If asked, most parents of young children tell you they dread the teenage years. Similarly, empty-nesters tell you they are thankful to have survived their children’s teen years. Gee whiz! You would think being a teenager is a disease or something!
The good news is that being a teenager is not a disease. The great news is that you do not have to (and should not) dread your child’s teen years. In fact, you can (and should) enjoy them. You heard me—with much love, an open heart and mind, and the right balance between talking and listening, you and your teen can enjoy each other during these wonderful, scary, exciting, confusing, and God-given years.
The key to raising teenagers with confidence and joy is by communicating with them effectively, respectfully, authoritatively, and with unconditional love.
Effective communication is communication that is as much about listening as it is talking. Instead of playing the just-because-I-say-so card, listen to what your teenager is saying and asking before making a comeback or a decision. Ask your teenager what they are thinking and how they feel. Let them know their opinions and feelings matter.
Another effective means of communication is to share your life with your teenager. The all-too-familiar “you don’t understand” will not have a leg to stand on when you “prove” you have been there and done that by sharing your teenage history with them. Yes, there is a chance you will not be proud of some of the things you have to say, but being honest with them goes a looooooong way in gaining their trust and helping them open up to you.
Respectful communication does not automatically assume your teenager is wrong or that he/she has an ulterior motive. Respectful communication listens with your heart as well as your head, does not over-react, and is not overly critical or judgmental.
Respectful communication does not yell, call names, belittle, humiliate, compare them to someone else, or hold a grudge.
Respectful communication works both ways. You have both the right and responsibility to insist on the same type of respectful communication from your teenager. WARNING: Do not play the “you show me respect then I’ll show you respect game.” Go first; lead the way. That is what parents do.
Authoritative communication is the firm, loving expression of expectations, guidelines, and outlining the consequences of their actions. Moreover, consequences are not just disciplinary actions. They should include the result or outcome of all actions—good, bad, or even indifferent. For example, your kids need to know up-front the outcome for doing their chores as well as for breaking curfew.
Authoritative communication should be verbal and physical. In other words, you need to be a mentor as well as an instructor. This includes religious beliefs and values, a moral code, and “house rules.” Communicating authoritatively should be done in a consistent, calm, and practical manner (as should all communication). Teenagers are no different from small children when it comes to the need for consistent and reliable boundaries.
Unconditional love is the ultimate in communicating with your children no matter how old they are. Communicating with unconditional love tells your teenager you love them just because they are yours. They know beyond a shadow of a doubt that your love and acceptance is unwavering and not based on their looks, grades, athletic abilities, what you want for them, or anything else…anything other than just because they live and breathe.
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails (1 Corinthians 13:4-8a).”
Your children are a gift from God. Yes, even teenagers. Communicating this truth to them is a privilege and responsibility you should embrace with a joyful heart.
Keywords: communicating with teenagers,talking with my kids