Teens today have every communications gadget imaginable and they communicate to friends and the whole world about things that might be better left unsaid. After all, does the world really need to know they just let their cat out, or brushed their teeth, or that they like to play Farmville for hours on end? I don't think so, but they do.

This form of one-way communication isn't really connecting. It does little to develop meaningful personal relationships and the feeling of connectedness that all teens long for. The fast-paced culture in which they live is tough on their relationships. It confuses them more than anything, and it blocks the route to more meaningful relationships, especially the kind they need to have with their parents.

On the other hand, parents may not feel that they have much to offer the younger generation in terms of relationship, nor do they think they have anything in common to talk about. But just the opposite is true. Given the right approach, you can open the door  to your wisdom and a sense of relationship they long for - the kind of true connectedness that can only come from a parent.

Here's how I do it.  When I hang out with kids, I ask them all kinds of questions. It's not just a drill for information, but more of an attempt to establish the idea that I am willing to spend time with them because I value their presence. I sit lower than they are sitting, and I never share my opinion unless it's asked for. You may wonder, "How do you make a point, or share truth, if you never share your opinion?"  I don't, at least not at first — not until they learn to trust me.

Trust is built when you listen for the sake of establishing a relationship. So set it up from the beginning that you want to listen to your teen's opinion, even if you don't agree. Ask them about things in their life without sounding as though you are prying, and without providing a response or giving a lecture. Never demean what they say they believe - even when you know spoken from immaturity. You don't have to agree with what they say to be respectful of the person saying it.

It takes some planning and thinking about the kinds of questions your teen will respond to in a positive way, but begin by doing some research. Keep up with places they have been, what they're doing, what's popular in their culture and what they like. When they see that you are making an attempt to understand their life, their struggles, and even the music they enjoy, it begins to establish that you respect and care for them. I know, you shouldn't have to "prove" that, but in the teen years, you sometimes need to by the way you interact.

One may say, "Well you lost your chance by not speaking up when they've said something stupid!" Or, "You shouldn't encourage that kind of thinking."  But no, the time for truth will come. It is more important to open the door and communicate about any subject then to stand on a soapbox with no audience. Let them know it is okay to have their own opinion, despite your own opinion of it. Help them understand that you may not agree about everything, but instead of an argument, you can have a discussion, and hopefully come to a reasonable solution. When you teach our child that you are willing to listen, they learn to be willing to listen to you in return.

Your child will appreciate you more for recognizing their passions and interests and trying to help them pursue it. So, encourage your child to discover their gifts and talents, and then provide the support that will spur them in that direction. Get involved in what your child loves to do, even if you don't love it yourself. When you do, your actions will convey a sense of value and connectedness that no words can impart. And when they feel a sense of value, they will move toward you in a way you would have never dreamed possible.

The need to feel connected is within every one of us. We all want to find acceptance, and to be challenged to grow in our areas of weakness. So, foster a sense of relationship and connectedness by nurturing your teen, asking lots of questions, talking with them (not to them), and valuing their opinions and interests, even when they are counter to your own.

Oct, 6, 2010


Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, national radio host, and the founder of the Heartlight therapeutic boarding school, a residential counseling opportunity for struggling adolescents. Learn more at http://www.heartlightministries.org or call 903-668-2173. More parenting articles from Mark at www.markgregston.com.