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Conversation starters: Talking to your teen

By Lee Wetherbee

Today’s teens encounter a world that, in some ways, is strikingly different from that of their parents. But there are also common denominators of life that connect the generations. Parents need to remember the physical and emotional changes they experienced growing up as they deal with children going through the same adjustments. Just as parents are prone to do, adolescents can think of and test many possible explanations for an observed event. They can evaluate what they’re told on an abstract level without reference to real-world events. When their reactions are run through a parent’s mental and emotional filters, teens may come across as unrealistic or unreasonable. But it is vital that parents listen lovingly, even to seemingly crazy ideas. Parents should constantly encourage their teens to remain open, and the key to encouraging such communication is the respect and love shown when it is offered.

Here are some suggestions for conversation starters and effective listening.

• “What do you think about (a real life situation in your community)?”

• “Is there a way I can help?”

• “What would you do in a situation like that?”

• “Can you imagine how that must have felt?”

• “This is uncomfortable to talk about.” (Let’s be honest. It gives us some credibility.)

• “I worry that (you’re sexually active, using drugs, will use drugs, etc.). That’s why I’m asking.”

• Genuinely be interested in what they have to say whenever they talk to you.

• Discuss what you hear together in a sermon, on the radio, television, etc.

• Talk about how God is moving in your life and the ways in which your personal devotions help you.

• Modeling is a powerful way to teach. Teens see what parents do even if they don’t seem to hear what parents say.

• Listen without comment as you travel with them. You’re part of the vehicle as far as they and their friends are concerned. You can learn a lot this way.


Lee Wetherbee, Ph.D., is clinical director at EMERGE Ministries in Akron, Ohio.

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