A group of students gave me an amazing gift of sitting across from them. Twenty years of counseling adolescents created a close-up view of students’ hearts, thoughts, disappointments, hopes, and how they perceive life. Each student’s perception of life has a direct correlation with their feelings about their life at home and their relationship with each parent. The thought process of adolescents is intriguing and for the last twenty years each time a student mentions their parents, I mentally take notes, for they are teaching me how to communicate with my own kids and teens. Very early on in my counseling career, my biggest win was getting the student and their parents communicating in love.
As Parents – We want to get it right:
At that point, I started thinking about the teens coming to my office and how I could learn from them. How could I help them in their relationship with their parents? What could I learn about parenting from hearing their struggles, needs, heartache, the root of their struggles…?
Every student I had the honor of sitting across from taught me something. These are a few treasures I was given by listening to their thoughts, beliefs, and hearts.
- 15 Lessons Learned from Students
- Lesson 1: As insecurities run wild, each student that I met with desired to experience closeness with both of their parents in an authentic way.
- Lesson 2: Teens want us (parents) to ask them questions, not to interrogate them, but to ask a question and wait for an answer.
We wonder at some point will they talk to us? If we are developing a relationship with them, they will, most likely not on our timing.
Hearing what their dreams, goals, and desires are will help us partner with them. One of the best questions we can ask our teens is, “How can I partner with you in this ____ (dream, goal, desire)?”
Side note: Some parents give up too quickly. We as parents have so much to say and teach, yet if we listen -we will learn what is on our student’s mind and heart. Listening opens the door for them to listen to us. This takes patience if our teen is an introvert, yet when we least expect it we will get a meaningful conversation.
- Lesson 3: Every student wants to be pursued by each of their parents. Even when teens slam doors and ignore their parents, they secretly hope their parents knock on the door and keep asking questions. Countless teens told me this!
- Lesson 4: Speak into our teens who we want them to be! The power of words is beyond our comprehension. Teens cling to words spoken over them. Our words are either life-giving or discouraging.
If we want to raise leaders, we can say, “You are a leader, you are wise, God made you strong.” Students cling on to one or two words, names, or phrases their parents call them, and they tend to live this out. What word or phrase can you speak over your kids that you want your child/teen to live out?
- Lesson 5: Boundaries are essential for raising kids that feel secure.
(Resources: Boundaries with Kids by Dr. John Townsend and Henry Cloud and Boundaries with Teens Dr. John Townsend)
- Lesson 6: When we as parents say, “No!” explain why. Teens are not against us, they are learning to ask questions and with the right attitude- this is good. How we respond keeps the communication open.
- Lesson 7: Responding in emotion (anger or frustration) results in shutting down the communication. If we are emotional our teens will get emotional or disengage. All the emotion distracts from the issue at hand.
- Lesson 8: Say “YES!” if possible, sometimes when we (as parents) say, ‘No” but there is no apparent reason this causes rebellion. (My mom, Danise Owings, also gets the credit for teaching me this one.)
- Lesson 9: Adolescents are listening even when we don’t think they are. They listen to how we talk to our spouse, their siblings, our friends and coworkers. By listening to us, they are deciding if they want to talk to us and follow our example.
- Lesson 10: Catch them doing something right and affirm, appreciate, and communicate this. They want the affirmation! This leads to them repeating the affirmed behavior.
- Lesson 11: Celebrate who our child or teen is and the character qualities they possess, not just what they do!
For example: I have learned that choosing the same reaction after sports wins and losses creates confidence in our kids. Consistency communicates to our children/teens that they do not need to perform at a certain level to get our approval.
Example, we can say after a win or loss, “I loved watching you and I love being here.” This communicates that we enjoy being at their activities regardless of their performance. My mom calls this, “the hug after the game,” after raising Pro-Athletes, she told me the hug afterward is the most important and most memorable.
- Lesson 12: An apology goes a long way. If we want to get a fresh start, we can apologize.
Sometimes this leads to them telling us more about what we did that offended them or how it made them feel, I learned from the teens that I counseled, the best response here is to listen, not blame, shame, or justify. A simple, “I love you and I am sorry” is powerful and often leads to them apologizing too. Apologizing and forgiving leads to open communication and helps prevent resentment.
- Lesson 13: Every moment counts.
They are watching us as parents and deciding if they want to follow our example.. They notice how we respond to others, our routines, how we live out our faith, how we talk to our spouse, how we serve, give, and love others, how we pray.
- Lesson 14: Find ways to connect and create community in our students’ lives.
Champion Tribe for Dads/Sons
Cherished Circles for Moms/Daughters
- Lesson 15: Compassion:
If we keep in mind that ages 13-20 are not easy. Teenage stress, sadness, rejection is real. By remembering this, we can have compassion if they are not acting and responding how we think they should, before correcting the behavior, we can ask questions to find out what pain is underneath.
*What is going on in their heart and thoughts?
Our relationship with our children and teens is imperative for their success! All of us parents want to get it right and this happens in the moments that turn into years. (It is never too late to start creating a growing relationship with our children or teens!)
Becca Gunyon, MCC (loving life as a wife, mom of 5, counselor/parent coach, author of The Treasure, Choose Life to the Fullest books, Article from Parenting Moment by Moment- Embrace, Entrust, Enjoy -coming fall 2021