Today’s guest post is by Mark Stephens, Mid-Atlantic Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) International Director. Mark lives in Urbana, MD with his wife of 27 years, Rhonda, and their four daughters. Connect with Mark at Markstephens@fca.org
The social pressures of being a teen are extraordinary. From culture to dress to acting a certain way are ever in one’s face. All of this compounded by the fact that technology dominates the way we receive, process and transmit the conversations in our relationships. Being a teen today just isn’t like being a teen when we grew up (speaking for my generation here). That being said, some principles never change. Along with input from my beautiful wife Rhonda and our children (three of which have graduated out of the teen years themselves), we’ve come up with the following three tips to foster good communication between parents and teens. In no particular order, they are:
#1 Say yes often
This was one of the points our girls all mentioned to us when we asked for input on this topic. It made parenting so much easier. They trusted us because our answer to a request was almost always a “yes” whenever possible. From our daughter’s perspective, they said that since we said “yes” as much as we could, they understood that when we said “no,” that we meant it and they took note of it. So say “yes” as much as you can.
#2 Eat dinner together
In many articles today, you will read about how we have basically lost the family dinnertime in Western culture. Long work hours, sports practice, dance rehearsals, and even church activities compete for this sacred time. The dinner table is where we often ask questions to open communication and foster discussion. Our standard ask is, “What were your highs and lows for the day?” We had to work hard with four kids to make sure we had dinner together as often as possible. As the girls got older, some boys started coming around but we made the effort to include the boyfriends, partly because we value family dating. But that’s another topic for another day. We had successful weeks and weeks of failure, but we kept at it.
Take a look at the week ahead and adjust for a 5 pm or 8 pm dinner to plan for some focused communication.
#3 Be intentional about technology
Let’s face it. Technology is here to stay, and while I am not going to write about its broader impact, what I will say is that it’s a struggle to monitor the use of our devices. I often want to give up, say “I quit”, and write off the technology battle with our teens as a loss but I just can’t give in. So, what to do? On the defensive side we created times, often at dinner, where we intentionally put our phones on the desk not to be touched for a duration of time. We have also been known to take away a phone for an extended amount of time for a reset to our standards. But we also get proactive and leverage technology to benefit our communications. We established a family group chat where we share highlights, prayer requests and just day-to-day happenings. In the midst of transition, with one girl still at home, girls getting married, and one in college, our family text group has kept us close.
Keeping open communication with your teens isn’t easy, but is definitely worth the effort. Don’t tire of doing good and keep fighting for strong relationships in your family. Parenting during the teen years is all about investing for the long-term and, as Scripture says, at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.