When to Share Your Past with Your Teen
I’ve never heard parents ever state, “We want our kids to be perfect!” Yet, if I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard adolescents say, “My parents expect me to be perfect!” I’d be a rich man. For many parents, the intended message gets lost in interpretation because their teen is having a hard time embracing the authenticity of the messenger.
As a child moves into their teen years, it’s crucial for Mom and Dad to shift their parenting style from a teaching model to a training model; helping teens take what they know to be true and apply it to the life they live in the culture they belong. In a performance and appearance teen culture where “posers” and "wanna-be’s” are a dime a dozen, teens are crying out for connections in relationships that are authentic. Never before have parents had the opportunity as the one before them now to be that genuine and trustworthy connection when their kids transition into their adolescent years.
A parent’s first move from a teaching to a training model is to begin sharing about his or her own imperfections. This in an intentional action that might begin when a child is anywhere between the ages of 12 and 14; the age when they’re beginning to learn from their social circles that they and their parents aren’t as perfect as they have been led to or allowed to believe. This shift in parenting models authenticates not only the teaching that has happened the first 12 years of their child’s life, but creates a genuine and “real” relationship of training for the years ahead.
This “new” relationship moves a parent into a bond with their teen that can now share what Paul shared with the Philippians when he said, “Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized.” (Philippians 4:9 -The Message). Paul is saying, “Okay guys, you’ve learned a lot … now let’s put it all into practice.”
To allow pre-teens and teens to continue the belief that their parents are perfect and the expectation is for them to be perfect, will build conflict into the parent-teen relationship for obvious reasons. First of all, it’s hard to live with perfect people. And secondly, the lifelong teachings of the younger years will become invalidated in the minds of a teen, because they lack genuineness and realness as they shift their cognitive process from concrete to abstract thinking.
For parents who have never debunked or deflated their child’s perceived perfection of them, or allowed their teens to continue living out their belief of their necessity for perfection, the sharing of their “own story” becomes crucial and necessary to help a pre-teen make a healthy transition into adolescence. When parents share their past relational hurts, their shortcomings and struggles, and their “own issues,” they open the door for a deeper and more meaningful relationship.
Parents always ask me if they should share their “past” with their kids. My answer is a resounding, “Absolutely, YES!” I would add that parents should also be engaged in sharing their current struggles. This type of conversation authenticates not only the parent, but brings to life the necessity of a relationship with Christ as they see the message of the Gospel fleshed out in the life of Mom and Dad.
To those parents that say the sharing of their sinful and hurtful past might give license for their child to do the same, I would tell you that is not what I see in the current of today’s teen culture. Teens aren’t looking for justification of inappropriate behavior; they’re looking for authenticity in relationships around them that undergird the values and principles they have been taught and really know to be true.
Moms and Dads are those people that can offer what their teen is looking for in making a transition from childhood to adulthood. And it begins with authenticity.
Now, of course, all that’s shared should be timely, age appropriate, and for the benefit of the child’s development. The determined action to share imperfections, thus validating the need for embracing the biblical principles taught in a child’s early years, should be unleashed. Details that border on TMI (Too Much Information) should be bridled. Make sure that what is shared is communicated for the benefit of your emerging teen. Paul in his letter to the Ephesians stated it well when he said, “Do not let any unwholesome (distasteful, my addition) talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” (Ephesians 4:29 NIV)
As a point of action today, text your teen and ask them, “Do you think I want you to be perfect?” Text them, don’t call them. They may be more open in their thoughts writing to you than talking to you face-to-face. You might just be surprised at your teen’s response. But I guarantee you this, they will be even more surprised at your new style of engagement, a style that will open new pathways into the heart of your teen at a time in life that they need you the most. Whatever their response, use it as an opportunity to break the “perfectionist image” they have of you, or as a springboard to engage in a new type of conversation with your emerging teen.
And as you begin your intentional effort to “put feet to the lessons they have learned”, be just as committed in your goal to help them become more authentic. Talk less, listen more. Stop the lectures and have more discussions. Quit correcting all the time, and begin providing a place of rest for their hearts. Quit being perfect, and begin showing your imperfections. Share more of your failures and less of your successes.
Paul, the greatest teacher of how to communicate with your teens, tells Timothy, “Refuse to get involved in inane discussions; they always end up in fights. God’s servant must not be argumentative, but a gentle listener and a teacher who keeps cool, working firmly but patiently with those who refuse to obey. You never know how or when God might sober them up with a change of heart and a turning to the truth …” (2 Timothy 2:22-26 The Message)
It’s a move toward authenticity. And more importantly, it’s perhaps the first steps to helping your child understand what it’s like to be a real follower of Christ in a broken world.
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