Sometimes just by asking questions you empower teens to apply the values you have taught them to their own current situation. Your questions might also encourage your teen to ask questions of you. And if she does start asking questions, she might be inviting you to a dark and shameful corner of her world. I always tell parents to ask questions, because I know it works. 

II. Communicate Respect in Times of Conflict

Maintaining an attitude of respect is key. It is basically putting your child first and showing them respect, even as you demand the same of them. This affects your tone and demeanor, since you wouldn't yell at, belittle, or talk down to someone you respect. Show grace and respect in the way you communicate to your teen and they'll learn to do the same with you. 

In times of conflict, my goal for every difficult and sometimes heated discussion is this: At the end of the argument, I want there to be an opportunity for us to hug one another, even if I didn't change my mind nor lessened the consequences. That's the goal. Even if we can't agree, I still remain in charge, and we can at least agree to disagree because it was all talked out. 

Being respectful has nothing to do with how right you are and how wrong they are. It has nothing to do with the discipline you may need to apply to their behavior.  It has everything to do with maintaining the right approach whenever you talk to your teen, and thereby maintaining your relationship. Sometimes when you need to address an issue, I again recommend asking a question. Asking a thoughtful question can help engage their thinking process and the system of beliefs you've taught them. You may be surprised to find they come to the right conclusion all on their own when they are shown respect in this way. 

III. Communicate by Listening More, Speaking Less

Not talking is one action. Listening is another action. Just because you're not talking doesn't mean you're listening. God gave us two ears and one mouth because He wanted us to listen twice as much as we talk (okay, not really, but it gets the point across). You may hear what your teen is saying, but are you really listening without trying to correct him or get him to answer the correct way? 

Most of the time, your teen says things to you or to others not to communicate valuable information, but simply to process life. She doesn't need a response or a judgment, she doesn't need an opinion or a solution, and she probably isn't really asking for anything. She just needs a listening ear. So take time to listen - slowly. 

A Sunday school teacher once asked the ten-year-olds in her class, "What's wrong with grown-ups?" A boy responded, "Grown-ups never really listen because they already know what they're going to answer." 

If this sounds like you, it may be time to admit that listening is not something you do well. Polishing up your listening skills is never a bad idea. Good listening habits can easily get tossed aside in the business of life. But the way you listen to your child goes a long way in determining his willingness to share his deep concerns with you. And if you ever want him to listen to you, then you had better teach him how to listen by your example. Practice listening to your child. Position yourself at his eye level, and make lots of eye contact. And don't worry about your answers. 

She doesn't need a response or a judgment, she doesn't need an opinion or a solution, and she probably isn't really asking for anything. She just needs a listening ear.

All teens want to do is talk and have someone listen to them. If a teen shares what is on her heart, and that is missed by a parent more concerned about the delivery of the message than the heart of the communication, that teen will eventually quit sharing. If your teen is in the shutdown mode, there is a reason. And the reason may be that you aren't listening to what's being said anyway. 

Most kids want to say, "My parents listened to me, and they heard me and they valued me." For your kid to say that, I'd say you are moving toward perfection. If you are willing to just listen, you might touch the heart of your teen and convey a sense of value. Don't worry about your answer, just focus on listening as your teen shares their heart. 

If you've been a bad listener, keep working at it, and share your desire to be a better listener.  Find opportunities for your teen to talk, even it seems a bit forced at first.  Eventually, with diligence on your part, your teen will again learn to trust their dreams, thoughts and questions with you.

July 15, 2010

Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the Founder and Executive Director of Heartlight (http://www.heartlightministries.org), a residential program for struggling teenagers.