“Being related is not the same thing as having a relationship”: 7 tips for having heartfelt conversations with your teens
by Christine Leow // September 19, 2023, 3:55 pm
While teens may be more difficult to engage, conversations with them are important for parents to influence their values and world view, said Dr Ron Hunter Jr. Photo by Katerina Holmes:
Parenting is tough. But parenting teens is tougher.
“In the early stages, we can talk to our kids wonderfully.
“Without conversations, generations have no relationship. Without relationships, there is no influence.”
“But when they hit middle school, it’s almost like some UFO came along, took our kid and dropped back this one whom we don’t even recognise.
“We’re like, ‘I can’t even talk to them anymore.’”
US-based Director of D6 Family Conference Dr Ron Hunter Jr was making the keynote address – “Pursuing the Heart of a Child/Teen in a Post-modern World” – at this year’s D6 Family Conference.
An expert in generational discipleship, he is the Director of the D6 Conference, as well as Executive Director and CEO of Randall House which publishes the D6 curriculum. Dr Hunter is also a former senior pastor and an author.
Dr Hunter explained the seeming gulf between parents and teens as part of “God designing your kids to become young adults”.
“The problem is the tension between them and you when their decisions don’t align with yours.”
“They’re supposed to be coming into their own. They’re supposed to be making their own decisions. The problem is the tension between them and you when their decisions don’t align with yours.”
This is due to a post-modern world in which our children are “bombarded with messaging that goes contrary to Scripture, goes contrary to our Church”.
We need to be able to approach their hearts to shape their values. This needs to be done through conversations.
“Without conversations, generations do not value each other, because they have no relationship.
“Without relationships, there is no influence. And make no mistake, being related is not the same thing as having a relationship.”
Taking inspiration from Ephesians 6, Dr Hunter shared how we can set the foundation for spiritual conversations with our children.
1. Work on your own marriage
In Ephesians 6, before Paul talked about how parents and children should behave in God’s household, he talked about how husbands and wives should relate to each other, said Dr Hunter.
“If your marriage is not right, your kids are downstream from it and they’re always going to get the flow of your marriage. You may think it’s pristine, but sometimes that flow is toxic.”
So a healthy marriage is vital. Unless conversations with our children flow from a healthy marriage, our children will not listen to what we have to say.
2. Build a relationship with your teen
Teenagers tend to listen more to their friends who are “speaking into their ears” because of the relationship they have with these friends.
“They also have their phones and their phones are often the biggest experts in their lives, not their parents.”
“If you don’t engage their heart, you’ll never engage their mind.”
Parents need to speak out of a relationship with their teen. Otherwise, their teens’ relationship with the world will teach them the values of the world.
“The relationships in their lives will teach them to be racists. They’ll teach them to be atheists. They’ll teach them to adopt values of those that they respect.”
Fathers seem to have a more difficult time building such relationships, which is why Paul tells fathers in Ephesians 6:4 not to provoke their children.
“How do we provoke them? By always barking orders at them, always putting them on a performance scale,” said Dr Hunter.
“And we’re always criticising them. Every time they hear from us, we’re tearing them down, not nurturing and building them up.
“Dads, we’ve got to engage the heart of the child. If you don’t engage their heart, you’ll never engage their mind. They’ve got to know that you have their very best interests in mind, not your own pride about how they perform.
“It’s a very searing verse and I don’t like it that Paul addressed us. But dads, we needed it. I needed it.”
3. Recognise that your child is not your enemy
Just as Paul talked about the battle not being “against flesh and blood” (Ephesians 6:12), parents need to remember that the struggle is not against their teens but the issues at hand.
“If you have tension between your teenager and yourself, or your young adult child and yourself, the battle is not just between you.
“Satan has jumped in here and caused that tension, and we need to recognise it for what it is so we don’t attack the child. We attack the problem. It’s not important to be right. It is important to pursue right.”
4. Realise the challenges that post-modernism present
Parents need to know the kind of things our post-modern world is teaching our children.
“What our kids are being taught is this: Everybody can be right. God may be your God, but I may have a god, I may choose to worship no god. We are going to accept all forms of truth.”
“Our children are going to interpret the world based on experience, not on principles.”
In addition, they are told that it is “all about respecting and understanding” each other, and that people see the world in lots of different ways because of their own unique experiences.
“Our children are going to interpret the world based on experience, not on principles.”
Finally, the post-modern world emphasises the deconstruction and relativism of truth, meaning and identity. It makes our children question their faith, the Bible and the Church.
This is compounded by the fact that until they are 25, their brains are not fully formed.
“We have to teach them how to let their brains drive them.”
This involves sharing not just truths but the reasoning behind why we hold to these truths so as to “engage the heart as well as the brain”.
“We can read about the atrocities of what Germany did to the Jewish people. But if you’ve ever visited one of the Holocaust museums or saw the scratches in the gas chamber, it will move you in ways you never thought it could.”
5. Be prepared to answer tough questions
As our teens question their faith, they will ask tough questions.
“Brush up on how to answer the tough questions that our teenagers ask.”
“Parents, you can learn how to have good answers that your kids are going to have about their critiques of the Bible.
“It’s called apologetics.
“I would brush up on how to answer the tough questions that our teenagers ask because they are going to ask someone.
“There are some great resources online for free.
“There’re some great books, there’re some great podcasts.”
6. Make time for talk
Just as we pencil in appointments in our lives, pencil in time with the family.
“You need to guard that time like you would any other counselling appointment, and any other meeting that you have. Then your family will feel as prioritised as your ministry.”
Meal times are excellent for talking, said Dr Hunter. One study showed that children value dinners together more than vacations or any other activities as a family.
7. Use T.A.L.K to have conversations
T – Tailor your talk to personalities
Talk needs to be geared towards connection and not correction.
Introverts and extroverts need to be engaged differently.
Introverts tend to prefer to get to the point in conversations. Extroverts enjoy the conversation but may not get to the point.
Introverted parents, when talking to their extroverted child, need to be aware of this difference so as not to come across as abrasive. Extroverted parents need to learn to “share the space of the conversation” and not dominate the talk.
But the talk needs to be geared towards connection and not correction.
A – Ask the right questions
Instead of asking “How was your day?”, ask high-low questions – what was the highest part of your day or the best part, and what is the lowest part of your day or the worst?
To get past one-word answers, which teens tend to give, parents can ask follow-up questions such as, “What made it good or bad? Tell me more.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“What do you think caused it?”
“Help me to understand that” and “What do you think should have happened?”
L – Listen to the heart
Learn to pause before answering your child.
“They know when you’re formulating an answer, trying to jump in and cut them off. Instead, just pause, hang on, be silent for a moment.
“I realised I was crushing my introverted son with a very heavy-handed answer.”
“If you do ask, ask follow-up questions even if you disagree with them.”
Dr Hunter shared about a time his son returned from his freshman year in college during Christmas break and asked to transfer schools. He was studying to be an engineer at the college of his choice, one of the top schools of the state.
His reason was that his teachers did not care about the students and the new school was closer to home and, therefore, to his girlfriend.
“At that moment. I really did kind of go off on my son like, ‘Son, this is a season of life. We do not make decisions based on who we’re dating.’
“And I realised I was crushing my introverted son with a very heavy-handed answer. And I’m very, very thankful that the Holy Spirit checked me.
“I had to remind myself it took a lot for him to bring that conversation up. So I said, ‘Let’s put this on pause. Let’s bring your mum into this equation tonight.’”
Dr Hunter’s wife helped him to see that the reasons were really more than just to be near his son’s girlfriend. In the end, they helped him transfer schools. Today, his son is an engineer and loving what he does.
“That’s what we need to do with our kids – hear them all the way through.”
K – Kudos to the kids
Be generous with compliments.
“Our kids don’t get enough compliments from us as parents. Often, they get way more criticism than they get compliments.
“We want our kids to influence their friends and then one day their own kids, and make disciples.”
“They get compliments from their friends, ‘Oh, that’s a cute dress. Oh, those are great shoes.’ We didn’t even notice their dress or shoes.
“Take time to figure out how they handled a situation well. Even if it was only 10 per cent, compliment that and really engage that.
“When they get compliments, they listen to the person who affirms them. Therefore, their friends are going to influence their decisions more than the parents who criticise them.”
In the end, all this is to not just raise disciples, but to raise disciple-makers.
“We want our kids to influence their friends, and then one day their own kids, and make disciples.”
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