When Talking to Your Teen is Hard

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One night at the beginning of the summer, my college-bound daughter was home without plans.  Her friends were either out of town or working. She was bored.

Now I could think of several things she could use the time for – you know, like writing graduation thank you notes or making the beaded necklaces she had to take to camp. But not surprisingly, those ideas sounded boring to her. Instead she decided I was her best (and only) option for keeping her entertained.

I, on the other hand, already had on my pajamas and had been looking forward to getting into bed with a book.  But like a puppy she followed me back to my bedroom while I brushed my teeth.  When I looked up from the sink and caught a glimpse of her through the mirror, I saw her snuggled into my bed… waiting.

“Let’s just lie in bed and chat,” she said and pressed on with the suggestion that my nagging her all semester had left no time for ‘girl talk.’

I should’ve been excited, because if you have teenagers you know such moments are hard to come by. Even with the open communication we share, it’s not all the time she asks to talk! And when she does, rarely is it when it’s convenient. Case in point.

Of course I couldn’t say no, and we went on to have a worthwhile conversation. But I still missed a prime opportunity to probe deeper with a few more pointed questions. Partly because I was fighting to keep my eyes open, but also I was afraid of wording a question poorly, shutting her up completely.

I was unsure of exactly what to say to pull her out of that teenage shell; afraid of stirring up conflict that would disrupt our peace. I was worried she would abruptly end our chat session if I overstepped my bounds. After all, if your teenager is like my teenager, he/she spends A LOT of time in his/her bedroom, so when they want to talk, we don’t want to mess it up!

How then do we push past our fears and enter into fruitful, purposeful,l and necessary conversations with our teens?

1. Remember Who We Are

First and foremost, we must remember we are the parents. Obviously. But, I start here because our desire to be their friend too often trumps the high and holy calling we have to be their parent.  What our teens need more than our friendship right now is our attention, our voice of reason, instruction, boundaries, and the discipline required to help them grow in grace and in their understanding and love for the things of the Lord.

So remembering we are the parent is important. Equally, or even more important, is remembering we are a child of God. Knowing the good and perfect love of the Father, who calls us sons and daughters and views us as holy and righteous according to Christ, is how we can move past our fears. In other words, when we know God delights in us, and that His opinion is the only one that matters, we can step out of our fear and worries about how our teen will take what we say. We can be free of our own insecurities and move toward our child, even when talking to them is hard.

2. Prepare

Scripture calls us to be prepared, ready at all time to give an answer and to speak the truth about God (1 Peter 3:15). Additionally, parents are instructed to diligently shepherd our children in the ways of the Lord (Deuteronomy 6). But how can we accomplish this if do not know and love His truths – personally? For it is out of the wellspring of our hearts that the mouth speaks (Luke 6:45). Therefore, as parents, the greatest thing we can do for our kids is to be in the Word, and in prayer for wisdom and discernment from the Holy Spirit.

Another very practical way to prepare for conversation with our kids of any age is to think of questions ahead of time that might lead them to open up and help find your way into their hearts. ‘Yes’ and ‘no’ questions won’t get you there, and neither will “How was your day?” The best questions come simply from paying attention.

Author Jonathan McKee in his book Get Your Teenager Talking (which I recommend) says this:

“Most teenagers will talk your ear off… if you can stir them to express themselves about things they’re passionate about. The biggest reason we can’t get our kids to talk is because we’re asking them the wrong questions and we’re not noticing opportunities…”

We have to be present. We have to be paying attention. We have to prepare. We have to think creatively. We have to not give up. But we desperately need God’s help, because on our own we can’t do any of these things. How thankful I am that by His grace, there is always the hope of change and transformation – for us, and for our kids. In Christ, we may have hope that the hard and diligent work of probing our kids and entering in will ultimately lead to the friendship, trust, and transparency we desire to have with them.

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