By Victoria Riollano, Crosswalk.com
Many parents dread the idea of having teenagers. However, the time of adolescence is where amazing connections can be made between parents and teens. According to psychologist Erik Erikson, the timeframe from 13 to 21 is where one’s identity is developed the most. As a parent, every interaction during this time is vital for helping your teen to find balance between honoring you while embracing their journey in life. In everyday exchanges this can prove a trying dynamic, as there is typically a power struggle between your teen wanting to make you happy while having their ideas heard and respected. However, when hard conversations are necessary concerning a change family dynamics, racial conflict, sexuality, or poor choices that your teen has made, it can be hard to know how to approach such situations.
In an article by Parenting The Modern Family, it is stated that parents often approach tough conversations from a retreat or compete approach. They either retreat and avoid the tough topics altogether or speak to their teen to “win the conversation.” Yet, neither one of these reflect the best way to share your heart with your teen. Just like Jesus had tough conversations with his disciples and even questioned the way they thought, he also asked questions about what they thought. Jesus was not a pushover, nor was he one who treated people as if their viewpoint didn’t matter. Although He brought correction and tackled difficult conversations with his disciples, most believed to be in their teenage years, He did so with love.
With this said, here are 8 ways we can navigate tough conversations with our teens.
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1. Be a Listener
First and foremost, we must be quick to listen. Oftentimes as parents, we can be so adamant about getting our point across, we forget to listen. Growing up, I recall being told that children were to be “seen and not heard.” Having an opinion and daring to share it was the ultimate source of disrespect. Yet, this need to remain silent didn’t end with me having more respect for my parents but led me to keep quiet when I struggled with hard moments. When having a tough conversation, we shouldn’t be the only one speaking. When we listen, we may find that we were incorrect in our thinking or that our teens are really hurting over the situation.
If there is no one else in the world who has a listening ear for our teens, we should. If we don’t validate our children’s feelings, someone else will.
Listening to your teen doesn’t mean that you must agree with their thoughts or bend to their desires, but it will give you understanding of how they think and why. When in doubt, seek to do more listening and less speaking for effective communication.
“Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.” (James 1:19)
2. Ask Questions
Much like being a listener matters, asking questions for deeper understanding is also important. When we fail to get clarity, we are left to make assumptions. Chances are your teen may feel completely different than you on the topic at hand. We never want to miss an opportunity to remind them that what’s in their heart matters.
As a Professor of Counseling Psychology, I often teach the budding counselors in my classes the power of asking powerful questions. One question can make the difference between you or your teen coming to agree or disagree with the matter at hand. Consider the following kinds of questions.
Can you share more about what you feel on this?
Am I understanding this correctly?
When you say ______, are you meaning ______?
How can I partner with you to make this situation better?
On a scale of 1-10, how frustrated does that make you?
If you were the parent, how would you respond to this?
Is there anything more I need to know?
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3. Be Honest
Honesty and vulnerability are key aspects of creating lasting relationship. Many times, parents hide their past and current struggles due to shame. Yet, when we allow our teens to see that we are real people who have made real mistakes this is a win! Rather than trying to cover up our emotions, we should share from the heart why we are upset, our expectations, and (when necessary) our own issues with the topic at hand.
This will help your teen to not just consider their own perspective but to understand yours as well. In doing so, teens come to recognize that the parent’s choices are often made from love and care. If we want our teens to be vulnerable with us, we must be willing to break down our walls and do the same. Additionally, a part of being vulnerable means we must be honest enough to say when we get it wrong. Honesty creates a sense of safety in a relationship.
4. Think Before You Speak
The words of a parent can build us up or break us down. Thus, when difficult conversations arise we must be very careful to not allow our words to become weapons. As James’ words from earlier said, we must be slooowwww to speak. When we pause before we speak, we can avoid saying things out of emotion or that are untrue. If we are approaching the difficult conversation in an effort to win the conversation or only share your thoughts, it is likely you will say things that leave wounding marks that will take years to repair.
If you aren’t sure what to say, reserve the right to pick up the conversation later. It would be better to not speak at all than to say something that severs your relationship with your teen. Consider the following aspects of every conversation before you speak.
Is it kind?
Is it true?
Is it necessary?
Does it build up or tear down?
Is it sinful?
“The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” (Proverbs 18:21)
5. Stay on Topic
During your hard conversation, there is no need to bring up every other instance. When we do so, this is keeping a record of wrongs and isn’t operating in love. If the tough conversation is about the teen’s risky sexual behavior, bringing up their lack of doing chores is not relevant. Instead, speak on the sexual behavior, the repercussions, and the reasons why this may have happened.
Focused communication leads to healing. When we use one conversation to share every grievance, it leads your teen to feel like they are being attacked. Before long, you can expect them to be defensive and less likely to speak with you on any issue. Handling one issue at a time is wisdom and will help to create an atmosphere of trust.
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6. Avoid Blaming
When speaking with your teen, avoid placing the responsibility 100% on any one individual. It can be easy to point the finger to keep ourselves from feeling guilty. However, most negative situations involve the choices of multiple people. In most situations, your teen isn’t the victim of circumstance nor the primary culprit. When looking at scenarios, try to take a fair approach and see how everyone played a role. Rather than blaming one another for what went wrong, ask the Lord to show you how to make it right!
7. Foster an Atmosphere of Confidentiality
When having difficult conversations, your teen should know that you are a “safe place.” If they become accustomed to you sharing their life’s circumstance to family members or their other siblings, they will be less likely to confide in you. Truthfully, there will be some conversations that need to never leave the room. When having a difficult conversation, take your teen to dinner, or close the door to create a sense of privacy.
This will allow them to share freely without feeling ashamed. If the need arises to share with someone else, they will at least know that it was done from a place of love and not an attempt to belittle them in front of others. Other than sharing with the other parent in the home, allow your teen to share their private matters when they are ready.
“Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets, but he who is trustworthy in spirit keeps a thing covered.” (Proverbs 11:13)
Your most impactful tool as a Christian parent is prayer. In prayer, we hear God’s heart for our children and learn the value of recognizing God as their father. When we intentionally seek God, we are reminded that He loves them more than we ever could. He can provide the wisdom to know when to speak. He can also show us how to balance sharing the truth of His Word with grace. We can rest assured that when we pray and speak to the Lord, He will show us the best way to handle tough conversations. When we pray, He listens.
“In my distress I called to the LORD; I cried to my God for help. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came before him, into his ears.” (Psalm 18:16)
Related: Listen to Our FREE New Parenting Podcast! Christian Parent/Crazy World with Catherine Segars is now available on LifeAudio.com. You can listen to the first episode by clicking the play button below:
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