In this series of posts we are looking at the communication
breakdowns that often occur between parents and teenagers. What once appeared
to be a good relationship with lots of interaction can deteriorate to silent,
disinterested teens enduring parental monologues. After such an encounter, more
than one parent has turned away, asking with an aching heart, why is this
In the last post we looked at the command in Proverbs 18:15
to be aggressive listeners. This listening is not just for current exchanges,
but includes remembering the conversations of the past. When did the
conversations start to drift towards the monologues that typify current
communication with your teenagers? Try to remember events from your child’s
perspective. It is important to recognize that your children are often on the
front lines of battle as a result of lifestyle decisions you make. For example,
perhaps you don’t allow your family to watch American Idol, Survivor, or other reality programs. This is a
lifestyle decision you have made because you don’t think that sort of program
is helpful. So far, so good. But look with me at the price your child might pay
for your attempt to protect her from the world.
Your sixth grader goes to school and one of the “in” kids in
the class asks if she watched American
Idol last night. Your daughter hems and haws and says no, she had homework
to do. So, the next question is, well, you saw last week’s show, right? Again,
your daughter stammers around and says no, she didn’t. Well, have you EVER watched
American Idol? Your daughter, a little flushed and a little embarrassed and a
lot wishing she could be somewhere else, says no, she never has. The leader of
the in crowd says in a loud voice for all to hear – You never watched American
Idol?! Dude – talk about weird! This exclamation is followed by mocking
laughter as the other kids move away, following the cool leader of the in
crowd. Your daughter is so distressed that she does poorly on a test she would
normally have done well on. By the time she comes home she is moody and
distant. You greet her at the door and ask how her test went. She mumbles
something and attempts to head for her room. You stop her and remind her that
you have a lot to do this afternoon and don’t be long getting ready, and then
ask again how the test went. She says with a sad voice that she doesn’t want to
talk about it and she isn’t feeling well and she just wants to lie down. You
say—what’s wrong, are you sick, are you running a fever, does your head hurt,
was it something you had for lunch? This is really a bad time to be sick … and
what happened with the test? She says in exasperation, mom, I have to go the
bathroom and I really don’t feel good, and she runs off. You call after her
that this is something you will bring up with her father… Later you and her dad
conclude maybe she was just having a bad day and that out of consideration for
your daughter you really don’t need to talk about it anymore. Sure enough, the
next morning she seems fine, if a little reserved. But because of the busyness
of life the matter is forgotten. While it may be forgotten by the parents, it
lives on, seared into the memory of the daughter.
This child has been on the frontlines of her parent’s decision.
(I owe this insight to Tedd Tripp from a conversation we had years ago.) As a
parent, you have proudly told other parents that American Idol is not something that is watched at your house. You
even receive encouragement from others applauding your strong stand. Your
daughter, however, received no such encouragement from her peers; she was on
the front lines, taking fire for a decision that was not hers and that she did
not fully understand. All that she knows is that by following her parents’
direction she became a social outcast.
The actual decision not to watch American Idol is not the
main issue. The point is that your children need to know why you make such decisions.
You need to consider the impact of this decision in the life of your children. It
would be wise to discuss with your daughter how to handle the questions about
American Idol that will inevitably come her way. Discussing a scenario like the
one above is a kind thing to do for your child.
My point, however, is that if your child is not able to talk
about such an event with you, there will
begin to be a distance between the two of you. Add a few more instances like
this one, over the months leading to the teenage years, and all of a sudden (suddenly
to you, the parent, at least) you have a teenager with whom monologues have
This is what I mean by being an aggressive listener. Take
the time to realize that there may have been things you have missed that have
significantly impacted your children. If this is the case, then you have given answers
without listening, or at least that is what your children believe. So, when you
observe that your daughter has gotten moody and uncommunicative and you
instruct her, in effect, to get over the bad attitude, your answer is given
without understanding and listening. This is not good.
I realize the above scenario may not fit your family or
situation exactly. But I hope that you will see the possibilities of significant
events in your child’s life that might be similar.
So, what is the solution to these types of scenarios? The
answer may seem impossible. I will give it to you anyway, and we can look at
how it applies in future posts.
The answer is to get your teenagers to ask you questions.
As always, I look forward to your comments and questions.