As a counselor in my office, I have what I call an “emotion cheat sheet” with about 20 emoji faces labeled with the corresponding emotions. It sounds silly, but I have to use this with practically every student that comes in for counseling (and a lot of adults too). Few of us can identify one or two emotions that we are experiencing at any given point. We live in a world where expression can come through texts, social media, and emoji’s. None of these things are necessarily bad but we find that when we lose body language, eye contact, and context it can create loneliness, isolation, and misunderstanding. Most teenagers don’t know how to express themselves or put words to their thoughts and/or emotions. It is our job as parents and mentors to help them grow and learn the skills to share their emotions through conversation. Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go; Even when he is old he will not depart from it.” By creating relationships that cultivate good communication we can help these students through many of life’s hurdles and strengthen their relationship with the Lord.
1) Eliminate distractions
It isn’t possible to have productive conversation with someone who is constantly on their phone, tablet, or watching TV. Healthy conversation comes when both people are focused on each other. By limiting time on devices (teens and parents alike) you allow for communication to happen at any moment.
2) Create time and be Intentional
A typical student’s schedule is school, practice, shower, dinner, homework and bed. They are usually going from about 6:30 in the morning until about 11 at night, and that is just their schedule! Cultivating good relationships with our children requires that we be intentional about making time for them. If this is new be patient! Opening up does not come easily and can often seem forced or awkward. Try going for a walk, eating dinner together, or going to get dessert. Make this time fun and relaxed.
3) Be comfortable
Many teens don’t talk about their experiences or self because they find it awkward or they are embarrassed. Parents need to be comfortable talking about EVERYTHING with their children. Ask them the difficult questions. Be specific about their everyday struggles (relationships, sexual purity, drugs, alcohol, parties, friendships, etc.). Be comfortable with silence. Sometimes allowing teens time to think and respond is important and you don’t want to fill the space with unnecessary words. If you find it difficult to discuss these things with your children, imagine the difficulty they feel opening up to you.
It takes time to create meaningful conversation. If this is new or difficult for you give it time, and have patience. Pray and read scripture with your children, allowing time for reflection. “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise”, Deut. 6:6-7.