It’s that time of year that brings about reflection, anxiety, hope, and the desire to make the most of the time left. This applies to any parent whose students are experiencing a transition (preschool to elementary, MS to HS) but any parents of seniors out there???
We’ve been walking our seniors through a College Prep series. We’ve been looking at tough questions of the faith and throwing in a few life skills as well. That go me thinking…
Have you ever had a conversation with your teenager that felt like a complete flop? Like your words bounced off a brick wall? You’re probably not alone. Most parents feel incredible pressure to have meaningful conversations with their students, and yet those conversations are met with resistance if not total refusal to engage. This is especially true when it comes to matters of faith.
When parents seem willing enough to talk, why is it that teens often feel so resistant to listening?
It may be all in the approach.
AT vs. WITH
Many teens feel like every parent-initiated conversation has an agenda. And let’s be honest, they may be right. During the teen years, as parents realize their time with their teen is limited, there is a sense of urgency surrounding all of the life lessons and important conversations that they feel they SHOULD have with their child before college. With the pressure mounting to work in all of these lessons, it is easy for parents to resort to talking at their student instead of talking with them.
While the intentions are good, if the majority of conversations center around a lesson, teens can end up feeling like they don’t measure up. Like their parents care more about “fixing them” or “setting them straight” than they do about connecting with them. Who wants to feel that way all the time?
This sort of dynamic can make conversations about faith even more tricky. It can set up students to feel inadequate and then tune out the parents. And tuned out parents feel equally inadequate and want to stop trying. No thanks, there has to be a better way.
TO IMPORTANT TO FOR A LAST DITCH LECTURE
Helping students live out their faith, helping them develop values and habits they will carry into adulthood is one of the most important parts of a parent’s job. So how do you teach those lessons without running the risk of being shut out? How do you have a conversation without having “a talk”? How do you begin to move forward in your relationship and not backwards?
Maybe the answer is actually to talk less.
Don’t you remember when your kids were little and they were often imitating you, maybe a little bit too accurately? While teens don’t make it as obvious, they still take cues about what is important by watching their parents. What you prioritize, what you organize your schedule and budget around will communicate loudly what you believe is important-without ever having to tell them.
So maybe instead of talking about the importance of spending money wisely, you invite them to help you figure out the family budget this month. Maybe instead of working “church” into the conversation, you simply trust that your example, that your commitment, is sending the message. (Or at least approach the conversation differently, “Have I ever shared how Jesus became so important in my life…”. I’d be way more interested in hearing that than why I should make sure and wake up on Sunday morning to fulfill my duty of attendance. Now back to the main point…) Maybe instead of talking about the importance of serving others, it’s just something you do together.
When you lead with your actions, it takes a lot of pressure off the conversation. And the more conversations you have, without a lesson attached, the more your teen will trust that you like them, as a person. It might even open the door to more meaningful conversation—because now you’re talking with them and not at them.
Let’s get practical.
Developing a habit of serving, or moving on behalf of others as a family, can seem daunting when family schedules and budgets are already stretched to the max. But serving doesn’t mean that you have to volunteer at a soup kitchen every week or build a well in Africa on your own. Simply meeting one person’s need is a big step and will go a long way in helping your teenager develop an awareness for the needs around him or her.
Choose one elderly neighbor or single mom in your community and invite your student to help you decide on ONE THING you can do for that person. Something as simple as making them dinner and bringing it over could make their day. And every member of the family can be involved. Invite your student to help you decide on the menu, buy the groceries, prepare and deliver the meal.
Serving somewhere every week or every month may not be a possibility for your family, but simply developing an awareness of the needs around you and moving on behalf of one person can help students develop the habit of caring for the world around them.
Adapted with permission. ©2013 The reThink Group, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Get connected to a wider community of parents at www.orangeparents.org.