How to See the Soul of Your Teen
“You love too much!” My teen angrily declared. I felt frustrated and misunderstood.
A quiet pause filled the room. The pursed lips slowly separated and added, “You don’t need to know everything!”
Initially all I heard was resentment. Hurt and anger welled up in me. My own insecurities rose to the surface. Doesn’t she want me in her life? Doesn’t she love me? I was focusing on the outburst rather than the need that was simmering just below the surface.
Before I could proactively and positively deal with this declaration, I needed to not take this outburst personally. Even though it was a direct hit, I wasn’t really the target; it was my inability to see it was time for some parenting adjustment to occur. Now that she was a teen, I needed to fine-tune my style to match her age and developmental stage.
This was important knowledge for me to acquire. Actually, this is a good thing. She feels safe and secure enough to express her frustration. Granted her words are harsh, but her actual message, “I feel smothered,” is understandable.
So often we fixate on the short term issue of how disrespectful a complaint is stated or a behavior exhibited while neglecting the bigger and underlying concern: the homework is left undone, chores forgotten, or disrespectful words uttered. Yes, of course these problems need to be addressed but there is a bigger issue lurking beneath the action. It is up to us to discover what is the heart reason for the poor decision, nasty comment, bad choice, or procrastination.
Seeing the Soul of Our Teens
To get to the heart of the matter we first seek to see the soul of the teen standing in front of us. When we recognize he or she is an eternal being created by God, for God, in God’s image, and fully known and loved by God, we are more able to see the soul of the person behind the behavior.
Looking at our loved ones in this way stirs compassion and love, even when life gets messy. When we dig a bit further we discover the motivation or heart reason—why they did or said what they did. Rather than react to the unpleasant circumstance, we will now move into a place where parenting becomes more effective and the goal more long term. This causes us to be more intentional and deliberate in shaping the character of our teens.
Our perception, when filtered through the lenses of love, will change our approach with our teen. Really observing the essence of who they are rather than seeing only what they do will be more effective and kind in supporting and encouraging our kids as they navigate teenage life.
A teen’s heart softens and is more receptive to training and correction when they feel understood and appreciated for who they are. When the correction and training are presented in love with humility the parent-child relationship stays intact. If the behavior is the only thing addressed, the pot of resentment is stirred, inadvertently hardening the child’s heart. Criticism and punishment will not accomplish the ultimate goal of molding a heart and will build a barrier between parent and child.
What Our Teens Need from Us
Parents and kids alike are eternal souls created in God’s image. Humans are relational, emotional, rational, volitional, and spiritual. Because of this, we all have the need to be loved and to belong, express our feelings, be respected, exercise free will, and experience spiritual fulfillment.
Our children give us clues as to what they need. To pick up on these cues, ask the Lord to give you His eyes. “Father, give me eyes to see and wisdom to know what my teen needs when he does or says certain things. Keep my mind fixed on what he needs rather than my personal feelings. Amen.”
Interpreting Their Language
Here are some typical things teens may say:
- “I’m almost sixteen.”
- “You never let me_________.”
- “You are so busy.”
- “You never keep your promises.”
- “You love __________ more.”
- “I’m interested in (reincarnation, horoscopes, etc.”
- “My grades (or my sports, activities, etc.) are the most important thing to me.”
These statements are a window into their soul. These utterances reveal a lot about your child and what he needs. Once we understand what they are really saying we can respond in a way that meets the need they are attempting to express.
“I’m almost sixteen” and “You never let me______.”
These two comments represent both rational and volitional in born qualities. This teen needs his parents to know it’s time for a parental shift and for mom and dad to back off a bit and allow him to make some decisions. Talk about how freedom and responsibility are linked by trust and respect. Both parents and child need to participate in this formula if it is to work. Parents step back, the teen steps up.
“You are so busy.”
Translation: “We don’t spend time together. I don’t feel as if I’m important to you. You don’t know anything about me or my life.” Even as prickly as a teen can be, he still needs his parents to show interest in him and in his world. Carve out time to hang out. Do something he loves to do together.
“You never keep your promises” or “You love __________more.”
This child is telling you is feeling insecure in his relationship with you. He may even be saying, “I don’t trust you.” It is up to parents to keep promises, demonstrate love without comparing one child to another, and show an interest in the child’s life.
“I’m interested in (reincarnation, horoscopes, etc.)” or “My grades or my sports are the most important thing to me.”
This teen is letting the parent know he is interested in spiritual things and may be creating idols of temporal things. This child is hungry for meaningful conversations about things of God. He may need guidance and modeling that shows the character of a person is more important than academics, the arts, athletics, affluence, and accomplishments. If Jesus isn’t filling the spiritual needs, something else will fill that vacuum.
If we only respond to external actions and behavior as opposed to the soul and character of an individual we will find our kids are more susceptible to rebellion and resentment. They will become people pleasers over God chasers. It is likely they will withdraw or act out. It is us, their parents, to be a student of our child. By looking at who they are and determining the “why” of the behavior we will be better equipped to give our kids what they need. If we only deal with the “what” we will never get to the real issue behind it.
Here’s a series of three steps a parent can take that assists in parenting to the teen’s soul:
- State the observed problem. “You sound hurt.” (Push aside the desire to defend yourself.)
- Address the issue, “You said I love _____ more.” (State the facts.)
- Ask your child what he thinks a solution to the problem could be. “What can be done to change this?” or “What can I do to change this?” (Encourage him to help solve the problem. Decide to be a part of the solution.)
Developmentally, your young person is at a place where he needs more responsibility and some autonomy. Give him permission to have some choices and allow for flexibility in decision-making. Spend time with your teen. Let him know you love him because of who he is, not what he does. He needs to know, even if he fails, you are beside him and will never leave nor forsake him. Provide opportunities for him to stretch his wings and take some reasonable risks. Let him own the outcome. Don’t take over. Pray with and for your child. Show him what it means to follow Jesus.
Parents are often better at seeing the soul of a little one. We say, “Oh he didn’t mean to do that.” We are more prone to give grace with younger kids than with teens. We want to grow kids who are responsible for themselves and their actions while letting them know they are fully known, understood, and loved by their earthly parents and Heavenly Father. In a household with teens, be sure to have large doses of grace, respect, and kindness. Parent to your teen’s soul.
Lori Wildenberg, a licensed family and parent educator and parent coach, is passionate about helping families build connections that last a lifetime. She is the author or co-author of five books. Lori’s most recent book The Messy Life of Parenting: Powerful and Practical Ways to Strengthen Family Connection was just released! She loves working with moms and dads to assist them in their quest to be the best parent they can be. Lori and her husband Tom have four young adult children. You can find Lori on Facebook and on Instagram. For more information or to sign up for Lori’s weekly Eternal Moments blog go to loriwildenberg.com.
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