I have had the privilege of speaking with parents here in the U.K. about teenagers the last several days. Despite the different geographic and cultural settings the main issues are the same – how do parents effectively reach the heart of their teenagers? The matters are of the heart are indeed universal. I have been talking about the role of influence in the lives of teenagers. Ultimately, your influence as a parent is the most important tool at your disposal as you help your teenagers to honor God.
Your influence extends, for good or ill, beyond the time when you are physically present with your teens. That is why you want to be an accomplished listener. That is why your speech must be informed and pleasant as you speak with your teenagers. That is also why your concerns must be the matters of biblical maturity that Ephesians 4 speaks of and not primarily about matters of personal convenience. These themes resonated with parents as we talked about them. And I think this would be a good opportunity to raise them again with you as well.
It is far too easy in the Christian life to arrive at a moment of understanding and clarity where it is painfully obvious that patterns of speech and action have not been pleasing to God. But then, over time, we begin to drift back into the familiar, sinful patterns that are not productive. Speaking graciously and listening wisely are not consistent with the desires of the flesh. These are not truths we can learn once and then forget about them. Like any wise pattern of behavior that pleases God, they must be done with a heart fully devoted to God and his glory. One of my daughters is a pianist. To maintain a high level of performance in her playing, she needs to practice regularly and faithfully the skills that she has learned. The same is true for you as parents. Listening well is an art and must be faithfully practiced. It is easy to slip into the old ways of speaking before listening and not giving careful attention to the thoughts and concerns that are often behind the words that teenagers speak (Proverbs 18:13). A parent who listens wisely is a parent who is taking their responsibility to be a good influence in the life of their teenager seriously.
The same is true for speaking. You want your words to stay with your teenager to be a resource for loving God when you are not present. The biblical challenge is to speak the truth in love, to use words with restraint and to have your speech dominated by pleasant words that promote instruction. This speech pattern is much more likely to be a positive influence than the natural patterns of our flesh. Again, it seems to require almost no effort to be short and condescending in our speech. We tend to speak without listening because of time pressure. We tend not to be concerned to speak pleasantly. These patterns work against our influence of being positive and helpful influences for Christ.
Why not take a few minutes to look at Proverbs 18 verses 2, 13, 15 and 17 with regard to being a wise listener? Then read Proverbs 16:20-24 to see the importance of pleasant words. These are two important steps that will help you be an influence for good in the life of your teenagers, no matter which continent you are on.