Stop nagging me!
You don’t have to tell me every time!
Mom, I know already!
Ever heard anything like that from your teenagers? Granted, sometimes such defensive responses are simply the result of the inherent angst that comes with being a teenager, but sometimes, their comebacks are just a reaction to us. When that’s the case, we need to do some heart evaluation and communication surgery!
When our children are small, it’s important…. No, it’s essential for us to give them clear and unambiguous instructions. We don’t ask them to obey us! Instead, we instruct them and expect them to respond in obedience.
We don’t ask them if they’d like to go to bed; we tell them to go upstairs and get into bed.
We don’t ask them if they want to do the dishes; we direct them to the kitchen and inform them of the job that needs to be done.
To ask our young children questions, when we intend to give them instructions is to set them up for failure. When they answer our questions according to their desires, “No thanks, I’d rather not go to bed now!” we too often respond in anger and frustration. Small children need clear direction in order to obey successfully!
For our young children, we must inform them of what is expected, rather than asking them what they are going to do.
But then, our precious, cuddly young children become teenagers.
They’re still our children, but YIKES, something has changed. It isn’t just that they’re taller, have deeper voices, and are suddenly more aware of their hygiene habits. These new creatures inhabiting our homes are, by their very nature, assuming new roles, embracing more independence, and craving autonomy.
As much as we still love them just like we did when they were little, we can no longer treat them in the same manner in which we did when they were little!
Which brings us to those defensive replies at the start of this email. It would be so easy for us to simply get caught up in the disrespect our teens are showing us by those types of responses, without considering our part of the equation. It would be so easy to punish them for their poor communication, without recognizing the sticky situation in which they find themselves.
Unlike our small children, we can’t simply inform our teenagers what we want them to do. To solely give directions, without considering the need to show respect and recognize our teen’s autonomy, is to cause relational damage and unnecessary strife.
The wise parent asks their teenager good questions, rather than informing their teen of “how things will be.”
Asking questions reassures our teenagers that we respect them. For teenage boys, especially, the need to feel respected by their mother is huge! Even when no disrespect is intended, their “respect meters” are so sensitive that they will often respond defensively. Good questions help to defuse defensiveness!
Asking questions gives our teenagers the opportunity to succeed without our intervention. If we want our teens to take ownership of their life and decisions, we must give them the chance to live that life and make those decisions!
Asking questions can help our teenagers make wise decisions. When they don’t feel the need to “push back” against our authoritative directions, they will be able to slow down and consider the long-term outcomes of their choices. If we are characterized by respectfully asking those good questions, it will be easier for them to include us in the decision-making process.
Regardless of how consistently you remind yourself to ask good questions, there will still be times that your teen responds to you defensively. In spite of allowing them the time to slow down and consider their choices, there will be times that your teen will just plain old blow it!
Don’t let those times catch you by surprise! Just because your teen is reacting poorly doesn’t mean that you need to respond in like manner. Calmly, (sometimes easier said than done!) address the defensiveness or failure and help your teen self-evaluate their choices. Insist that they appraise their reactions and decisions and assist them as they determine what they could have done differently.
Take the time to reassure them of your love for them.
Take the time to encourage them that failure is only a momentary setback.
Take the time to pray with them and remind them that God isn’t done with either of you, yet.
Although your teens may look, act, and smell differently now, they still long for affirmation and acceptance. They still love you even though it doesn’t seem that way sometimes! When you communicate clearly that you understand the transitions they are going through, and that you also recognize your own need to transition in your relationship with them as well, you can effectively provide that affirmation and acceptance they so desperately need.