The other night, my family and I attended a local touch football game at a nearby school field. While watching the game and cheering on the players, we had a chance to connect with other spectators. In speaking with some of the parents, we were able to share with one another the joys and challenges of raising children of various ages.
As I played with our kids in the sand pit and chased them up and down the track surrounding the playing field, one mom marveled with nostalgia at how our young children were so captivated and actually delighted in sharing time and conversation with me. Having a good laugh over this point, she quipped that these days it can seem like her teenage daughter barely chats with her and her husband.
I reminded her that, despite the awkward time of adolescence and the reality that teens don’t often talk with their parents, what matters most is that they still come to their parents when it counts.
Building a Strong Foundation
Sure, your teen may give one-word answers at the dinner table when asked how school is going or how things are for a particular friend. Yet, you know you still have a close bond if your teenage child approaches you when they have their heart broken, or if they come to you for life advice of any sort.
My wife and I are blessed to have three young children ages five years and younger. I love how they run to me and wish to tell me everything that crosses their mind. That said, I know there will come a day where I will struggle with their becoming so reserved around me. I only hope and pray we will have the relationship foundation that will prompt them to always feel comfortable talking with me and opening up about anything and everything in their life.
To that end, what does someone need to do in order to communicate with teens effectively? Below are ten points that I have come to appreciate in my life dealing with kids of all ages, as a relative, family friend, and teacher.
1. Keep God at the Center
No matter what, having God as the base of all of our words and conversations can teach our youths to always keep him close in their lives. Praying with them, calling them gifts or blessings from God and thanking the Lord for creating them can further serve to empower them in their daily living. Other practices such as leaving sticky notes of inspirational biblical passages or prayer cards in their lunch boxes or on their bedroom mirror can remind them of their treasured worth and significance, delivering critical messages and lessons without uttering a single word.
2. Eye Contact
Little children, senior citizens, and everyone in between all appreciate receiving undivided attention when talking with someone. Making eye contact when speaking with people shows we value that individual, while indicating what they have to say or what we are discussing together is important.
Keeping focus on a youth when talking with him or her can help validate their presence and the conversation we are having at the time. Besides, as we are called to see God in the face of others, it is hard to notice God’s presence in a youth with whom we are communicating if our eyes are constantly shifting elsewhere.
3. Listening vs. Hearing
It is easy to hear someone talking to us, but how often do we actually devote our attention to listening to what he or she is saying? Be careful to not multi-task too much or divide your concentration. God encourages us to tune in to what our youths are trying to tell us. In this way, we demonstrate to them how much we value them. In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus tells us:
“Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it” (Luke 18:16-17).
Couple listening with not interrupting. We cannot properly listen without first being silent.
4. Patience Is a Virtue
One of the greatest challenges I find in fatherhood is being patient with our young kids. My high school students test my patience also. I suppose this is one way God reveals himself to me on a routine basis, reminding me of the importance and benefit of such a beautiful virtue.
Often, our kids will battle the many thoughts running through their brain. The tendency to stammer their words when trying to convey information is common. In times such as these, I am thankful for God providing me with the opportunity to develop greater patience, allowing our children the chance to grow by working through and overcoming their difficulties. Much like developing their eye-hand coordination and dexterity by tying their own shoes or buttoning their own shirt, youths need an honest chance to ask questions, tell stories, and explain thoughts no matter what time may they require to do that.
5. Time Is of the Essence
With the busy nature of society today, communicating with youths effectively can only happen if we set aside time for them. Whether it be at the dinner table, driving to various destinations, pre-bedtime prayer sessions, or daily recaps of another sort, having specified time established for conversation can help our youths know how much we value them, and how we are interested in learning more about their lives. This, in turn, can further engage our youths to share willingly, since they will feel confident we are available to them.
6. Be Open, Not Shut
Back in journalism school, I learned the value of asking open-ended questions. Asking rhetorical questions or ones with yes/no answers does very little in offering a person opportunity to share with us. By asking questions that invite or encourage expression, we can show our youths our genuine interest and curiosity regarding their viewpoints and situations. As Jesus invited the children to come to him, we can also gain a great lesson in humility by offering youths opportunity to express their thoughts, all the while teaching us fresh perspectives.
7. Be Clear and Concise
Something not easy for a chatterbox such as myself to display, speaking succinctly can keep conversation participants involved and interested in a given conversation. The more we ramble or lecture to a person, the more we risk having them tune out or feel judged in some way. When communicating with youths, providing them with our insights or ideas should always be followed by an equal chance for them to articulate their points of view. After all, we also appreciate it when we are talking with someone, rather than being talked at by someone. Remember the Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12).
I do not know of anyone who likes being criticized or judged. Imagine how you would feel if your conversations with people regularly flowed in a pattern of disrespect or judgment. When dealing with youths and their understandable sensitivities, it is important we are mindful of their potential reactions to our delivery—both content and style. Something such as sarcasm—while intended as harmless or humorous—can easily backfire on us. It can be misunderstood and received instead as biting and destructive to a youth’s self-esteem.
9. Walking a Mile in Their Shoes
When youths share with us, it is not only important to listen and give them our attention, but also to offer our heart to them. Holding empathy for youths during times of difficulty while celebrating with them during times of joy, we can display much-needed support and validate their particular experiences while providing them with a feeling of worth and understanding.
10. Mirror Mirror
In our faith, we constantly ask what Jesus would do in any given situation while aiming to reflect that on to others. To communicate effectively with youths, we should set a healthy example for them to follow. Speaking kindly and humbly and without swear words, we show children of all ages how to best articulate words politely and respectfully. Using manners and giving directions (not orders), we exemplify to our youths the positive impact of courtesy and respect. Furthermore, providing comments of praise and encouragement can do wonders for a youth’s self-confidence and perception, allowing him or her to better recognize and believe in their identity as a precious child of God.
God’s Will Be Done
While communicating with young people is not altogether easy at times, following these methods and tips can help ensure we encourage healthy growth in our youths. In doing so, we can then support their personal development while fostering an environment that makes God’s kingdom present in the world.
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About Matt Charbonneau
Matt Charbonneau is a high school religious education teacher who inspires his students to explore a deeper relationship with God. Applying uplifting lessons, engaging activities and insightful experiences, he strives to demonstrate the powerful presence and unconditional love of God in everyday life. For more of Matt’s writing, visit God’s Giveaways at www.mattcharbonneau.com.