Dear Mom and Dad…
Have you ever drafted a note to somebody when you were really miffed? Not that you would send it, of course, but the exercise of writing out your thoughts often helps us process through our anger.
Your teen probably has a note like this waiting for you. Oh, it’s not likely on paper yet. But I can guarantee you, there’s something in your teen’s life that he or she is just waiting for the right time, the perfect occasion, to share with you.
In today’s culture, kids are flexing their communication muscles by using text and tweets, and it’s much harder for them to communicate eye-to-eye. They talk to each other on Facebook and sometimes in emails (although even email is becoming a relic of the past). They share their deepest thoughts on blogs and never think about the person on the other side of the computer who might be reading it. And yet, when confronted with a face-to-face conversation, our kids often struggle to naturally communicate their emotions.
One of my favorite things to do is take time to meet and talk with kids. I enjoy learning about their culture and trying to get a better sense of who they are and what they are going through (this is one reason why I enjoy having teens on the Parenting Today’s Teens radio program). Teens rarely reveal their heart until I ask them questions that require more than “yes” and “no” answers. But as I move closer toward them in a trusted relationship, they move closer to me and are willing to drop their guard and tell me what’s really on their heart.
Most kids have this hidden desire: “I wish I could tell my mom and dad what’s really on my mind.”
I remember meeting with one teen who was frustrated with his parents. His mom and dad had been talking with him, but they seemed to be more interested in managing his behavior than diving into real issues. After I spent an hour asking this teen questions, the truth finally spilled out. He had entered into a sexual relationship with his teacher. His parents were devastated. When his mom asked why he hadn’t shared this before, his answer was telling:
“You never asked.”
As parents, we have to mine for the nugget of truth that our teens are longing to share with us. If we don’t give our kids the opportunity, you can be certain they will never volunteer their most personal thoughts.
The trouble is, when you attempt to communicate with your teen, sometimes he will push you away. If he hasn’t heard this kind of talk from you before, he might brush you off at first. It won’t be easy to start this kind of communication if you haven’t had it with your teen before. So, let your teen know that it’s okay to share the things that are truly in his or her heart. Try not to overreact. That only serves to shut them down. We need to give our kids a trusted place where they feel safe to open up their heart and be vulnerable. It’s a scary moment for most kids, and we need to create an environment where they know it’s okay to be real.
If your teen isn’t as open with you as you’d like, you may need to find creative ways to draw them out. Whenever I meet with a teen, I let them know that I will pursue them no matter what. Even if they push me away, I will try to connect with them. This establishes an expectation in their mind that you don’t plan on giving up on them or retreating on them even when they act belligerent or indifferent.
One way to show your teen that you care is by taking part in what he enjoys. If your teen likes animals, go horseback riding together. If your teen is into music, find some music that you can listen to together. It’s not the activity that matters, it’s that we convince our kids that we truly want to engage with them on their terms.
Every teen has something they want to communicate. They are harboring thoughts about things they’ve done, things that define them, problems they’re struggling to solve, and situations that cause them frustration with their parents. By building a relationship that allows for a balance between guidance and accountability, we can cultivate an environment of trust that convinces our kids that we love them … no matter what.
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