I’m doing.

5. Dispense discipline that fits the offense.

Teenagers have an inborn sense of justice and are quick to recog­nize when they don’t receive it. Few things block the lines of commu­nication like parents who are overly severe with punishment. The father who grounds his daughter for six months because she came home an hour late is asking for the silent treatment.

6. Recognize their limited verbal skills.

Teens can be intimidated by parents who use their facility with words to win verbal confrontations. Wise parents speak on their teen­agers’ level (without talking down to them) and understand that most adolescents, particularly boys, have difficulty describing their emo­tions.

One father found that by simply asking a question like “How do you feel about….” opened up new dimensions in conversation… He tried this technique’ with his ninth-grade son, asking him about his feel­ings regarding a situation at school. To the father’s amazement, the son answered on that level–talking about feelings.

“It was wonderful!” said the father. “We talked for two hours! That’s never happened before.”

7. Make bedtime a sacrosanct occasion for communication.

The parents who decided that there would be communication time –regular, consistent, and (barring flash floods or nuclear holocaust)-­guaranteed, must still find an interval during the day for communica­tion

Our family ties up a lot of loose ends at bedtime. It may take more than an hour for my wife and me to go from room to room, almost like psychiatrists getting the day’s rundown from our patients, preparing each child’s path to sleep. During that time, when our children lie like small patients in the semi-darkness, a great deal of what is going on in their minds and hearts, which the busyness of the day has kept sup­pressed, gets released Each child knows that we are his or hers to talk to without competition from siblings. It is important to know what is on their minds–it helps us to know what should be on ours. Perched on each other’s beds, we discuss the issues that we never seem to find the right time or atmosphere for during the day.

8. Keep listening.

One of a parent’s hardest tasks is to sit and listen to outrageous ac­cusations. “You’re only happy when I feel miserable!” “If you and Mom are right, you’re the only parents who are!” Your instincts tell you to get defensive and engage the emoting teen in battle–but discre­tion keeps you from blurting out words that later you would wish you could retrieve. The onus is not on you to agree with the accuser, just to listen.

Communication between parents and teens is not the piling up of words; it is more of an attitude. When you resolve to do your best to understand who they are and why they act the way they do, when you decide to trade in your critical spirit for restraint and a listening ear, when you learn that nothing they say or do is important enough to cause you to withdraw your love, then communication that might lead to their salvation has begun.

—From Bringing your Teen Back To God by Dr. Robert Laurent, copyright 1991; used by permission of David C. Cook Publishing Co.




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Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.

2 corinthians 1:3-4