Words are not the only way to communicate your love and win your teens’ trust. There are a lot of other ways. Try to catch their eyes. Use your eyes to show them your love. Don’t give them an accusatory or hurt look which probes for guilt or wrong—but give them loving, understanding, encouraging looks. Let them hear by the tone of your voice that you do love them and you do understand. Actually, it is not how much you communicate with them but that you do communicate with them. Try to touch base with them in some way each day—via a look, a touch, an encouraging word—then build on this. It will grow! Give them the help and support they need. At this age they are very insecure and feel like they are being tossed on a troubled sea. They are looking for the lighthouse. Be their beacon!
They can count on you
There will be times when you will have to lay down the line and be firm with your teens as you guide and correct them, but as they grow, you will have less of a direct influence over their lives. Your role will change from their parent to their friend—not an “anything goes” friend, but one who loves them enough to be honest with them—someone they can count on, someone who is more a helping hand than a judge—someone they can lean on, rather than someone they have to avoid or hide their life from or try to get around.
Help them know they can really count on you. You build their confidence in you by being faithful in all those little things that add up in their mind to the kind of person they believe you should be. If you’ve made a mistake and flown off the handle, if you have been too extreme with them, if you have scared them off or driven them into their own world, then go to them and apologize. Explain that you want to change and you want to be different.
If you are humble and you show that you know you have weaknesses and need help in many areas too, then even if your teens don’t show it, they will have seen you put your heart on the line and trust them with a sensitive part of your life, and this will encourage them. They do need your help, they want your help, but they want it on their terms—when they want it and how they want it. Of course, sometimes when they are in trouble and you see they are in trouble, you do need to intercede. Go to them directly and explain the situation as you see it.
If your teen doesn’t respond to your efforts to communicate, perhaps he (or she) just isn’t able to talk to you face to face, especially if you aren’t very good at controlling your anger or emotions, and therefore they’re afraid of how you might react. If this is the case, then encourage him to write you a note, or to record his thoughts on a tape recorder or dictaphone, and give you the tape to listen to. That way you can “hear” him out without him experiencing your initial reaction head-on. You have time to think things over, he has time to think things over, and you can have a discussion later in a calmer frame of mind, or answer him in a note if you like.
Guide rather than intrude
Young people are unsure of a great many things, and so sometimes they jealously protect the “garden” of their lives from intrusion. They are not sure which are the weeds and which are the good plants, but they are sure they do not want you stomping into their life and pulling out what you think are weeds. They want to make those decisions for themselves. They may like to have your guidance, but constant intrusion into their lives is not usually what they want.
Love despite silence
A parent should try not to be put off by silence. Keep putting your heart into talking and communicating with your teens. Give them a few signs of affection—a hug, a kiss, a touch or pat, an expression of warmth. Just let them know you are there, that you care, that it is okay, you are listening, you are watching out for them. All these help them feel more secure, even if they do not openly admit it or react as if they do. Sometimes they do not want to react or show too much weakness to you, because they know that will bring out the parent side in you and put them right back in the role of being children.
Cherish your moments together
Keep reminding yourself that your teens are growing up and may soon go their own way, so the moments you have together are precious and should be positive and memorable ones you can all look back on and cherish. Don’t fight over trivial matters. It is just not important. Even if you think it is important to have an argument about something—stop! First try to love them. Show them love, even in a storm. Love never fails! You may be very upset, but they are likely worried and confused too.
Arguments fail! Expectations fail. Giving orders fails. But love never fails. Try to get past your anger. Try not to be too set in your ways and too predictable in your negative reactions. Only be predictable in your love for your teens. If they are secure in your love, this will be a good foundation upon which problems can be worked out. Stay open, approachable and give them opportunities to talk to you.
Step back! Let them breathe!
Surprise your teens by making changes—changes in your life and attitude and way of looking at things. Surprise them with all kinds of interesting differences. Young people want to be proud of their parents. They want to feel that their parents are cool, but even more than that, they are looking for something warm, supportive and understanding in you—someone who is there, right there praying for them, standing beside them—not like a blanket suffocating them, but like an umbrella protecting them.
If you are the type of parent that likes to take control, that grabs the pencil away from them to show them how you’d do it, then you must learn to let go of that desire for direct management of their lives. Step back! Let them breathe. They know what you believe. By now you have certainly told them enough times. Just turning up the volume now, yelling at them, or forcing them, or being harsh or critical or negative, or speaking as though you expect the worst, is the worst and will get the worst results. They may just tune you out and stop listening.
Their life is sacred. It does not belong to you; it belongs to them. And there comes a time when you have to move back and give the controls to them. Let them row their boat. Let them learn to drive the vehicle of their life. But be there to help, and encourage them as they learn. Don’t be too quick to grab the controls away from them. It’s too late for that. They’re growing and they’re going to be venturing out on their own whether you like it or not. It is hard to step out of the role of their boss, but you must. However, do not go to the opposite extreme and become so passive and detached they think you just don’t care. Step back and into the role of friend, supporter, cheerleader, avid fan, admirer, the one who believes in them, the one who loves them unconditionally even when they don’t reach their expectations—or yours.
Show positive expectations
It’s unfortunate, but young people often act out your negative expectations. It’s better to try to show positive expectations and hide your disappointment. Positive expectations move them toward the good and convict them when they do wrong, because they don’t want to disappoint you or cause you to lose faith in them. On the other hand, if they feel your negative suspicions, accusations or assumptions, they may tend to go that way. (Simply put, it is easier to be bad if someone expects you to be bad, but it is easier to be good if someone believes in you and expects you to be good.)
See mistakes as steppingstones
Everyone makes mistakes. Parents can’t expect saints from sinners like themselves. Let your teens know that you’re a sinner too, and you also have to learn from your mistakes. Young people make a lot of mistakes, and they feel bad about them, but don’t rub it in. Try to help them be glad for the chance to learn such valuable lessons early in life. Look for the good that can be drawn from each situation, and help them look for the good. If you look for the good in everything, including them, they will see a lot of good in you.
Let them row their boat while you cheer them on
Try to help and encourage your teens in those areas that are strengths in their lives, but don’t push too hard. You might want them to have a certain education or special training; you might want them to have what you missed. But there comes a time to put aside your ideas and look at what your teen wants and is able to do. Pushing can be perceived as overriding her will and her rights. Your idea may be the best for her, it may be her area of talent, but she likes to feel it is her choice what talent she wants to develop, a part of her inner joy and development.
It is hard to change your teens without changing yourself. There may seem to be no way to break through to them. They know you too well as their parent and have their guard up to protect themselves from your “parenting.” But when you come to them as a friend, they will not be as closed. If you approach them as someone who loves them and cares for them, as someone who sees them as a person, that is what they want. That respect, recognition, support and understanding means a lot to them. Those are the building blocks that make them more secure in their march to manhood or womanhood.
Excerpted from "Parenteening" by Derek and Michelle Brookes. © Aurora Productions. Photo courtesy of Activated! magazine.