When your kids are young, it's easy to communicate with them. As their authority figure, you grant rewards for good behavior and instill consequences for bad behavior. But when your kids get to be teens, communication is much more difficult to navigate. Kids need a different structure of discipline and more encouragement as they embrace adulthood and begin to live life on their own. But parents may find it difficult to communicate effectively with their teens without handing them excessive advice or instilling inappropriate consequences. If you are having difficulty communicating with your teen, there's hope. Your teens still need you in their lives. Parents need to figure out how to communicate in a way that provides encouragement and trust without straining their relationship.
Here are six ways to communicate with your teen:
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I know this sounds odd, but many kids today do not have the skills to carry on a one-on-one conversation. Because they've grown up in an age where phones have always been a part of their lives, texting has always been their primary form of communication. Kids sometimes express themselves better through text than through face-to-face conversation. If you find your relationship strained with your teen, commit to sending them a text once a week just to encourage them. Point out their positive qualities and why you love them. They may not respond, but just reading that will make their day, and know that you are still an essential part of their lives even as they grow into adulthood.
2. Take Them Out
When is the last time you took your teen out just to spend time with them? In the hustle and bustle of life, it is easy to allow weeks (or even months) to go by without having a quality conversation with your teen. The next time you have a weekend free, ask if you can spend a few hours with your teen. Tell them you simply want to spend time with them and do what they want to do. Ask them how they like to spend their time, or better yet, plan something special, knowing their likes and preferences. It will go a long way to show that you know your teen well enough that you take an interest in their hobbies or passions. Our time with our children is short. Soon they will be off to college, and the time available to spend with them will be lessened. Enjoy the time you have left and designate some of your time to being present with your child and enjoying activities that promote both recreation and a healthy relationship.
Here are a few ideas for the girls:
-Consider taking your daughter to her favorite coffee shop and then window shopping at stores she enjoys.
-Invite her to run errands with you, so she has one-on-one time to let you in on her day.
-Propose that the two of you binge-watch her favorite movie or tv series. (Let her gorge on her favorite popcorn and candy combo.)
For the boys:
-Ask if your son will take you to the batting cage, golf course, basketball court, etc., and show you how to play his favorite sport.
-Invite him to ride along as you run to Lowes or Home Depot, and let him have input on ways to fix or decorate your home.
-Sit down and play a few rounds of his favorite video game with him.
3. Encourage Them
The next time your teen talks to you about a situation, do your best not to offer advice. Simply encourage them and let them know they have the skills to do the right thing on their own. Part of letting go as a parent is to trust that you've made the right decisions about raising your child. Your teen is now at the phase where they need less advice and guidance and more encouragement. Let them know they can do this on their own. Help them if they ask, but refrain from doing it for them. Don’t revert back to being the ultimate control in their lives. Remind them of their self-worth and their ability to embrace adulthood with ease. They can do more now than they think. They simply need you to remind them of who they are and what they can do. Let them know you will support them in any way they need, but that they are capable of handling the situation on their own.
4. Speak Their Love Language
In Gary Chapman's book The Five Love Languages, he explains that people give and receive love in five different ways: quality time, acts of service, gifts, words of affirmation, and touch. Your child, whether they articulate that or not, has their own love language. In a world where cyberbullying is king and kids hear negative statements from peers and adults all the time, it is more important than ever for them to receive the love that meets their deep emotional needs for connection and intimacy. As a parent, you can help fill that need by speaking the love language they understand best.
For example, if your child likes quality time, take a Saturday and spend a few hours doing something they love. Unplug from your phone and spend time doing what they enjoy, even if you find it boring. If it's gifts, get your child the gift they've been wanting for a long time. Give it to them just because, not because they got good grades or finished their chores on time. What about words of affirmation? Write them a note telling them all the positive qualities that make them unique. Physical touch? Hug them and tell them you love them. For acts of service, consider decorating their bedroom with items they love, or dispense wisdom or guidance on that situation with which they're having difficulty. No matter which way you choose to express your love, make sure it is a way that they can receive your encouragement effectively. They will not receive love in the way you want them to if it is in a language that doesn't speak to them. They will appreciate this for years to come and remember that as their parent, you are still in their corner and support them regardless of their choices.
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5. Pray with Them
Nothing demonstrates love like the presence of God in your life through prayer. This is a tool we can use to present all our quests before God, who ultimately is in charge of granting those requests. If your teen is going through a difficult situation, take time as a family to pray and ask God to intervene. Praise God for who he is and remind your teen God is still God whether the request is granted or not. However, if God chooses to answer your prayer request, rejoice together! Go out and celebrate what God has done. Go to your favorite restaurant or go see your favorite movie in honor of God's presence in your life. This will teach your teen that God is omnipresent and controls every situation. It also teaches them to celebrate and enjoy life a little more and not take things so seriously. Kids approach life with wonder and awe. But as they grow into adolescence, they lose that awe and wonder. Allow them to reclaim that wonder for just a little while by celebrating what God has done and by doing something special in God's honor. Not only will this demonstrate to your teen that they can go to God with all their requests, but they can rejoice in the triumphs and be content during the disappointments.
6. Know That You Are Needed
In today's day and age, it is not easy to communicate with your teen. Rest assured, however, your teen needs you now more than ever. They may not be able to articulate that, but they still need your love, support, and sound wisdom. By thinking outside of the box and using a little creativity, you can successfully pivot your role as control figure into wise counsel and biggest supporter.
Originally published Thursday, 26 January 2023.