Last winter I conducted an anonymous online survey of teens. The survey results serve as the foundation behind my second book for teen girls, which is currently in the works. But what I gleaned from one particular question is something parents of both genders need to hear.
I asked them why they don’t talk to their parents.
Keep in mind, the responses being shared pertain to those kids who specifically indicated that they don’t talk openly with their parents. There are certainly those who do. But I believe for all parents (or adults who work with teens), this information is helpful if our aim is to continually strive for deeper heart conversations.
So, coming from both teenage girls and guys, here were the most repeated answers as to why teens don’t talk openly to their parents:
“I don’t trust them.”
“They won’t understand.”
“I don’t want them to worry about me.”
“We’re not close.”
“They will judge me.”
“They will try to fix me instead of just listening.”
Some of those statements may hit too close to home. Or, you may feel defensive – that these things just aren’t true when it comes to your non-divulging teen. But even if we think we are trustworthy, that we do understand, and that we’re willing to listen without passing judgment, this is indisputably how teens feel. Like it or not.
Therefore, let’s put aside what we think, or how they might also be contributing to these issues, in order to understand where we can grow and change. To do so, we must dig beneath the surface of these few short statements to see the “why” behind how our kids feel.
Are we really listening?
I don’t know about you, but I’m guilty. There are too many times to count when I have been on my laptop only half hearing what my child is saying to me. Or, I’ve been in the car caught up in my own thoughts, or distracted with my own to-do list, that I haven’t really engaged. So many times our kids tell us things that seem unimportant, so instead of asking follow-up questions, we just nod our heads, “Mmm-hmm.”
Well, guess what? We miss huge opportunities all the time, starting when they’re young. So by the time they are teenagers our kids no longer talk because we don’t have a track record of really listening: active listening that probes with questions and helps shape their understanding and give words to what they are feeling.
And then we wonder down the road why our kids don’t come to us with their problems or even share the events of their days with us.
What are we communicating?
In addition to communicating disinterest, or that we’re too busy to be bothered, there are other habits we adults can’t shake that also keep our teens at bay. The first one is our constant nagging.
By nagging, we send the message that our kids aren’t enough, just as they are. My own daughter has told me she feels like she doesn’t measure up, which translates into her feeling like a failure and wondering if she can succeed on her own at college. Not only that, but the more I nag, the more she pushes away from me and the less she wants to tell me, fearing more criticism and extra stress heaped upon her.
Considering how much we find to stress over, worry about, or criticize, what do you think our typical response is if/when a child tells us about the really bad behavior of a classmate, or something wrong they themselves did?
SHOCK! Followed by judgment and shame: “How could you do that?” – “What were you thinking?” – “You can’t be friends with them” – “What will people think?” – “Maybe I should call some other moms.”
We respond as if we aren’t fellow sinners living in a broken world, that we would never do something like that.
Instead of creating a safe place to share, instead of helping our kids process why someone (or they) might do as they did, instead of lovingly leading our kids to repentance, we give only law.
No wonder our kids stop telling us what is going on, and start hiding their own sin.
How can we identify?
Instead of communicating shock and judgment, pushing our kids further away, what if we focused on truly entering into their issues and identifying with them? What if we worked to build their trust by actively listening, asking questions, and seeking to understand? What if our kids knew we really meant it when we said they could tell us anything, because of the grace characterizing our past responses?
If we want our kids to talk to us when they are teenagers, we have to start the conversations when they are young. Apart from God’s grace, waiting until they are sixteen to try to get into their head and heart is too late. By that time, their peer influence has already become greater than yours. To have teenagers who talk deeply, we must be adults who seek to draw out and shape their hearts from the time they are little, putting all topics on the table and being transparent ourselves.
While broaching certain subjects may feel uncomfortable, and getting to the core of our kids’ real hearts seems impossible at times, this is where we turn to Jesus. Christ set the perfect example for a forgiving, deep, loving relationship. With His loving-kindness and infinite grace, He will enable and equip us to navigate these challenging but vital relationships and conversations with our kids.
How do you encourage your kids to talk openly?