Modeling Honor in Your Relationship with Your Teen
- by Drs. Gary and Greg Smalley
- Published Oct 21, 2011
We've looked at placing teens in a highly respected place and treating them as priceless treasures. Now let's turn our attention to a third way to communicate honor.
3. Demonstrate honor in your actions.
As we seek to communicate and teach honor to our teenagers, it's vital for us to understand that honor can't always be taught with words. Our kids must see it demonstrated in our actions. Thus, modeling is the best way to communicate honor.
Teenagers are incredibly perceptive about what we parents do. When it looks as if we value the house, job, car, or poodle more than them, our actions speak much louder than our words of love and honor.
I (Gary) had to continually remember the importance of modeling when my children were teenagers. They watched me all the time to see if my actions matched my words. One day while I was trying to take a nap, I learned a valuable lesson in this regard. I didn't want to be disturbed, so I had instructed my two boys to "leave me alone!" Looking back, that probably wasn't the best choice of words. It had the same effect as throwing fresh meat on the floor and instructing two puppies to "stay!" The problem was that my boys had seen me play plenty of practical jokes on others. I was in real trouble!
As I was sleeping comfortably in my chair, Greg and Michael determined this would be an excellent opportunity to give me a taste of my own medicine. They snuck up behind me and poured warm water down my throat as I lay snoring. As I started to choke and gag, the boys ducked behind my chair. Dazed from being forced out of deep sleep, I was confused about what I had just swallowed. Then it hit me. I'm hemorrhaging! I must be having a massive nosebleed!
To keep from dripping blood all over the floor, I cupped my hand over my face and ran toward the bathroom. After crashing into the coffee table and tripping over our dog, I finally made it to the sink. Because I didn't want to faint at the sight of all my blood, I slowly removed my hands and exposed … nothing.
Where's all the blood? I thought as I carefully surveyed my body. I was sure I had felt a large amount of liquid gushing down my throat, so I had anticipated seeing quarts of blood flowing from my nose.
"What's going on?" I yelled.
Then it dawned on me: "Where are Michael and Greg?"
When I returned from the bathroom, I heard snickering coming from behind the chair. "Get out here!" I ordered. "Do you have any idea how dangerous that was?" I challenged after they had moved into the open.
My first instinct was to ground the boys for a year, yell at them for being so "irresponsible," and finally shame them with a few choice words. After all, they'd almost given me a heart attack! But as I stood there facing them, I remembered all the times I had played jokes on them. It was fair turnabout.
As I was reminded that day, what we do as parents has a tremendous influence on our kids. In areas both trivial and vitally important, they imitate our behavior. Thus, if we want to help our teens learn how to honor God, others, and themselves, we must first demonstrate it. Before I really started to learn the significance of honor, I had to ask for forgiveness so many times. Finally, I realized that honoring my kids right off kept me from constantly needing to ask for forgiveness.
If your teenagers are to develop an appreciation of honor, they first need to see it in you. We're not saying they shouldn't honor people unless they're honored first. But it's a fact of life that teens (or any children) rarely do something they haven't first seen done by their parents. Common sense tells us this as well as the research literature. For example, the aggression children observe in their families while growing up influences the amount and type of aggression in their own marriages. Similarly, how people experience pain seems to be influenced by how important people in their lives have dealt with it.
Since our actions have such an impact on our children, we encourage you to teach by example. Provide your teenager with a model of how others are to be honored.
But what if you have an angry teenager who is not receptive to the honor you show? Many parents experience this reality. If you find yourself in this position, we encourage you to do several things. First, continue to honor your teen. You can't control his heart, but you can choose to honor him no matter what. Even if you don't "feel" like it, remember that positive feelings flow from a decision to honor.
We urge you to communicate honor to your teenager by placing her in a highly respected position, seeing her as a priceless treasure, and making sure she sees you modeling honor.
4. Suspend judgment and add curiosity.
Here’s an example of an adult mother-daughter relationship that has stalled out as a result of the parent being too judgmental. When Angie and her mother, Nancy, talk about dating, the sparks can really fly. Within ten minutes, Nancy usually starts asking Angie barbed questions about her current dating relationships.
"Is Rick just a poorer version of Josh?"
"It's probably a good thing your father isn't around to see this, isn't it?"
"By letting Michael hold your hand, aren't you leading him on?"
Angie bristles at the judgmental nature not so well hidden in her mother's questions, and as a result, this mom and daughter almost always end up in a heated argument that leaves both feeling hurt, attacked, and alone. The ironic thing is that Nancy and Angie care deeply for one another. If they didn't, Angie wouldn't care what Nancy said, and Nancy wouldn't care about Angie's relationships.
How can this mom and daughter create a safe environment where neither feel attacked and both feel loved and cared for? If they came to us, we would recommend that they learn to suspend judgment and replace it with an attitude of curiosity—even fascination—into what makes the other "tick."
Judgment acts like dishonor. Judgment closes people up and shuts them down. When people feel judged -- as Angie does when she talks to Nancy about her relationships — they usually want to defend themselves and maybe even go on the attack.
Much better things tend to happen when we suspend judgment (on both ourselves and others) and replace it with a genuine interest in the other person.
People usually act and feel the way they do for good reasons. Perhaps Angie really does tend to pick "loser" boyfriends—but maybe she does so because she feels like a loser. Maybe she sees herself through a distorted lens. What if, deep down, she tells herself, I don't deserve anyone better, because I made such a mess of my life in college?
Imagine what might happen if Nancy expressed interest in Angie rather than judging her. Angie says, "Michael and I had a terrible time last night."
Instead of pouncing on Angie for holding Michael's hand and leading him on, which she usually does by word and facial scorn, Nancy says, "You and Michael really enjoy hiking together, don't you? What other things do you like about him?" After Angie mentions Michael's love for art, Nancy expresses genuine interest in her daughter. "You used to paint when you were a freshman. You are so creative. Do you still have your oils?"
Angie is surprised by her mother's interest. She talks about how she has given up on her painting—and feeling safe with Nancy, she finally talks about her feelings of failure.
Do you see what happened here? When Nancy suspends judgment and expresses a genuine interest in her daughter, she creates an environment of safety. This is honor in action. When she hears Angie's view of herself, she can begin to understand Angie's poor dating choices. That discovery most likely will cause Nancy to feel compassion toward her daughter, not judgment. And you know what tends to happen when people sense compassion, don't you? They usually open up.
Compassion and understanding (honor) create a tremendous amount of safety. When a person refuses to judge our motives and instead tries to understand why we did some foolish or hurtful things, that person's compassion encourages us to open up—and our relationship grows. The wall comes down, and the conflict ceases.
Judgment results in defensiveness and closes down relationships, while curiosity results in openness and safety, giving life to relationships. When we express our interest in someone, something energizing occurs. Have you ever met people who are awesome listeners? They seem fascinated with everything you say. They hang on every word. They ask good questions and clearly express an interest in getting to know you. You almost can't help but walk away from people like that without thinking, Gosh, I really like them! I felt so cared for. They seemed so interested in me. You might not even remember their names, but you've already decided they are great.
Judgment writes people off, bangs the gavel, and sentences them to fifty years at hard labor. That kind of judgment shuts off discovery. It's as if you've already heard everything you need to hear in order to render your verdict: "That's it. You're finished."
Curiosity says something quite different. It says, "I don't know enough yet to render a verdict, so I'll forget about sentencing for a while. It's true that I don't like what has happened. But I still need to open the door to discovery." One lifetime is not long enough to really know the true beauty of another person. Besides, everyone makes major changes inside yearly, so, you'll never be able to really know everything about one person.
The process of discovery gives life to relationships. If you stay fascinated with your teenagers, you'll never find the end of your opportunity to learn—both about them and about yourself. When you choose to suspend judgment and foster a spirit of curiosity, you keep the relationship safe and alive. You encourage it to grow and deepen and you pass on these traits to your growing teen.
*From The DNA of Parent-Teen Relationships.
© Copyright 2006 Smalley Relationship Center