How To Raise Teenagers that Communicate With You
By Demensio and Dolores Barton
When asked, “What were some of the most beneficial decisions you made with your tweens/teens?” We were like, WOW! Seeing where we are now, brings to mind the Lego Movie song, “Everything is Awesome!” We have four strong-willed young people, and all have turned out pretty well. (Come to think of it, we are pretty strong-willed ourselves). Even so, those kids sure knew how to send us to our prayer closets for much needed timeouts and cry-ins (Dad included)!
Why did we, as the parents, get sent to our rooms? Because of the guessing game. Yes, the “Guessing Game.” You know the one… where you look at your children, normally after a “What Happened,” “What were you thinking,” or a “Just don’t know what to do, or how to handle it” event. We played that game too many times for comfort!
To tell the truth, we played it most often because we were outsiders instead of insiders. Being insiders, though illegal in stock trading, is a must in parenting. Insider info gives us details that make for good choices and advice. While being an outsider, most often, places us on the losing end of the guessing game. When we finally smartened up, though it took a while, we realized it was better to be on the inside of our children’s lives.
How do we get on the inside? When, for whatever the reasons, we created an outsider environment? For us, it came through learning how to apply a simple biblical truth in our everyday family life. With each other and our children. We found it in Matthew 7:12:
Matthew 7:12 The Message (MSG) “Here is a simple, rule-of-thumb guide for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you, then grab the initiative, and do it for them. Add up God’s Law and Prophets and this is what you get.
This verse was the beginning of a plan for us on treating our young people with the respect that we wanted, the kindness we thought we deserved, and the realization that they were capable, thinking beings, just like us! This verse does not mean that someone will like what I like, but it does mean that I, at a minimum, should treat others to the same dignities that I myself want or believe I should receive. Children are not exempted from the benefits of this truth, no matter their age and we as parents would do well to remember it.
Once, we were talking with one of our children, and we wanted to know, “what we had done to help them to become who they are?” They are very confident, respectful and caring. We simply asked (we didn’t guess), “What has impacted you, as a teen, in our family?”
Here is one of their responses:
I learned how to listen to the Holy Spirit, by trusting in God. This was done through being taught how to listen to Him in the little things, like what am I going to wear that day, asking Him which item should I buy, or what path I should take when walking on campus. I was taught to invite Him to speak with me and He will. He wants to be a part of my day-to-day life.
This “Every-Day-Life” relationship with God was birthed from my wife and I realizing that the children’s relationship with God should be treated with the same respect that we wanted our relationships with Him to be treated. It wasn’t age dependent, we just had to respect it and Him!
Often as Christian parents, we calculate or even more often assume what is currently or what will eventually be impacting our children’s lives (it’s a big list). Then, as any good/caring “Busy Body” would do, we go about trying to fix-it or fix-them. Sometimes with decorum, but all too often, sadly lacking in restraint. There is a saying, “Assumption (our guessing game) is the lowest form of knowledge.” Too many wrong assumptions can unduly rock the family boat, and since no one likes to get seasick! They will in the end, want out of the boat.
Over time, we got wiser and relied less on bad or even good observations for that matter. We realized, like in any good relationship, we need to bond and relate well with our children, so that they want to learn from us. Children after all, are people, and people, no matter how young or old, want to connect. We want to be heard and valued. Our children want and need listening-loving parents more than counseling-life-coach buddies.
One of the best decisions we made was to grow a relationship where our young people could be honest with us (this took time to develop). Remember, our guessing games/assuming had developed distrust, so we needed to create a “Safe Harbor” after taking them on so many rocky boat rides as untrained parents.
Never let the time and effort that it will take to grow the proper atmosphere in your family discourage you. It is worth it!
Our “Safe Harbor” was family-time where anyone could freely speak their mind, respectfully, without fear of reprisal. Everyone had the right to call the “Safe Harbor” meeting, from the youngest to the oldest, and we would all have to attend and be attentive. Yes, the children could call a meeting that dad and mom had to change their schedules and attend.
It was from this foundational “Safe Harbor” that we were able to learn and grow as parents. Our children became our instructors and reminders of promises made. We, in turn, became parents that the children wanted and chose, freely, to trust. The benefits have continued to pay off even to this day.
In stormy waters, it all too often becomes every man for himself, which can be detrimental in a family. The power of creating a “Safe Harbor” is in that assumptions are needed less and less as fillers. Fillers are most used when relationship is lacking. In “Safe Harbor,” everyone has a chance to relate to one another and communicate. This kind of safe communication can solve or resolve even the most knotty of problems in life’s “guessing games.”