Do you lecture your kids? I recently joined a book club for parents of teenagers. While I do have the honest motive of offering parents a different perspective on teenagers, I also have a dishonest motive. I really wanted to observe parents and how they interacted with each other especially with regard to what they think about teenagers. The book club is reading The 5 Love Languages for Teenagers (check out our recommended resource post about the book here). One of the major points in the book promotes healthy communication. As I listened to each of the parents in the group talk about their teenagers they all seemed to fall into a similar parenting trap…lecturing. It may be unfair to refer to it as a parenting trap because I find myself wanting to lecture teenagers when given the opportunity, but regardless any Google search on the subject will yield multiple results and studies on the negative effects of lecturing to teenagers.
One of the most attractive things about the culture that teenagers are living in is that it is always listening. Facebook and twitter offer formats for students to talk, but they also offer wide audiences that listen. One the most frequent complaints I hear, as a youth pastor is that teenagers do not feel like their parents listen to or understand them. When teens are approached by adults who continually lecture them it makes them feel unheard and as a result they are more likely to tune out whoever it is doing the lecturing. The reason why interactive learning and small group ministries are so popular, and effective, is because they are based on the conversation to the lecture. In order to be the most potent influence in your child’s life you have to learn how to avoid the lecture and learn how to converse. If you fail to find a way to effectively communicate with your teenager they will begin communicating outside of your sphere of influence.
How do you effectively communicate and converse with teenagers? Some of you may think that a conversation with a 14 year old is impossible but we would like to offer 7 Keys to Radically Communicating with Teenagers:
1. Ask lots of questions
The easiest way to make sure that you are conversing with your teenager is to incorporate questions. If you ever feel like you have made the switch from conversation to lecture throw in a question “So why is it that you want to get a face tattoo?”
2. Listen and don’t interrupt
It is amazing how many times teenagers will talk themselves into a circle and end up right where you want them if you just give them the opportunity. Listen to your teenagers, but make sure that what they are saying stays within the conversation at hand…they have a tendency of wondering off.
3. Offer personal stories…with caution
Here is what you should not do, “Well when I was a teenager I would never have even thought of getting a face tattoo.” Do not compare the bad things your teenagers do with the good things you have done. Personal stories can be powerful if you use them properly, but be honest. Don’t lie to your teenager about the mistakes you have made, but instead tell them about your mistakes and the consequences of them.
4. Ask more questions
Make sure you keep the conversation going. Ask teenagers questions that make them think about issues and come to conclusions on their own. When a teenager can come to the right conclusion on their own it actually creates better synapse connections in the brain.
5. Avoid the Freak Out
You want your kids to be able to come to you and talk about anything. Make sure they always feel safe talking to you. Don’t freak out if they tell you something that completely shocks you. It is okay to be screaming on the inside but even if you are angry, scared, or upset it is important that you don’t push your teenager away by reaction. Sometimes it may be better to take a break before you have the conversation. It is okay to hug your child and say, “Let’s talk about this a little more tomorrow.”
6. Let them discipline themselves
When the conversations is about something that calls for disciplinary action ask them “What do you think your punishment should be.” If the punishment is not enough add on a little more, but often they will be harsher in punishing themselves.
7. End the conversation with vocalized love
Every time after I got spanked when I was little my Dad would tell me he loved me. Sometimes I would get mad when he told me, but I never doubted it. Make sure you tell your teenager you love them, even if they have done something really bad, this shows them acceptance and grace.
The culture students live in is so wide and diverse that the width of your influence can never come close to reaching it. If you cannot have as wide of an influence as modern culture you have to make sure that your influence is the most potent.