Connecting with your teenager can be a little more difficult than it was in their younger years. However, while parenting teens can be challenging, it’s also the time in which we continue to lay the foundation for lifelong relationships. During adolescence, a natural separation occurs because of our teenager’s attempts to become more independent. Unfortunately, the teen years are also packed with important decisions, a plethora of temptations, and an abundance of voices trying desperately to lead them astray. These are the years when they need our guidance the most! What’s a parent to do?
Our instinct is to hold them tighter, but our attempts at control often backfire and push them further away. How do we, as parents, continue to have a positive influence in our teens’ lives at a time when they are often uninterested and resistant towards our advice?
3 Ways to Build Connection & Positive Influence with Your Teen
This seems obvious, but I’ll be honest— prayer is often the last thing I think to do. My instinct is to problem solve, give advice, or discipline. As a parent, I want to DO something; and unfortunately, praying often feels passive. Yet, the Lord knows their hearts better than we do, and helping them connect with Him is more valuable than any advice we might offer. So, when our teens are hesitant to talk—or listen— to us, we can remember we have a beautiful opportunity to influence them by praying for them and with them.
* Pray for your teen: If your teen is struggling in a certain area, find Scripture verses that speak of God’s desires and faithfulness in that area and pray them over your teen. Over the years, I have prayed for the Lord to give my teens conviction, boldness, compassion, wisdom, and discernment. I have prayed for their sins to be found out, for them to know the truth and be set free, for them not to be conformed to the ways of the world, and for them to love Jesus and be transformed by His Word, among other things. The Bible is overflowing with promises our teens need, and we can encourage them by praying specific verses over them.
* Pray with your teen: It is a blessing that so much of what our children experience during the teen years is completely out of our control. After all, how else would any of us learn to trust Jesus? These challenging situations provide wonderful opportunities to teach them how to turn to the Lord. This is the perfect time to help our teens connect with Jesus!
If your teen is lonely, pray with them, asking the Lord to provide godly, encouraging friendships. When they are making important decisions, help them seek the Lord’s direction and wisdom. Together, we have asked God to help our teens find lost items, to give our teens boldness to confront difficult situations, to provide new activities and hobbies, to give them courage and discernment, and we’ve even prayed for a new puppy… all of which He has provided (so be careful what you pray for!).
When we pray with our teens for what they need, we are able to help them connect the dots between their prayers and God’s faithfulness, building a faith foundation for the years to come. Not only that, something about praying together helps our hearts connect with theirs in deeply bonding ways.
2. A Listening Ear
We had a saying in my early years of Youth Ministry: “Kids don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” The best way to show a teen you care is to actually listen to them. If we desire to truly influence our teens, we must work on our listening skills.
Learn to Listen More Than You Talk
Unfortunately, I do this much better as a small group leader than I do as a parent. With my own teens, I am tempted to control the conversation and make sure I get my point across. But the fastest way to ruin a connection with a teen is to talk before you listen, particularly if you are frustrated or disappointed. As James reminds us, we must “be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.” (James 1:19, NIV)
Here are a few tips for giving your teen the gift of a listening ear:
*Listen without judgement
*Don’t make it about you
When you listen to your teen, try to set your agenda aside and truly be present. Listen past their words to their heart, to their fears, to all the things they might not be saying. Be interested and engaged; and then keep their confidence. It might take awhile, but eventually your teen might even feel safe enough to seek your advice.
3. A Mentor
When our teens begin separating from us and become more difficult for us to connect with, it’s important to recognize that they are more open than ever to the other voices in their life. That’s where the next gift lies: in cultivating a circle of people who influence our teens for good.
This is how we can step back a bit from our teens without leaving them at the mercy of culture. As parents, we have the opportunity to help create an environment of positive influence in the lives of our teens by being intentional about helping shape their circle of mentors—the people who will have the most impact on them during these crucial years. As they separate from us, to whom will they turn for guidance? Whose example will they follow?
The best-kept secret in parenting teens is to multiply your influence during these years by inviting other people into their circle. Make no mistake—nothing replaces the importance of a teen’s relationship with their parents. But as they seek to create their own identity apart from us, the best thing we can do is surround them with solid, reliable, caring people who can step into the gap for us. This might be a teacher, coach, neighbor, relative, small group leader, or family friend. Good mentors and role models are all around us; we just need to take the time to look for them.
By being intentional about surrounding our teens with mentors we trust, we can help them receive what they need most while maintaining a front row seat to what God is doing in their life.
The Greatest Gift
Of all the gifts we can give our teenagers, a meaningful relationship with their Savior, with us, and with those around them is by far the greatest. As you journey through the teen years, be intentional about praying, listening, and surrounding our teens with people who will love them well and point them to Jesus.