Thursday, April 21, 2011

Loving Your Teenager: Communication Fail to Effective Listener

"The first duty of love is to listen." ~Tillich
My sweet Emily Jane, 7th Grade
Sometime during Emily's 7th grade year, the door flew open after school 
and in trudged my girl...she had a lot on her mind.  I stood behind the kitchen counter, ready to offer a snack as Emily hopped up on the bar stool, opened her metal adorned mouth and began to talk.  

On her mind, was the behavior of her dear friend, Courtney, 
who was, as she put it, "acting crazy."  
Tails of Courtney's antics with boys, diva attitude and questionable wardrobe spewed out in a frantic barrage of words that left me reeling.  My internal "safety" meter began to flail.  I reacted as if I was watching a scene from a horror movie~ my face contorted in panic and for added emphasis, I gasped, threw my hand over my mouth; and peered at her through eyes squeezed tight. 

Before Emily could finish, I joined her tirade, saying something like this,
 "Well, that is just INCREDIBLE.  What in the world is she thinking? She is obviously insecure, looking for acceptance and needs someone to tell her a thing or two!"

At which point Emily, equally shocked at my response, 
hopped off the bar stool and stomped up stairs as she screamed,
 "Oh, MOM! You don't even really know this girl!  She isn't a bad girl, 
she is just confused!

And that was the end of that!
Sitting alone, mouth agape, exhaling a sigh of confusion, I realized in that moment that I had a lot to learn about mothering a teenager.  And it had to do with LISTENING.   
So I began to pray for a second chance.

In the meantime, I consulted our dear friend and pastorCharley Hellmuth.

This was his advice:
"The best way to handle teenagers is to ask them questions that lead them to speak the truth for themselves.  Once they say the right things, they can't argue with their own defense.  This is the only way to discover if they are filtering life through a Christian world view."  

My second chance came a week later when Emily began to talk to me again at bedtime. 
I put on my "poker face," listening with occasional nods, interjecting  
 validating statements like:
"That must have hurt your feelings."
"I can tell you have really been thinking about this."
and a then a REALLY great question to wrap up the conversation:
"What do YOU think about this?"
As she considered the question, she answered me with great insight regarding her situation.
  I told her I was proud of her and that she was very wise.  
After a short prayer, I kissed her and turned out the light.
As I left her room, I was teary-eyed~  so very grateful for wise counsel and second chances.

My last teenager will graduate from high school next year and there are times when I still parent out of FEAR instead of FAITH.  Since Austin is the only one at home now, 
all of my parenting power is laser focused on him, bless his heart.  
Sometimes I have to put on a virtual "straight jacket" to hold myself back from 
telling Austin what to do.  But in the victorious moments when my "poker face" is in tact and my breathing is steady and even, my Austin steps up to the plate and I realize that he knows more than I give him credit for.  
Then I rejoice when I realize that all these years of pouring myself out like a drink offering have been worth it, 
and I am steadily working myself out of a job. 
My nearly grown up kids: Austin, Emily and Blake 
{Bottom LINE}
Don't panic when your teens open up {if you begin to panic, put on your poker face!}
Be an "active" listener and draw the answers from your teenager.
Before offering opinions or telling them what to do, ask this question, 
"What do YOU think you should do about this?"

There are still times when "Making yourself perfectly clear on a subject" is absolutely imperative, but investigate the heart of your teen before you shift into the mode of a dictator.
They really will love you for it!

{Tools for the Journey}
Here is a very helpful tool on my bookshelf regarding this subject:
by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish   


  1. You've done such a great job with Blake, Em and Austin.... I know that parenting is so hard...I'm amazed...