Last week I ran a mini-series on what parents of younger kids can do now to help shape the teen years ahead. I wrote that it is never too early to start laying a foundation, and it is also never too late to redo/undo what we should’ve done differently because God is a God of grace and in the business of transformation. So if you are a parent of teenagers feeling like you’ve already messed up or are unsure how to get into your teen’s head don’t resign yourself to the lie Satan would have you believe that it’s hopeless to even try.
Believe me, I know the hard work of parenting teens makes giving into their desires and the ways of the world seem like our only option for keeping the peace. And when they’ve pushed us out and we can’t figure out how to get them to talk it’s easy to think catering to their every whim will make for a better relationship. But all that leads to is an entitled teen who knows how to get what they want.
What I want to suggest as a mechanism for change in the way we relate with our teens and getting them to open up more is something I’ve personally been learning. Now as I’ve said before I don’t believe following a “formula” is a guarantee, only the intervening grace of God can ultimately make things right. But I do think on a human level when we IDENTIFY with another person (whether it be your teen, your spouse, a friend or stranger) it opens the door to deeper connection and trust.
What do I mean by “identifying”?
I’ll explain with an illustration. Recently my daughter called home from college weighted down by various circumstances. As she was talking, I went into “fix it” mode and proceeded to tell her what she needed to do. Wrong thing in that moment.
By my ready answers, what she heard was how much better I would’ve handled it, which led her to feel shame for not having her act together. Is it any wonder she asked me to hand the phone over to my husband? No. What she needed was someone to listen and identify with her in her frustration and pain. Someone whose first stance was entering in with compassion.
Identification is hard for us as parents because our default mode includes lecturing and trying to take control. Identification is hard in general because self-righteousness prevents us from putting ourselves in another’s shoes. And because we don’t like to see/admit our own sin, we come across to others as unapproachable for them in their sin.
According to the teen survey I conducted and used in writing Face Time, teens don’t feel like they can talk to their parents openly for these exact reasons. They think we won’t understand, we will get upset and also they don’t want us to worry. Therefore, it is not surprising they choose to shut us out over revealing what’s really going on in their hearts, at school, on the weekends, with their friends, etc.
So what if we started identifying with them instead? What if we started the conversation by letting them know our own struggles to be liked, to want affirmation, to look perfect? We may not seek these things in the way they do, but we know what it’s like. We too look to false gods to fill us and to give us worth, instead of turning to Christ.
Since this is true, we should understand what causes them to give in to peer pressure and do things they never thought they would. Yes, we will likely be upset – angry even – but what if like the father of the prodigal son we open are arms wide to meet them in it? What would it look like to show compassion and understanding? If they first heard our affirmation, and saw us come alongside them in their struggles, I think our relationships with our teenagers would be different.
As the interaction with my daughter shows, I don’t do this perfectly. But I have someone who was perfect for me. Jesus came to live the perfect life required by God because no one else could measure up to his righteous standard. And at the cross he took all of my failures and made a way for his perfection to be mine. God now sees me according to Christ’s righteousness for me! So when I fail, guess what? I can go to him admitting my need. And I can enter in with my teens in their need because I know my own.
FACE TIME: Your Identity in a Selfie World is now available. To order go here.