Tuesday I wrote about listening to our children with our hearts (read here). Here is the continuation of my thoughts.
Working with two different youth groups over the last eight years, I probably heard this phrase more than any other; "My parents just don't understand." Heck, I'd hear it from my own kids. And I remember thinking it when I was a teenager. Part of it is normal for teenagers. But I think we, as parents, can work harder at trying to understand.
When my kids would say this to me, my answer most of the time was, "You're right. I probably don't. Please help me to understand." And most of the time, they would try.
I see communication as the answer to helping us parents understand our children and I don't think you can have too much of it. It needs to be a constant in the life of a family. It needs to be something that is practiced all the time. It needs to work both ways. Each party (parent and child) needs to both listen and be given the opportunity to speak, knowing they are being listened to and treated with respect.
It needs to be used in the everyday so when something more critical comes along, there will already be a precedent. You can't expect to be able to discuss subject "A" if you have no history of talking things out. The more a family communicates, the more each person knows about the others and how they feel about certain subjects. And when something totally out of the blue is dropped in your lap, it can be discussed openly and freely because this format has already been established.
You may be thinking, "Well of course I'm planning to communicate with my teenager." I don't doubt that is the plan for most parents. But something happens when a kids starts to feel their way into [pre]adolescence. They're trying to figure out who they are and their "voice" becomes scary to parents and adults. Parents aren't sure what's going on. They feel like they're losing control. They don't like what they hear and see. Many will try to make sure their child acts "appropriately," according to their own views and agenda. Some will simply find it easier to just tell the child, "Do this" and "Don't do that," without giving the child a voice in the matter. And others will simply withdraw completely as the task is too difficult. They simply give up.
Here's where it gets tricky. I whole-heartily believe that parents should be parents and impart values and discipline. Kids actually want this. But I think parents also need to loosen the reigns enough for the child to grow and learn for themselves who they are and how to make it in this world. And this is where communication makes it all work.
The child learns from his/her parents because the parents are constantly communicating their values, respect, love, and support. When the child sees this and hears this on a regular basis, they will know it in their heart that their parents care about them and wants what is best for them. They then will feel safe to communicate their fears, needs, and desires and will actually appreciate their parent's input and guidance.
This doesn't work perfectly all the time. I am not a perfect parent. You can ask my children - they didn't always feel safe to express their feelings and and often times, didn't. That's part of being a teenager; keeping things to themselves and sharing only with their peers. But if a parent sets out to understand their teenager, it can only help that relationship and ultimately, the transformation of the teenager as they emerge as the person they were meant to be.