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As I travel the country speaking at conferences for parents and teens, I have the opportunity to receive invaluable feedback. While teens are more concerned about friendships and dating, the most commonly asked question by parents is, “Why won’t my teen talk to me?”
I believe I was given some insight to that question while writing my latest book for teens entitled “Stand.” For six weeks, ten teens ages 12-18 met with me in my home to give input on various topics for the book. Regardless of age, the teens in our study group had a lot to say about talking with their parents. Some of the “stoppers” to teens communicating might surprise you, but knowing how to navigate around them is key. The following are the 5 major reasons that were shared, as well as ways to avoid these pitfalls:
All of us want to be treated with love and respect, and our teens are certainly no exception. While parents are the “head of the home,” problems arise when teens sense entitlement by parents to communicate with them in a condescending or disrespectful way.
When we model respect and kindness to our teens, not only do we show teens we love them, we build their esteem, reminding them they are worthy of respect in other areas of their lives.
What if the shoe is on the other foot, however, and your teen is disrespectful to you? When our teens are disrespectful, we must remain the adult. After all, they can bring out the monster in us when they push our button. In these moments, model how you would like to see your teen respond. Treating teens with respect does not mean you must agree with them. When disagreements arise, and disrespect from your teen becomes an issue, keep the following in mind:
a. Choose your battles. Ask yourself what your deal breakers are and stick with them. If your teen forgets to take out the trash and it was a simple mistake, treat it as such. Look at the motive behind the behavior. Sometimes, teens just forget.
b. Set limits. During a moment when things are calm, talk with your teen about the things that you are and are not willing to accept, then STICK WITH YOUR LIMITS. One of the biggest mistakes parents make is not following through on their word. Make your “yes” count as much as your “no.” When you say something, mean it.
c. Know your own triggers and take a time out if needed. When your teen triggers you to explode, know how to respond. If you feel yourself becoming angry or tense, let your teen know you will address the situation when you are calm, then walk out of the room. This not only gives you a breather, it gives your teen the opportunity to think through what has happened. When you are calm, revisit the situation, make your point concise, then listen to what your teen has to say as long as they speak respectfully. If they continue to be disrespectful, let them know you will be happy to listen at a later time when respect can be shown. If you visit the situation again and the disrespect continues, repeat the suggestion above as often as needed. Teens are smart. Eventually, they will catch on.
d. Don’t be afraid to reinforce consequences. Make the consequence fit the crime. If your teen yells, “I hate you,” understand that your neighbor probably heard the same accusation from their teen earlier that day. You are not alone! Don’t let your teen manipulate you with words. Unless you want your teen living with you when they are 30, don’t be afraid to lovingly, but consistently, be the parent. If a consequence is needed, make it a “teaching consequence.” For example, your teen refuses to stop playing video games when you call them to dinner, the consequence is that they don’t play video games the next night. If the same problem repeats the following night, they lose the opportunity to play video games for two nights. I know one parent who went as far as to remove the door from the hinges on their teen’s room because he claimed he had a right to privacy and continued to be disrespectful to his parents. Drastic? Only if you have tried other things that have failed.
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The teens in our study group sent a resounding “ugh” when I asked if they had been accused of having an attitude with their parents. What I heard was surprising. While they readily admitted to eye rolls and sneers, teens were very disappointed that their silence is often misinterpreted by parents as “attitude.”
At times, our teens are silent because they DON’T want to say the wrong thing or be accused of being disrespectful. Perhaps your teen is really trying to process what is being said. The look on their face may not show it, so if disrespect is a problem in this area, address this concern, but be careful not to misinterpret silence.
If silence is a concern during your discussion, ask your teen to repeat what they hear you saying. Make sure they address the concern, question or comment that is being discussed. If the silence continues, tell them that you can see that they need to process what is being said and let them know when you plan to meet back with them to revisit the issue at hand. This takes the “heat” out of the discussion, and lets your teen know that you respect their silence as well as appreciate what they have to say.
One great concern our group of teens addressed is the importance of privacy. One way teens feel most secure is when they know they can trust their parents with information that is shared in confidence.
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As parents, we may not “intend” to violate our teen’s trust, but we often do it in unintentional ways that damage our relationship. For example, we are talking with a friend on the phone and say, “yes, my son said he feels the same way about that coach.” While this is just an expression of agreement while talking with a friend, our teen feels violated when we share information that is only theirs to share.
When you feel the need to share something your teen has told you, ask yourself these questions:
· Why am I sharing it?
· Is it necessary that I share it?
· Is this my information to share?
Teen information may seem trivial to us as adults, but it is important to them. Remarks made in passing such as, “I don’t like that girl” is their information to share unless the information causes danger to your teen or another.
Sharing information is one way teens exert their independence. When our teen trusts us with anything confidential, it’s a gift…and we must treat it as one that may only be opened in their presence unless otherwise requested.
As a parent you may be thinking, “My teen is creating the drama!” That’s where we as parents grab our “authority” tool belt and go to work. We cannot join the drama but we can certainly use the right set of skills to end it. When we’re tired, aggravated or frustrated, we usually do one of two things: 1. Allow our teen to continue the drama because we just don’t have the strength to combat it or 2. We explode and ground them until they’re 40 because we’re “sick of everything!” Neither reaction is helpful to us or to our teen.
If you find yourself dealing with teen drama, the following are some things that will help you keep your sanity in check. Remember, just because there is drama in your home doesn’t mean you have to attend the performance.
a. Don’t buy the ticket! When teen drama begins, we bow out and refuse to react in an equally dramatic way. If your teen yells, “I hate you,” remember that tomorrow they will most likely tell you that you’re the greatest parent on the planet! Keep yourself out of the emotion and keep a level head so that the performance ends as quickly as it begins.
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b. Don’t challenge or belittle your teen during their performance. There is SOMETHING that is happening, in their world anyway, that causes drama. Listen to what is being said, and attempt to draw out the true reason behind the drama. For example, your teen daughter yells, “I cannot wear yellow to school. I hate yellow! Why was this color ever made?” Ask her if something about yellow is frightening to her. As absurd as her behavior seems, your question will be just as absurd to her, but in order to get to the meaning behind the feeling, these questions must be asked. You may find out, for example, that a group of girls at school said they will exclude her from the group if she wears yellow. Instead of lecturing her to find another group of friends at that moment, do some reflective listening. For example, “It sounds like you are very concerned about what those girls will think if you wear yellow.” You have let her know that you are not judging her feelings and you are on her side.
c. Disengage. Teen drama is often equivalent to the fits they threw in the grocery store when they were little. If they know their “fit” will get them what they want, they will continue their behavior, assuming that if it works with mom and dad, it will work in society. In order to grow responsible, healthy teens, we must give them tools to know how to handle difficulties when dramatic situations arise. Teaching healthy coping skills to our teens is key so that frustration, anger and disappointment throughout life are met with confidence and courage.
Study after study reveals that strife in the home between parents creates anxiety in teens. It may also cause physical problems. When teens live in an environment of strife, poor performance at school may result if they are unable to sleep due to arguing at night. They also resent being put in the middle of parent’s arguments. When your teen feels trapped in the chaos of arguing, they will most likely run to a place that is peaceful. Going to a friend’s house, leaving the home for a movie or removing themselves from the environment of an argument is not only common, it’s healthy. Since most of us as parents want our kids home as much as possible, we must strive to demonstrate how to resolve conflict in a healthy way. Fighting is one thing, disagreeing with respect is altogether something different.
Remind your teen that just as you and your spouse disagree, they will find themselves in disagreements in relationships. Use any disagreement your teen might observe as a teachable moment, reminding them that when they are involved in a disagreement, remain calm. Help them understand that all conflicts may not be resolved to their liking. “Win some, lose some” certainly applies when it comes to disagreements with others. Some battles are not worth fighting. Teach your teen how and when to gracefully “agree to disagree.” Remind them that it is not always about being right. It is about living life with integrity, despite having a difference of opinion. “Blessed are the peacemakers,” because building relationships should be of higher importance than the need to be “right.”
Parents need to learn how to avoid the pitfalls that keep them from communicating effectively with their teenagers. As parents, we have the ability to create a positive, healthy environment of trust and mutual respect. The teenage years can be challenging, but they can also be the most rewarding.
Shannon Perry is a conference speaker, author, recording artist, TV and Radio show host whose new book is entitled Stand: Staying Balanced with Answers for Real Teen Life. Prior to going into full-time ministry, Shannon taught for over 14 years in the public school system and holds a Master’s degree in Education and Counseling and is a Certified Instructor for Crisis Counseling and Parenting Classes. Her TV show, “Grace in High Heels” airs weekly into over 74 million households. Her website address is www.ShannonPerry.com.