Softening Your Teen's Hardened Heart
- Thursday, February 01, 2007
• does not interrupt
• maintains good eye contact
• does not grunt responses
When we're really listening and empathizing, our attention is focused squarely on the other person. He will, therefore, feel like the most important person in our world at that moment. Listening does not require attempts at problem solving. Our teenagers merely want to know that we understand their point of view. They want to sense from us that it's okay to be upset and to show emotion.
Good listening takes time and work, which is why so few people practice it, much less master it. But know this: If our teens don't feel they're being heard, it's unlikely that our relationships with them will improve.
As a rule, to the same degree that they feel listened to, they will grant future opportunities for communication. After all, who wants to talk with someone who doesn't listen? For that matter, who wants to be in a relationship with someone who doesn't listen?
Now that we're becoming soft and tender, and we're listening and empathizing to understand our teenager's pain, the third step in opening a closed heart is to admit our mistakes.
3. Admit the offense.
When someone who hurts us does not take responsibility for his actions, it can be discouraging. Perhaps your teenager feels like one of the monkeys at an unusual zoo. "That's incredible, having a monkey and a lion together in the same cage," said a zoo visitor. "How do they get along?"
"Pretty well, for the most part," answered the zookeeper. "But once in a while they have a disagreement, and then we have to get a new monkey."
Our teenagers may feel that each time they get into a disagreement with us, we come down on them like a strong lion. They may feel their hearts have been "killed" like one of those monkeys — that we, instead of tending to their wounds by admitting our wrongdoing, have simply rejected their feelings as invalid. As a parent, it can be hard to say "I was wrong," but it can work wonders.
Admitting we're wrong (when we obviously are) is like tending to our teenagers' wounds. Or, to change the analogy, it's like drilling a hole in their "anger bucket" and allowing that unhealthy emotion to drain away. Once they sense that we understand our mistake and they hear us admit it, the anger has a way of escaping from their lives.
Sometimes we may not be wrong about the facts or issues of a matter, but our attitude might be. Or perhaps the way we've done something is offensive. If our attitude is harsh and angry when telling our teens about legitimate problems, we're still wrong. The Bible affirms this: "The anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God." Stopping short of admitting we're wrong can leave a dangerous gap between us and our teens that may not mend quickly — or at all.
When parents don't admit their mistakes, they can delay the reopening of their teens' hearts indefinitely. On the other hand, teens feel valuable when they hear us admit our mistakes and see that we understand how they feel. Sometimes that's all it takes to open a closed heart.
The last step in opening a teenager's closed heart is one of the most honoring things we can do for someone. It's like giving a large bottle of cold water to someone dying of thirst in the desert.
4. Seek forgiveness.
The final part of opening a closed heart is to seek forgiveness for whatever offense we've committed. If we don't do this, our teenagers will be left feeling violated and still angry, just like the man who discovered a gigantic dent in the back of his new car one morning. By the look of things, the damage would cost him thousands of dollars to repair. He was relieved, however, to find a note under the windshield wiper from the guilty party — until he actually read the note: "As I am writing this, your neighbors are watching me. They think I am giving you my name, address, license number, and insurance company. I'm not!"
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