In the old Star Trek TV show (I’m dorky enough to know about but not dorky enough to watch) Captain Kirk sometimes employed a nifty little gadget called a Universal Translator. It worked by scanning the brainwave frequencies of its subject and using the results as the basis for communication. I checked on Amazon to see if it’s available, because I KNOW my wife would love one as a gift for Christmas. I think it might really help in communication with our teen.
Unfortunately, it’s not been invented yet.
Here’s the challenge: we live in the same house, use the same language, and have many of the same values and experiences as our teens, but for some reason the meaning behind the sentences we use gets all jumbled up between leaving our mouths and reaching their ears. I’ve been asked to address this topic many times, and I’ve struggled to figure out how to put into words what might be helpful. I’ve prayed and asked for help on addressing this subject, because I know it’s so challenging, and as of yet I don’t have a definitive guide to mastering communication with your teen.
On the other hand, I have spent the better part of the last 20 years communicating with teens, sometimes successfully. In the absence of a definitive guide, I present to you some random nuggets. My prayer is that at least one of these might be helpful in deepening the connection with your teen.
- This should be a regular, habitual subject of your prayer life. “Lord, help me to truly connect with my child, to understand them and be understood. May our relationship and communication be a source of stability and encouragement in their life”.
- Teens are hypocrisy radars. When your life does not align with what you are saying, they dismiss you or even hold you in contempt. When you hold them to a different standard than you’re living, you harden their hearts. Yes, they are absolute hypocrites too. But that doesn’t mean that they will let you get by with it. At this stage of life, your standard really needs to be consistent elimination of the specs in your eyes to be heard when addressing their planks. And yes, I know Jesus originally said it the other way around. He’s right. But when your addressing your children, I think the standards are higher.
- Face to face conversations can be challenging. It’s often so much easier to talk about important things when doing something else together. Go on a drive. Cut up food for dinner. Fold laundry. Play a video game. Doing something else helps release the nervous energy, let’s them not stare at your face, gives room for necessary awkward pauses, and allows room for much harder topics.
- Write them notes and letters. Mail some of them. In a world of throwaway texts, things written on paper mean more. Build your teen’s love tank by writing them meaningful encouragements. That way theres’s some reserves in your relationship when it’s time to make a withdrawl.
- Remember what an incredible bundle of insecurity you were at that age, and them multiply that by 10 or more. Between Instagram, Snapchat, and the relentless barrage of digital media in their lives, there is almost no escape for teen’s feelings of stress or inadequacy. Not only do they have an endless stream of pictures of perfect celebrities and filtered friends, but if a terrorist runs a truck into the middle of a group of people in Spain, they know about it within 10 minutes. Their stress is real. I think acknowledging that reality is helpful for them. It’s also extremely helpful to help limit their exposure to Everything Always technology. But that’s a post for another day.
- Because they are so insecure, most of your compliments are going to bounce off of them and your critiques are going to stick deeper than you intend. That can be really frustrating. Don’t give up the affirmation, and pick your battles with the critiques.
- With your affirmations, be consistent and honest. Also, in addition to telling them how smart and beautiful they are, focus on affirming things that are actually in their control. For instance, “the way you carry yourself with modesty and genuine concern for others adds a whole other level to your beauty”, or “I am so proud of how hard you worked to get that B”.
- The vast majority of texts between teens use Emojis. They might seem dumb to you, but they convey emotion and relationship to your teen. Even if you use them wrong, they’ll like you for it and your message will feel warmer. My daughter tells me that her mother and I are the only people who text her using punctuation. I feel like sentences should have periods on the end. But that feels a little abrasive to my teen. So I compromise. I write my sentence, use my punctuation, and then insert a picture of a taco. Sometimes I throw completely random emojis in that have nothing to do with what I’m talking about, just to keep her on her toes. But I’m weird.
Next week I’ll focus more on conflict strategies. For now, I would encourage you to pick one of these and try it out. You might get instantaneous results, but I wouldn’t expect it. No worries, you’re in it for the long haul. Remember, it’s a marathon, not a sprint!
I’d love to hear some of your helpful communication strategies in the comments!