We have all heard stories about the difficulties of communicating with teens. Attempting to converse with teens today may involve asking them to stop texting long enough for you to finish a sentence. You’ve seen them, teens carrying around their cell phones as an extension of their bodies. As a parent, you may also have to compete with an iPod as you attempt to carry on a conversation with your teen through earplugs while the volume on his or her favorite song drowns out your voice. If you don’t have these problems in your home then consider yourself fortunate.

I regularly see these problems in my office as a psychotherapist providing therapy for children and teens, as well as adults. As I walk out to the lobby to greet my clients and their parents, I often observe teens sitting near their parents but with little interaction going on between them. The teens typically are texting on their cell phones or listening to music on one of many devices - complete with earplugs. When I have seen parents attempting to talk to their children, it usually entails the parent raising their voice to be heard over the music or a parent talking to their child while they are still texting.

At one point in my career, I was contracted to provide therapy to teens in middle and high schools. Teachers were constantly complaining to the administration that some of their students were texting during class. As a therapist, at times, I had to ask these same students to put away their cell phone or music device so that we could have a session. Some teens would even maintain that they could hear me through their earplugs and insist on keeping them on. Other teens were so adept at texting that they would attempt to text under their jackets without even looking at their phones. While they may have mastered the technique of typing blindly on a cell phone keyboard with only the use of their thumbs, they had not mastered the art of effective face-to-face communication.  

Many of my sessions with parents of teens concentrate on what to do when their teen has exhibited an inappropriate behavior. We discuss the use of giving reasonable consequences for these behaviors. Consequences usually involve taking away something of value to the teen in order to ensure future compliance. Also, giving a consequence helps teens learn that parents set the rules that they must follow.

Parents instinctively recognize that cell phones and iPods are the “most valuable” assets that a teen possesses and suggest taking away these devices as a viable consequence. At the same time, parents will also report that taking away these objects can send their child into a tail spin resulting in depression and possible threats of suicide, temper tantrums, yelling or other destructive behaviors.

As a clinician, this has opened my eyes to the seriousness of the issue facing parents today. Almost all teens have a cell phone that allows them to “interact” while allowing them never to speak to that person face-to-face if they so choose. This includes interactions within their own family and beyond. Many teens’ “relationships” today are being formed through short sentences that can be easily texted without any physical or emotional attachment required. In other words, these so-called relationships are shallow at best. Lacking is the face-to-face interaction with its emotional and physical cues that enable a person to really get to know another person on a deep human level.

If teens have no time to develop a relationship on a deep personal level, then how will we ever teach our children how to communicate and experience the most important relationship: a relationship with God? If our teens never stop long enough to focus their attention and speak to the can’t text? It will be difficult at best.

Christian parents are entrusted with teaching their child about God by modeling good Christian values through their own behaviors as godly parents. If children don’t notice a parent’s behavior because they are too occupied with texting or listening to music then they may not see God in their lives and may not discover the value of developing a relationship with God.

Limiting the use of cell phones and other devices may be met with resistance from your teen at first but in the long run it will help you to bring your family together and to speak to him or her about God. Start by spending time talking with your teen about his or her day. This will help you to become more involved in your teen’s life and in what concerns him or her. You will not only be showing them that you are always there for them but you can begin teaching them that God is always there to listen, as well. You will become a prominent and trusted figure in your teen’s life and not just another voice shouting to be heard over the music or an interference with texting. 

Susan J. Calloway Knowles is a Licensed Christian Marriage & Family Therapist and former practicing Family Law Attorney. She is also a Christian music Songwriter. Susan’s songs can be found at www.worshipsong.com. Her website is www.susanknowles.com.

Publication date: January 8, 2013