Christian Living


'My Teen Won't Talk to Me'

I laughed as I read the cartoon. A mother stood behind her teenaged son and ran a can opener over his head and glanced inside. When he turned to her with an annoyed expression, she threw up her hands and said, 'I just wanted to see what youre thinking!'

It's probably no laughing matter if you can relate. It's hard when a parent attempts to initiate conversation or offer guidance and is rejected by their teen. It's even more frustrating when you are unsure of the reason.

I hear teens say all the time that they'd give anything to talk openly with their parents. At the same time, I minister to parents of teens who sincerely long to break down the walls of miscommunication. Recently, I asked hundreds of teens to share openly about the things that close the door to family communication.

Teens opened up because the topic is important to them. Parents are the most important people in their lives. They are the greatest influence--whether positive or negative. Teens said that they are not content with 'how's your day?' or 'turn down that music!' They want and need more, but often are frustrated.

These are a few of the roadblocks that teens say keep them from talking about the things that matter the most with the people they love the best:

1. Labels

Teens are labeled every day. They are judged by their backgrounds, what they drive, what they wear and what they look like. With all of these characterizations, the last place they hope to find additional labels is in their own homes.

A few years back, a father shared a story with me about a conflict with his daughter the night before. She was going out with friends and wore a shirt that left too little to the imagination. He ordered her to change the shirt. As she left the room, he commented, 'You look like a prostitute when you dress like that'. The father defended his comment by saying, 'They were only words'. My daughter knows I didn't mean it. Beside she shouldn't be wearing clothes like that.

Contrary to this father's opinion, his words were costly. He is the man that his daughter looks to for guidance and love. Her self-esteem is built on his actions and upon his words and she will see herself in the eyes of other men according to her father's love or lack thereof. The words he spoke didn't fit the situation or his daughter. They didn't guide. They delved deep into the heart of who she was as a person.

How many times do we find ourselves saying, 'you're such a slob' or 'you never do things right'. Salena, 18, said, 'If their words are encouraging, I am happy. But if it's negative it makes me feel like I'm the lowest thing on earth'. Labeling our teens only confuse the issue and create deeper problems.

2. Fights are Always Ugly

Even in the healthiest relationships, people who love each other will disagree. But one 16-year-old teen, Eleanor, said that she and her parents fought nearly every day. At least when we fight, I don't have to let them get close to me, she says.

Ouch. There is a difference between working through conflict and an ugly fight. Open warfare and petty bickering cause deep rifts between you and your teen, especially when nothing is resolved.

My son and I are both passionate. My temper simmers. His erupts. Not long ago, we experienced an unpleasant confrontation (translation: bad fight). We were both hurt and angry. The next day, I asked if we could meet outside and talk about what happened.

We were both wary in the beginning. I let Ryan know that I loved him and that I deeply regretted the fight. He agreed. I told him that I wanted to hear what he had to say, but asked that he listen to my side as well. I promised that we would try to work together to come up with answers. For the next hour, we talked. I reaffirmed the positive things I saw in him, and there were many. He shared frustration over some things that were happening in his life. He was hurting because a friend had wounded him. I asked him to let me know when he was hurting so that I could pray for him and encourage him. Before it was over, he gave me a huge hug and let me know that he loved me. The angry words from the day before dissipated as we sat on the tailgate of the truck and talked. It was the best fight we ever had.

Many parents are afraid that if they work through conflict instead of laying down the law they will lose their authority. Let me tell you something: When a parent is out of control and a relationship is brought to a low of screaming and fighting or physical force is used to make your teen bend to your will, you've lost your authority already. When you work through conflict with respect, hope, dignity and affirmation, chances are your teen will respond.

3. My Parents Don't Really Listen

Teens want to have a conversation, but they won't attempt it unless they know that Mom or Dad is willing to listen. It's frustrating when someone listens just long enough to jump in to try to fix it or to offer advice or a lecture, when all you want is a listening ear. Many times parents miss the real issue because they fail to listen to the end. They walk away thinking they've fixed the problem when they never really heard the heart of their teen.

Teens will often test a parent. They share enough to see your reaction. If you jump in with a three-point sermon on purity or a lecture on how it was in your day, you might as well put a no vacancies sign on your forehead. Your teen won't be checking back in. But what happens when you listen to the end? When you hear the heartbeat of your teen, the challenges he is facing, the emotions he's battling. Then you are equipped to help your teen with the real problem. That is your moment to offer realistic guidance that will help your teen find his or her way.

4. My Parent Will Freak Out

Karianne, 17, doesn't talk to her parents because the reality might be too unsettling for them. My parents know very little of what really goes on in my life. It's not that I deliberately hide stuff from them because I'm scared of them finding out, but more because they would give lengthy lectures on how horrible the world is today. It's not like I am trying to be sneaky or underhanded; it's just easier this way.

How does the Christian teen tell their mom or dad that kids are having sex in the bathroom, or that a friend just told her that she had an abortion, or what it's like to live your faith in a culture increasingly hostile to Christianity? If the parent's instinct is to turn every conversation into a life lesson, they might miss the opportunity to give their teen what they need the most--a safe place to turn. We are our childrens allies, but if they can't be honest about the challenges they face they carry their burdens alone or, worse, make critical decisions unaided.

We have to listen first and freak out later so we can point our teens to a God who will walk with them no matter what they encounter. God is relevant in today's society. He's not afraid of tough issues, nor should we be.

The Benefits

Understanding these roadblocks helps us take conversation with our teens to a deeper level. Talking with teens is not one-dimensional. They have a lot to offer! Deeper conversations allow teens to get to know you as well, to hear what you think and to allow you to share ideas. Developing strong communications skills take work and time, but the gift received is the ability to see each other in a whole new light not just as mom or dad, son or daughter, teen or adult, but as people.

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