Opening Communication Between Parents and Teens, Part 2
- Friday, March 17, 2000
Rule #3: Stimulate Conversation
Often teens feel resentful because they have no one to vent their frustrations to. Dr. Kathryn Koch suggests that interacting with your teens requires a lot of "active listening." To that end, she offers clarifying comments that open up communication with teens. Here are some examples:
"So what you're saying is ________. Right?"
"You feel I'm being unfair because none of your friends have the same rule."
"You seem to feel left out and lonely because it is hard to make friends at the new church."
"How do you feel about what happened?"
"What is your reason for saying (or doing this)?"
"Can you give me an example of what you mean?"
"What else can you tell me that will help me understand?"
As your teen talks, convince your teen that you hear her at the heart level by reflecting her feelings rather than her thoughts. Sentences like "Wow, it sounds like you're really . . .", or "I hear how you feel.", or "If I'm hearing you correctly . . ." will help demonstrate that you are really listening.
Listening in this way does not obligate you to give your assent to everything your teen says, but it will help her recognize that she can continue to communicate with you.
Rule #4: Pay Attention With Your Heart
Proverbs 23:7 says "As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he." Like it or not, how we feel is obvious to those who really know us.
Studies show that 55% of the emotional meaning of a message is expressed through face, posture and gestures, 38% through tone of voice, and only 7% through words!
When you talk with your teen, you actually convey two messages: what you say and what you think about the relationship. If your teen does not sense genuine caring, or if he senses an attitude of judgement, he will be less likely to communicate. Here are some things to keep in mind:
Think carefully about your own communication. Do you convey a "I'm-too-busy-for-this" attitude? Do you assume that you know what your teen is trying to say before she has finished saying it? Do you tend to make quick judgements? Do you use a sarcastic tone? Do you use the silent treatment to express your disapproval? Your teen will take these cues as a sign that you are not really interested in getting to the heart of the matter.
Concentrate on conversation. When communicating with your teen, try to stop what you are doing, look into her eyes, and express genuine interest. Even if you are displeased, discipline yourself to express your feelings clearly and calmly.
Rule #5: Express Jesus' Attitude
You probably cannot control the factors in your teen's life which fuel his negative feelings, but you can communicate "agape" love, which means loving someone whether they are lovable or not.
Jesus expressed agape love for us when he came to earth and died for our sins. In describing Jesus' attitude, the Apostle Paul wrote "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves" (Philippians 2:3-4, NIV). Here are some ideas for communicating agape love:
Communicate both love and accountability. Some parents are afraid to communicate unconditional acceptance of their teens for fear that it will excuse inappropriate behavior. One successful father overcame this by telling his children, "Remember that nothing you do will ever stop me from loving you. But also remember that I am responsible to God to help you become what He wants you to be. Nothing will stop me from doing that either!"
Pray for your teen. Ask, "How can I pray for you today?" Write it down to show that you take it seriously. At the end of the day, be sure to ask about it.
Be honest with your teen. Jesus did not shelter his followers from the difficulties they would face in leading the Christian life. He was honest with them when he was tired or in pain. Without giving your teen burdens he cannot bear, be honest with him when things aren't going well. Ask him to pray for you, too.
Time for a Fresh Start
Imagine how the conversation at the beginning of this article (see Part 1) might occur with these rules in place:
Mother: "Hi hon, how was your day?"
Daughter: [angrily slinging book bag onto couch] "Great, just great."
Mother: "Wow. It sounds like you are feeling really frustrated."
Mother: "I have some time right now and would like to hear about it. Would that be all right?"
Daughter: "Mom, you just wouldn't understand."
Mother: "That's true, honey. I might not. But I really want to try."
Daughter: "Okay, it's like this ..."
Regardless of the state of your relationship with your teen in the past, you can apply these relationship rules right away. Expect suspicion at first, but with God's help you can begin rebuilding family relationships!
COPYRIGHT 1999 BY JEFFREY L. MYERS, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. To learn more about Dr. Myers and his ministry, check out his web site Inspired Leadership.
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