By Pastor Royston Smith
Cambridge neuroscientist Sarah-Jayne Blakemore described the unique challenge that the teenage years present as a “perfect storm”. This is the most turbulent stage of development; an emotional roller-coaster. This period of life more than any other brings with it a time of rapid change. Teens are quite self-conscious, and prone to taking risks which seem perfectly reasonable to them. This is to be expected as their brains have not yet reached full maturity, in fact there is still a very long way to go. The influence of friends (both real and online) swiftly overtakes that of their families. With their growing independence comes the often-strained relationships that exist with their parents and other adults. Whilst maintaining a robust parent-teen relationship is a challenging feat, its importance cannot be ignored.
Having a healthy and trusting relationship during this period is critically important to their development. Teenagers embrace this as an exciting time filled with new adventures, and opportunities for testing their new ‘quasi’ independence by pushing boundaries. While staying close is very important particularly during these years, international speaker, Josh McDowell observed that a cultural language gap between teens and their parents is evident. Unfortunately, in many cases the adult is unconscious of this gap. He elaborates, ‘most young people speak a totally different language from that of their parents and other adults.’ The use of slang, texts, and abbreviations, emphasise the generation gap; if you sit in a room filled with teens for just 10 minutes (assuming they actually speak using their mouths) check how many times you’ll ask, ‘what does that mean?’ Dare you try to read a message received from a teen- you’d probably need a translator! To communicate with teenagers, adults need to be willing to learn their language. So, how do parents navigate this new and exciting terrain with their teenagers? It all comes down to relationships.
The key to developing a good rapport with teenagers, is to be genuine (speaking in ‘TEEN’ be real). Galatian 6: 3 advises, “For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceived himself.” Live by what you say and do. Teenagers consider adults as frauds when the image portrayed, and the advice given are not a true reflection of themselves. They have no desire to communicate with those of us who they see as pretenders. Show them the real you, even if they disagree with your value system. Teens are more receptive to genuine adults and are more likely to respond positively to their influence. Sharing your experiences will allow them to understand that you’re trying to do what you deem best for them in the long run. Teens are by nature very ‘short-sighted’.
To touch the heart of a teen is to enter their world and get to know them. Spending quality time with them breaks down barriers. Teens appreciate the time taken to do fun stuff with them. It shows that we care, and any guidance offered will be more palatable. As adults we need to cultivate more relational points to connect with them, get on their wavelength and put ourselves in their shoes. Even though you might not agree with a teen, listening respectfully shows that you value their point of view. As adults we need to always be aware of our verbal and non-verbal communication. Keeping language clear, simple, brief and focussed, will result in a more effective dialogue. Encouragingly, Stephen Covey advised, “If you want to have a more pleasant, cooperative teenager, be a more understanding, emphatic, consistent, loving parent.”
“Adolescents are not monsters. They are just people trying to learn how to make it among the adults in the world, who are probably not so sure themselves”, Virginia Satir, American author and therapist taught. Be prepared to listen carefully to what your teenager has to say. Try not to take things too personally; it may not be you they are angry with at all. To grow your communication with teenagers, you need to earn their respect. Don’t be a bully. Stay clear of blackmail. Remember that a guilt trip is no vacation. 1 Corinthians 4:21 asks, “What do you wish? Shall I come to you with a rod, or with love in a spirit of gentleness?”
Keeping the communication channel open with your teen is one of the most important things any parent can do. Be strong enough to apologise when you have misread a situation or made a mistake. They will make poor choices, offer support and help them to accept responsibility for their actions irrespective of the consequences. When talking with your teen ask yourself, how important is it that you’re right? Balance it with aim of being kind. Remind your teenager that mistakes are a natural part of life and should be used as learning tool. 1 Timothy 4:12 reminds us, “Get the word out. Teach all these things. And don’t let anyone put you down because you’re young. Teach believers with your life: by word, by demeanour, by love, by faith, by integrity.”
Heavenly Father, in your wisdom you ordered the different stages of life. This variety adds interest to our relationships. Please help us to value and respect each other. In your name I pray, Amen.