Have you noticed that teens are tight lipped? For a myriad of reasons—usually intimidation being the biggest—they find it difficult to talk to adults at times. This is especially true with parents. In every home, there is a spiritual battle against authentic communication. Let’s face it—the devil doesn’t want parents and teens to truly open their hearts to each other.
But strong families resist this battle and conquer it. On the other side of the mountain of silence is a fertile meadow of healthy hearts. It’s a deliberate journey to get there, but it’s worth the effort. There isn’t a much sweeter experience in life than open, honest, heart-full communication between a parent and teen. When you have it, you gain a deep, satisfactory sense that this is what God intended in a family.
The Bible teaches, “And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers…” (Malachi 4:6). In an effort to turn your heart toward your children, I would like to share the results of a simple survey I did with our students several years ago. These statements and quotes came from faithful Christian adults who grew up in godly homes and in our youth group. The quotes below are what they shared about why they stayed faithful to God. This list is what your teens think, whether they tell you or not; and it’s a great place to start a conversation:
I KNOW WHETHER OR NOT YOU ARE FAKING IT
(Contradiction is extremely confusing)
Amazingly, teens can see straight through us. They know our hearts; they constantly evaluate our motives, our spirit, and our life. If it’s consistent, then they accept our faith as real. If not, then they struggle with the conflict and often reject our faith outright.
“I don’t think my parents ever contradicted themselves. They live honest lives, which makes it easy to trust them.”
I NEED TO TALK OPENLY WITH YOU ABOUT OUR FAITH
(Make sense of my faith)
Teens have questions. That doesn’t automatically make them rebels. They simply need to make a legitimate connection between God’s principles and real life. Many parents see this as the church’s responsibility. And, in part, it is. But every parent must help their teens see the common sense behind God’s eternal truth.
“My parents were great at this—especially my dad. He would always be bringing up different spiritual issues and explaining to me why we believed them. Sometimes he would bring up different arguments that unsaved people give about some of the things we believe, and he would explain to us why these arguments are wrong.”
I’M THINKING ABOUT THE OPPOSITE SEX, AND I’M CURIOUS ABOUT SEXUAL ISSUES
(But don’t make me bring it up)
Between the awakening of hormones and the onslaught of a godless culture, this is a very critical dynamic of youth. As parents, we want to bury our heads in the sand and hope we won’t have to talk about these things. Big mistake!
It seems everybody is talking to kids about sex today—except parents! How we need to reverse that model! Your teenager should have an open door, any time, to speak directly with you about sensitive, sexual issues. And he/she should get a clear, biblical, and understandable answer. Give them the truth, and they will be able to resist a world of lies. Fail to give them the truth—they will most likely buy the lies.
“I think the first time my dad and I talked about sexual issues was a month before I got married... maybe it was awkward for him too.”
MY DEEPEST NEED IS A RELATIONSHIP WITH YOU
(I need time with parents)
Not only will they not say this—they won’t even admit to it or understand it. This one resides so deep in our God-given design, that we barely recognize it. It’s the life results that make it so obvious. A teenager who has a healthy relationship with Dad and Mom is just an entirely different creature than one that doesn’t. They think differently, feel differently (emotionally), reason differently, behave differently, and have vastly different lives for the long-term. The key is this—you must make it happen. You must create these moments. No force on earth—not sports, not homework, not friends, not youth group, not work—should keep you from having quality, quantity time together.
“I went soulwinning with my mom, and those were the only times I really got to talk to my mom—not just about church things, but about anything. She would take me to lunch afterward. Four hours is a long time. I truly treasured that time, because home life is so busy you don’t really talk.”
“Probably the best thing my dad let me do was buy a 1968 Pontiac. We spent the next two and a half years together working on it. I got quality time with my dad doing something we both loved, and I also got practical hands-on mechanical training.”
I NEED AND WANT RULES BORN OUT OF LOVE AND ENFORCED WITH SINCERITY
(Biblically deal with your own failures)
Teens expect us to be authorities—they know that love is sometimes tough. When we fail to provide and consistently enforce boundaries, or when we give too much freedom with no restraint, they know the interpretation—“Stay out of my way, I don’t really care about you.” Biblical parenting requires much wisdom and effort. It’s a sacrifice—hard work—to stand in the gap spiritually.
“Teens might fight the rules, but they need them more than anything. I am so glad my parents protected me from certain things. I owe where I am now to them. There were times that I didn’t break rules because I didn’t want to disappoint my parents, and if the rules hadn’t been there, I would have regretted it later.”
“My parents were good about explaining to us why they had certain rules for us as teenagers. That was a good move because it didn’t give us the chance to sit and think of all the cruel reasons they had come up with these restrictions, and we respected them for it.”
I NEED UNITED AUTHORITY IN MY LIFE
(Nothing confuses me more than conflicting authorities)
How often I counsel families where Mom and Dad do not stand together. One parent disagrees with the other on discipline. One hides things from the other. Statements like, “Don’t tell your father…” or “Just because Pastor believes it doesn’t mean we have to…” abound in today’s Christian home.
For a teen, divided authorities brings confusion and frustration. If you don’t agree with your school or pastor, privately resolve the issue with the authority. If you are at odds with your spouse, work it out. For your child’s sake—stand together with biblical authorities and with one another. Work out your differences privately, but stand together publicly.
“My parents never sided against an authority figure! They always supported them in front of us even if the authority figure was wrong.”
I’M AS CONFUSED AS YOU ARE ABOUT MY PROBLEMS
The truth—when you, in frustration, ask, “What’s wrong with you!?”—they honestly don’t know the answer. If you feel like you are confused about what’s going on inside their minds and hearts—join the club—so are they. This is partially due to a complete brain rebuild that’s happening between the ages of twelve and twenty, but it’s also due to spiritual battle for a young heart. Be willing to work through problems together, and find biblical solutions with patience and prayer.
“Teens need answers to their problems. If they can’t talk to you about them and get answers, they are going to go somewhere else.”
GOD ONLY NEEDS A MOMENT TO CHANGE MY LIFE, AND I NEED YOU TO HELP ME BE THERE FOR THAT MOMENT
We’re so quick to let less important things take the place of the teaching/preaching of God’s Word to our children. Soccer league trumps Bible Study. Birthday trip trumps church. Studying for a test trumps Sunday school. Cost savings trumps teen camp.
These, and all like them, are just very bad choices. There will always be a reason to miss the teaching of God’s Word—and before you know it, your family has missed dozens upon dozens of opportunities for spiritual growth and development. Make the Bible your first priority, and everything else can find a place around it—or not happen at all. Your kid can miss a few soccer practices—or the whole season for that matter—and be just fine. Miss the Bible, and you invite disaster.
“I was fifteen and had just come back from teen camp where God completely changed my life. The whole week climaxed to the final night where I know God called me to serve Him for the rest of my life. When I came home that Friday and told my dad, his response was: ‘I knew God was going to do something like that in your life.’”
ALONG WITH DISCIPLINE, I REALLY NEED TO KNOW YOU ACCEPT ME IN SPITE OF MY FAILURES
Firm discipline must be coupled with acceptance. Discipline isn’t rejection. Discipline should be restorative not merely punitive. Teens can handle discipline that flows from a compassionate heart and ends with a hug and prayer. Be sure you provide biblical discipline that corrects behavior, nurtures the heart, and fully accepts the child all at the same time.
“While there needs to be a punishment when you do something wrong, there also needs to be forgiveness, and a learning process from it.”
MORE THAN ANYTHING I NEED YOUR AFFIRMATION. LET ME KNOW WHEN I'M DOING SOMETHING RIGHT.
Teens generally go through life feeling like they are always in trouble. In most cases, they over-exaggerate our discipline and feel like complete failures. For this reason, it’s important to create the right context—if something is small, let them know it’s small. And when you deliver discipline, balance it out with tender love, encouragement, and unconditional acceptance. For every one time you deliver a reprimand, try to deliver ten affirmations. That ratio of ten to one will keep you constantly challenged to find the good and praise it!
“When you are a teen, you get in trouble a lot. It always seems to a teenager every time they do something wrong they are always caught and always punished, but when they do something good it is just expected and nothing is ever said. Often, the only time you get attention in your home is on your birthday or when you do something wrong.”
“Sometimes it seemed like my parents paid much more attention to everything I did wrong than anything I did right. This was extremely discouraging, and there were times when I became very bitter towards them.”
So there you have it—ten things teens won’t tell you. Pray for wisdom as you seek to love those young hearts toward a life-time intimacy with their Heavenly Father!