By Jennifer Maggio, Crosswalk.com
10 Things Your Teenagers Wish You Would Talk About
There is no denying the teenage years can be difficult parenting years for inexperienced parents who are ill-prepared for the challenges that await them. I often smile when new parents talk about the challenges of the proverbial “terrible two’s.” I think to myself. You have no idea the journey awaiting you in ten years! The truth is, the joy of seeing your little boy or girl evolve into a young man or woman can often be usurped by the challenges of independence, trust, boundaries, and curfews. Learning to navigate the appropriate balance of freedom with responsibility can be tricky waters. Admittedly, when my oldest two children were embarking upon this unchartered territory in my own home, I often feared that I was not doing most of it right. I talked too much. I was not talking enough. I punished too quickly. I didn’t punish quickly enough. I threatened. There was too much grace, then not enough. I shouted more times than I care to admit.
Train up a child in the way he should go, And when he is old he will not depart from it. Proverbs 22:6 (NKJV). This is one of the most often quoted Scriptures, and it sounds great. It is the end goal. The hope and faith we stand on. But the steps it takes to actually “train them up” can be difficult to discern. Today, I am happy to report that I made it through the parenting teen years alive, and the kids survived, too! We have such a rich and meaningful relationship now, and we have had the pleasure of exploring those pesky teen years. I learned some things about me along the way, as you will too. Here is some wisdom that I want to impart from myself (and my now young adult children). There are 10 things teens want you to talk about. Here goes:
- Your past. Your teens want to know who you were when you were a child, teen, and young adult. What did you do when you were “cool”? What did you learn? What did you like and dislike? Explain to them the great and not-so-great choices you made in those years and how they shaped you into who you are today. It is important to have a healthy balance of not over-sharing the good or bad in that too much good can make your teen feel like they do not measure up, especially if you did not deviate too far off the beaten path.
- Anything. Communication can be more difficult in the teen years. They often value their personal friendships as more important than family in these years. Too often, parents shut down communication altogether. Frustration and disappointment can be the culprit. Even when teens resort to one-word responses, e.g., “Fine.” “Yes.” “Good.”, believe it or not, they still do want to have conversations with you. Often teenagers are experiencing changes within themselves that they do not fully understand or know how to articulate. Hormones can cause them to be emotional or angry or a litany of other feelings. It is our job as parents to keep the lines of communication flowing. Have fun. Dance with them. Laugh. Talk about their hopes and dreams without criticism or advice. Even if it is difficult, stay at it.
- Sex. Now, you knew this one was coming. Naturally, the pre-teen and teen years are when most become interested in sex. Let’s face it. Everyone and everything is talking to them about sex, so why not us? For example, did you know food can now be considered “sexy”?! It’s pretty ridiculous. We have to be open, honest, and forth-coming with information. They are discussing the topic with someone, let it be you. Hint: The conversation cannot simply be about not doing it, either!
- Forgiveness. There will be a point along the journey when your teen disappoints you. They will break the rules, make a bad choice, or say something that catches you completely off guard. This is normal. It is expected. We did it also. Having the ability to quickly forgive your teen exhibits a level of grace that parallels our Heavenly Father’s love and forgiveness for us. Your forgiveness will strengthen your walk with the Lord, and hopefully, theirs. Likewise, it is important for you to forgive yourself for the mistakes you make as a parent. Speak life over the situation. Speak hope. Speak encouragement. Forgive and move on.
- The positive. I once heard a Christian author say that Christian parents tend to lean too far to rules and not close enough to grace. I would give them credit if I could remember who it was! Talk about wisdom! We want our kids to have great lives and be fruitful adults. We want them to serve the Lord all the days of their lives. That said, when there is any evidence, any at all, that they are not going to stay on the path, we panic. We begin to focus on the negative. We nag. We replay last year’s missed curfew. May I just encourage you to find something positive to speak over your teenager every single day? This can be especially challenging if they have made a series of poor choices, but this is important. Very important. They need to know that you still love them. They need to hear that they have not messed up too bad. They need to know that despite a hundred wrong choices, your love is still there waiting on them.
- Finances. Young adults are often ill-prepared to handle the financial challenges of adulthood. They have no idea how to pay bills, manage money, and purchase a home, a car, or plan for their futures. Often, college or high school does not teach this information in an effective way, if at all, so the responsibility is solely hours. Take a financial class with your pre-teen or teen. Sit with them to balance a checkbook. Open a small checking or savings account for them. Have them grocery shop for you. Have them assist in bill payment. These practical life lessons are ones that will serve them well later.
- Trust. Discuss how your teens can earn trust, keep it, and rebuild when it has been broken. Again, this goes back to navigating disappointment. Sometimes, when our children have broken our trust, it is easy for us to completely shut down. We may say things, such as, “I knew it. I knew he would mess this up. I will never allow him to drive the car again.” While I strongly believe in consequences for poor choices, I do not believe they should be given a life sentence. Keep the dialogue open about how your teen can rebuild broken trust. In the same way, if you have found it difficult to extend trust in the first place due to some poor past decision, keep those conversations flowing, and most importantly, give a game plan of ways that that trust can be built.
- Freedom. Proverbs 22:6 refers to the “going.” Train them up in the way they should go. This means they should and will eventually leave you. Your ultimate goal, as a parent, is that your children will one day find independence (with the exception of those who may have additional special needs). Even in cases where there may be some special needs, the goal has to be to create as much independence within your child as is possible and reasonable. This means we must provide some freedom. Do not hold the reigns too tight. It does not prevent mistakes. (Trust me! Been there, done that!) Allow them to make mistakes and grow from them. This is truly the best time for them to make mistakes while still within the safety of your home. If we fail to issue enough freedom due to our own fears, it is likely they will leave the nest and maximize their new-found freedom in ways we never expected or hoped.
- Their futures. Regardless of how much attitude your teen throws your way or how seemingly nonchalant they are about their futures, rest assure, they care. They care more than they want you to know. They want to know they will be okay. They want to know that they can make it on their own. They want to know that they will one day be able to figure out life and a career path and a future spouse. Talk with them about their hopes and dreams and fears and potential. Explore possibilities. Give them the margin to explore without shooting down ideas.
- Authentic Christianity. Teens can smell fake a mile away. They witness the gossip, the judgment about little Susie’s poor choices, the hypocrisy we sometimes live in. Teenagers are not falling away from churches in droves because they are not open to a relationship with the King of Kings. They are falling away because they sometimes see a misrepresentation of Christ through religion and traditionalism and faking it. Talk openly about what Christ has done for you. Share your imperfections often and honestly. Be transparent about the hope offered in Christ. Balance the weight of sin with the joy of knowing that a true relationship with the Father changes lives. They want to know! They need to know!
Photo Credit: © Unsplash/Trung Thanh
Jennifer Maggio is a national voice for single mothers and hurting women. Her personal story has been featured in hundreds of media venues, including The New York Times, Daystar Television, The 700 Club, and many others. She is CEO/Founder of The Life of a Single Mom Ministries, a national nonprofit that works with churches to develop single mom’s programs and currently serves more than 1,500 churches.
The Life of a Single Mom has served 406,000 single mothers over the last decade and counting. Maggio is an author of several books, including The Church and the Single Mom. For more information, visit www.jennifermaggio.com.
Photo Credit: Unsplash: Trung Thanh
Jennifer Maggio is a national voice for single mothers and hurting women. Her personal story has been featured in hundreds of media venues including The New York Times, Daystar Television, The 700 Club, and many others. She is CEO/Founder of The Life of a Single Mom Ministries, a national nonprofit that works with churches to develop single mom’s programs and serves more than 1,500 churches and 71,000 single mothers annually. She is an author of several books, including The Church and the Single Mom. She also hosts the podcast Single Mom 101, which you can find at LifeAudio.com. For more information, visit www.thelifeofasinglemom.com or check out her Facebook and Instagram pages.