Part 1: Prepare to communicate
Part 2: Take steps to real communication
A frustrated teenager and a defeated parent lean against opposite sides of a door after a series of verbal volleys ranging from sharp sarcasm to angry insults. Perhaps it’s not even an argument but rather the absence of communication altogether. Devices, friends, or lack of things in common conspire to drive wedges between parents and teens until one looks at the other and feels like she doesn’t even know her anymore.
Communication shouldn’t be that difficult, right? We’ve all been talking for nearly as long as we’ve been alive. Unfortunately, real communication is about much more than saying a few words that are heard by another person. True communication requires intentional effort from everyone involved. It is a willingness to hear and understand as much as to be heard.
Multiple studies confirm that healthy parent/child communication reduces risky behavior in teenagers, also enhancing self-esteem and academic performance. Pair this with Scriptures instruction to “talk” with our children (Deuteronomy 6) and to “instruct” them (Proverbs 1:8) in the way they should go. It seems obvious we need a renewed commitment to communicate in a healthy way. One that values each other and moves us into a more fruitful relationship where both parent and child feel heard and understood.
Prepare to Communicate
- Study her culture.
- Learn her language.
- Make time a priority.
There are some steps both parent and child can take to prepare for more effective communication. Too often when it comes to important conversations, making difficult decisions, or sharing personal feelings, we take the approach that says, “I’ll just let it happen. This communication stuff should just be allowed to come organically anyway, right?” Wrong. Unfortunately, if we don’t take time to prepare, it’s possible (if not likely) that real and meaningful communication will never happen.
So how do we go about preparing to communicate with someone a generation removed who knows and has witnessed most of our weaknesses and has recently determined parents know very little of consequence to her life? First, study her culture.
We often don’t realize the barriers created between us and our fellow man when there is a cultural divide. We all have a tendency to see things only from our own point of view.
This is also true between generations. There are references, concepts, and even commonly accepted truths from our youth that are now dated, questioned, or downright confusing. To prepare ourselves for communication with our children, we should know the world in which they live. Do you know the musicians she likes to listen to? Do you know about the latest app and why they use it? If not, take some time to learn about your child’s world. It can go along way when your child sees you make an effort to understand and not expect all communication to be done on your terms.
Second, learn the language. This is similar to the first point, but it is important enough to mention on its own. Sometimes communication breaks down because two parties simply don’t know how to translate. Be willing to put in the time to learn what your child is saying and not just how she is saying it. Of course she will say it differently. I’m sure you said things differently than your parents did too. The important thing is to listen and when you don’t understand, ask questions. Not only will this help you respond appropriately, but it will build trust.
Third, make time a priority. It’s easy to let everything outside of your family take precedence. Be sure to create opportunities to talk with one another. Schedule time on your calendar. Be intentional. Nothing will derail communication in a family more than family members who seemingly don’t have time for one another.
Once you’ve decided to invest in studying the culture, learning the language, and making time a priority, it’s time to implement a few strategies to get the words flowing and hopefully lead to some breakthroughs in your home.
Creating an Atmosphere of Communication: Part 2
Taking Steps to Real Communication
- Be honest and be yourself.
- Ask a lot of questions.
- Avoid majoring on minor issues.
- Say “yes” more.
- Take communication offline.
There are any number of relationship and parenting books available that will undoubtedly have great advice for how parents can better communicate with their children. The following list is not intended to be exhaustive, but it is intended to provide a few simple action steps toward better communication at home.
- Be Honest and Be Yourself. This may seem like a “no-brainer” but adult authority figures (parents included) often think they need to “have it all together” and “show no weakness” in front of their younger counterparts when, in fact, teenagers are especially drawn to people who tell them the truth and are honest with them. If you are reading this blog it is because you want to communicate more effectively with a teenager in your life. Tell them so. Let them know that you want to be better. Let them know they matter enough to you that you are going to put forth the effort to learn and evolve. This honesty can help establish the trust necessary for more open communication.
- Ask a Lot of Questions. Perhaps the best advice I can give to anyone who wants to get better at communication is to learn how to ask questions. Be genuinely interested in the lives of others and ask them about their opinions, feelings, and aspirations. Then you will have a lot more social capital in the future. Asking “What do you think?” invites your child into a conversation as a peer and demonstrates that you value them and their contribution to your home on a much deeper level.
- Avoid Majoring on Minor Issues. This is perhaps the toughest of all the strategies on the list. We all have our preferences and as parents, it’s easy to think our children should fall into line with our desires and expectations. While this is true to some extent, we often take it too far and give a personal preference the same creedence as a biblical conviction. There is a reason Paul distinguished the behavior of the Gentiles and the Jews. Both were followers of Jesus, but there was room for diversity even within the body of Christ. If that was true for the early church, it should also be true in our families. Determine your core family values and convictions and do not waiver. But in all other things, be willing to show grace to your maturing child as he or she navigates the confusing waters of adolescence.
- Say ‘Yes’ More. Some of us have a tendency to default to respond “No” whenever our children ask to do something, go somewhere, ask someone to come over, etc. I am in no way advocating we become overly permissive and say “Yes” to every request, but I am suggesting we reflect on why we default to “No” so often and consider that perhaps we say “No” more than necessary or even helpful. If we’re honest, our default “No” often comes from our own impatience. Perhaps we’re tired, busy, or distracted (yes, parents deal with technology addiction too), and “No” is simply easier. If that’s the case, consider saying “Yes” more and you might just find more opportunities to engage your child in meaningful conversation.
- Take Communication Offline. There was a time as recently as 15-20 years ago where this suggestion would not have made the list. As consumption of media and the use of personal electronic devices has grown exponentially in recent years, it may be more important now than ever that we strategically and intentionally find ways to interact with our families offline. Technology in general and the Internet specifically has provided a number of real benefits and has even enhanced communication in many ways, but there are also ways in which it has made us far more distracted, less able to focus, and less invested in the lives of those closest to us. These tools provide the means for us to retreat into our own fortress of solitude where we click and swipe and interact with a world outside the four walls of our home and neglect the real people who we share our lives with every day.
My prayer is these suggestions for creating an atmosphere of communcication are helpful to you. Remember communication truly is more art than science. Even the best prepared and most empathetic parents will experience conflict and problems brought on by poor communication. When this happens, it is crucial we display a humble spirit. Ask God for His favor in reconciling relationships and opening lines of communication. Thus creating the types of relationships where both parent and child feel truly heard and understood.