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This week on the blog we’re focusing on raising teenagers, so I’m thrilled that writer and editor Nicki Copeland has joined us today to talk about that biggie: communication. How do we talk to our teenagers effectively? And how can we get them to talk to us? Over to Nicki…
So their thirteenth birthday hits, and all of a sudden, your child, who would talk to you about anything and everything, suddenly withdraws.
And, if they talk to you at all, it’s in barely comprehensible monosyllables.
Everything you say is met with rolling eyes and – if you’re lucky – a grunt of acknowledgement. You’ve gone from being the centre of their world to the world’s biggest embarrassment if you’re seen within ten yards of them in public.
What happened? Where did your chatterbox toddler go? Who is this grumpy teenager inhabiting their skin – not to mention their untidy bedroom? And will it be possible to engage in meaningful conversation with them ever again?
I can’t profess to answer all of these questions, but I’m happy to tell you a little bit about my own experiences of navigating communication during the teenage years.
I’ve been married to Pete for nine years, and between us we have seven children and four grandchildren. My experience of parenting teens is of my own three offspring, so I’ll be talking about them – my two boys who are now 23 and 21, and my daughter who’s 17.
I’m not an expert – far from it – and I’ve made more than my fair share of mistakes over the years. Fortunately, by the grace of God, I believe we have a pretty good relationship now with all three of the children, and the channels of communication are (usually) fairly open.
So what have I learnt? Many things, over the years, but there are six key things I’d like to share about how to talk to teenagers that I believe have helped to keep these channels open.
We’ve always maintained a policy that we would never lie to the children. Now, that doesn’t mean we tell them everything, and over the years there have been times when we’ve had to say to them, ‘I can’t answer that question,’ and they’ve had to be content with that. They may not like it, but they at least know they won’t be fobbed off with an untruth just to keep them off our back.
Because my children know we’re always honest with them, I’d like to think they are honest with us too. Now, I’m not naïve enough to believe that they tell us everything they get up to (and perhaps it’s best I don’t know all the details…), but I hope and pray that they know they can come to us with anything they need to talk about, which brings me to my next point…
We’ve never made a secret of our opinions with the children, and have always been open about our faith, but we’ve always respected that they might not always agree. We’ve tried to give them space to discuss, when appropriate, rather than laying down the law, ‘just because I said so’.
There have been times when we’ve listened to their reasoned arguments and have even been known to change our mind when they’ve made a good enough case! So much better than a shouting match where nobody listens to anyone!
We’ve had to learn to let them make their own decisions and to respect their choices – even if we don’t agree with them – and we’ve had to learn when it’s appropriate to speak out and when to keep our mouths shut. As they get older, our teenagers need to be able to make bigger and bigger decisions for themselves, so that when they hit adulthood they’re able to cope with the demands of making grown-up decisions.
And, of course, we’re always here as a sounding board, even though they may not need us so much these days.
Open and honest communication sometimes means instigating those difficult conversations. Ignoring the elephant in the room doesn’t make it go away – it just gets bigger, until it’s so big, it runs riot around the entire house.
Those awkward conversations aren’t fun, but it shows our children that we’re approachable and aren’t afraid to wrestle with the challenging issues, and keeps the door open if at any time they need to discuss any difficult stuff with us.
Another principle that worked for us during the teenage years was that we trusted our children unless they gave us reason not to. We allowed them a reasonable amount of freedom, which of course grew as they grew, but they knew that the minute they betrayed that trust, the walls would go up and they would be on a much tighter leash!
Because we talked openly about our expectations, and because they were able to discuss with us when they disagreed, I believe they respected the fact that we trusted them, and for us it worked. (Either that, or they were really good at hiding what they got up to!)
Like I say, I’m far from an expert, and on many occasions I’ve learnt the hard way. I’ve made no secret to my children of the fact that Mum gets it wrong sometimes, and I’ll always apologise to them when I make a mistake.
They need to see that we don’t have all the answers, and, in my experience, teenagers respect our honesty when we’ve messed up. They’re more likely to admit to us when they’ve messed up too, if we’ve been honest about our own failings.
Pray for them every day
This might be number six, but for me it’s the most important of all.
I pray for my children every day – for God’s protection, for his wisdom, and that they will live their lives in relationship with him. For me, the greatest gift I could give my children is a living faith in, and relationship with, God. They’re all exploring that in different ways at the moment, some closer to Him than others, but I have faith for the full and complete salvation of them all.
I hope some of my own experiences might resonate with you, and that you might find them helpful. God is faithful, through all the ups and down, and both He and my children (fortunately) are forgiving.
Ultimately, they know we love them, and they also know that, no matter what, we always will.
Nicki Copeland is a freelance writer, speaker, copy editor and proofreader – and loves anything to do with words. She also oversees the day-to-day running of Instant Apostle publishers. She is the author of Losing the Fig Leaf and Less than Ordinary? When she has the luxury of some free time, she can invariably be found with a book in one hand and some chocolate in the other.
Don’t forget to check back here every day this week to catch the other posts in my ‘Teen Week’!