As parents, it is natural to worry about where our teens are at – they have so much bombarding them, and potentially influencing them. The question we all ask – will they make choices we disagree with? Will they walk away from the things we believe and value? Well, you won’t know unless you ask! This episode I look at the importance of listening to what your kids believe and think about – their opinions. Listening to your teen’s opinions is an important practice as heart-focused parents – and believe me – it doesn’t have to be confrontational, it can simply be a part of a healthy family dynamic. Listen in as I share the importance of giving your teen a voice.
Do you Allow your Teenager to Express an Opinion when it Differs from Yours?
I remember walking around the grocery store one day when I heard a young teen trying to convince her mum about something. She kept saying over and over, “kids have a voice” “kids have an opinion, you know”. To me, it looked like mum was just humouring her, even teasing her with her responses, which I didn’t think was very productive. But regardless of that family dynamics (you never can really tell as you go about your business how a family really relates), the words kept going around in my head: Kids have a voice, kids have an opinion.
Do we listen to our kids (especially our teenagers) when they are trying to express their opinions?
When our children are young we have the responsibility of teaching and training – not just their life skills but their values, their character and in doing so we shape their belief system. A belief system isn’t just head knowledge. We live out what we believe. We express our belief system by the choices we make. It is hard sometimes to listen to the kids say something that may be out of tune with our own value system but delivering a lecture or prohibiting them outright to talk about it is not going to help them grow or develop right thinking – which is a primary concern of parenting.
Encourage Critical Thinking
Parenting teenage children is all about talking; talking,talking, talking. You thought toddlers talked a lot!!
There are three reasons why it is important that your teenager talks to you about their beliefs – or another way of saying that – is that they share their opinions with you:
- Having conversations, deep, heart-based conversations is a foundation for relationship.
- It helps you know where they are at – at a heart level. You can see what they believe, understand why they believe it – and if necessary you can address those issues from your perspective – which is a teaching moment.
- It helps your teenager articulate what they believe and why, which clarifies it for themselves and consolidates if they really do believe it or not. This is a life skill we all need not just teenagers.
When I say “beliefs” I’m not just talking about whether they believe in Jesus or not though that is obviously important and a part of it, but they need to have beliefs about who they are, about the importance of other people, about working, about societal values, about money, about dress code, about marriage and relationships, about danger/risk – about everything!
What they believe will direct their actions so it is good to know where they are at. Their beliefs on these things will come from what they know, understand and believe about God, the world, and themselves; and certainly,their relationship with Jesus will impact that, but it isn’t the whole picture of our belief system, though it is the foundation.
As a parent, we can’t just expect our kids to believe what we believe. Our children need to process beliefs for themselves, and come to conclusions for themsleves. This means we need to be able to articulate what we believe and why we believe it. And as Christian parents, we need to be able to communicate beliefs from God’s perspective as well. Our children need to hear a Biblical worldview as they grow up. But we also need to be able to handle people (or our teenagers) believing different things, or struggling or questioning things that are obvious to us. A healthy teen-parent relationship will give teenagers permission to explore beliefs and find truth for themselves.
This doesn’t mean we have a hands off approach – that is not consistent with Gods directions to parents – we are to raise our kids, we are to teach them, and help them understand what is truth. But we can’t do it by just telling them to believe it – they have to process it, think about it, prove it for themselves, and choose to believe it. Afterall, haven’t you had to do the same!
Healthy Conversations with Teens
When we give our children – especially our teenagers, but not only teenagers – the space to speak out their opinions and have a voice about matters in their life, and the world at large, we have the opportunity to help them grow in critical thinking. Critical thinking is the ability to process information, assess it as true, connect it with other pieces of information, come to conclusions, prove that information, and use that information in approprate places. We don’t want cookie cutter teens, we don’t want them to accept cookie-cutter faith either. We need to talk about everything – helping them to process what we believe, and why we think it is important, so that they can decide what they believe and why.
Just because they have an opinion, doesn’t mean that our teaching/training is over – not by a long shot. Talking about big issues happens in the childhood years, but starts to look different in the teen years as our teens develop the ability to think for themselves and at the same time walk in a bigger world than they did in their childhood. Their world is expanding, so too are their opinions.
Asking questions is a great way to stimulate conversation – but our heart has to be one of being interested in, not checking up on our kids. If we have that attitude of mistrusting or quizzing our kids our questions will come out like the Spanish Inquisition. We aren’t drilling our kids, but rather getting to know them and coming from a place where we want to create a space where they feel safe to say something we may disagree with.
Any influence that we will have over our teenage children (and their heart – what they believe, value, feel etc) will come from our relationship with them.
To be sure, there are still areas of authority we must practice, and they need to respect, but ultimately our relationship needs to be built on knowing and understanding each other, and loving and caring for each other – them towards us, and us towards them. We must have a healthy relationship to be able to talk through differing opinions. This starts when our kids are young – do your kids of whatever age, know deep in their heart, that you are there for them, that you want them to succeed in life, and that you will love them regardless of their opinions, their mistakes, their choices. This unconditional love is the foundation for healthy discussion even when there are differences.
In our family we enjoyed conversation over the dinner table – it was one of the strongest parenting strategies we had. We tried to make opportunity for all to share though it was tricky to manage sometimes as some individuals were more opinionated than others – but even in that, there is another opportunity to teach and encourage them, that yes, they do have an opinion, they do have a voice, but so do others and we need to always be on the lookout for the others around us.
If you don’t have dinner-time conversation happening in your home, then one thing you can do to get things started is to bring something to the table that can generate discussion; a newspaper clipping, something you read/saw on social media, an experience you had, a Bible verse or character definition you’ve been thinking about. It can be light and silly or it can be serious and thought provoking. The key is for someone (probably you) taking responsibility for the dinner conversation.
Heart-focused Action Step
I think the biggest issue that parents have to adjust in their own heart is the sense of fear – fear that they will lose their child. Fear that their child will walk away from God. We cannot afford to parent from fear. We have to ultimately trust God with our child’s heart. And secondly, we have to know that we are giving our best to be honest and real in how we walk our beliefs and values, and that we are committed to being available to our kids, and having a relationship with them – that means we want to love them unconditionally as we get to know them, love them, support them.
Time is a really big issue when we are parenting our teens. We need to make sure we have time to give to our teens, time where we are emotionally able to give to them. The end of the day, when we are tired, may not be the best time to talk about something you are going to struggle with. Be honest with your teen – tell them that now is not a good time, but be sure to commit to another time. Then again, sometimes we just need to rise above our own tiredness for the sake of the other person – and in this case, our teen. This is other-centeredness, and an opportunity to tell (or show) our teenager that they are important to us. Some issues just have to be discussed NOW!!
Another attitude that we need to find is one where we believe that we can learn from our teenager. I have learnt so much from my kids. As they share their opinions, they are teaching me the way they think, their values and the things that are close to their heart. And as I ask questions, and they can communicate why they think that way, or how they’ve come to that conclusion, they challenge me in the way I think, the way I understand Scripture and the way I communicate to different people. We don’t know it all and we need to be humble enough to acknowledge that.
Our children need to have an opinion about things around them. If you don’t respect that – at least enough to listen to them – then their voice will be squashed or suddenly they will be acting on beliefs you didn’t know they had. We don’t want timid and uncertain kids; neither do we want kids who disrespect others or the values we hold dear. We want teens who will willingly share their opinions and thoughts with us, listen to our opinions and thoughts and to be open to learning from us.
Respecting our kids (by listening to them) doesn’t mean that we agree with them, or that we will even not try and change their mind – respect is simply the recognition that they are fully human, that they deserve to be listened to and spoken to with polite consideration. In this day and age, we have blurred the lines between love, unconditional love, and tolerance. We can disagree with people – and certainly with our kids and still be loving, kind, respectful. Something to think about the next time you are talking with your teen.
Have heart conversations with your teenager without confrontations
Do the words you say to your teenager build them up. This isn’t talking about modern day affirmations – this verse is saying that the words we say are to build up, to strengthen the SPIRITUAL progress of others.
Do the words you say build up your teenagers spiritual progress?
Do the words you say point your kids to Jesus? Not just for salvation, but as they renew their minds – as they think about who they are, the world they live in, and their place in that world?
Do you find time in your day, as you live life with your kids, to talk about Jesus?
Having respectful conversations is something that you have to decide is going to be a part of your family life. You have to decide that you will listen respectfully, ask questions to help understand, be committed to loving, not yelling, and always being the first to apologise when things get out of hand.
Parents set the tone. We set the example.
The most important thing is to maintain your relationship. You don’t have to believe the same things to have a relationship. But if you damage your relationship you will limit the opportunitites to continue to talk about the heart things that are important to you.
So remember (as my mum used to say) what will matter in 10 years time?
The answer is – your relationship.
And besides that, we can’t do God’s job. The Holy Spirit is also at work in our heart, and in our teenager’s heart.
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