IMMIGRANT FAMILIES 4: Communicating with Teens
Many immigrant families have difficulties with their teenagers. The typical difficulty lies in parents who find their teenagers misbehaving and teenagers who find their parents not understanding.
Parents want their children to study hard but the thing most teenagers like being hard is rock, the music version.
Parents make rules which their teenagers seem to delight in breaking.
In many families, the exchange between parents, especially fathers and their teenagers varies from cold to hot. They either don’t talk at all or they yell at each other. In not a few cases, Christians included, physical force is involved.
I believe there is hope for those who are willing to put in the effort to right their wrongs.
Reasons Why Teenagers Do Not Share with Their Parents
I have asked teenagers to share with me the reasons why they find it difficult to share with their parents the things that are important to them. Again and again, I heard the following items mentioned:
- parents don’t have time.
- parents are not available when needed
- parents are not concerned/interested
- parents do not understand
- teenagers do not want to embarrass their parents or embarrass themselves
- parents take things too personally
- teenagers are afraid of being rejected, scolded, ridiculed or even beaten
- parents tend to blow things out of proportion
- parents do not listen
- parents do not talk with them
- parents do not keep confidences.
I am sure I have blow many opportunities for meaningful communication with my sons by not being sensitive enough to their feelings. I have failed to use their failure and inadequacy to further understand their values, perspectives, interests and convictions. I cut them off before they warm up. Also, I assume I understand what they have to say before they are finished.
Things to Do to Better Your Communication with Your Teenagers
- Think of the reason(s) for the breakdown or lack of communication with your teenagers.
- Determine to overcome the difficulties of communication. Ask God for wisdom, knowledge, courage and love.
- If necessary, ask for forgiveness. I am happy to report more and more people I talked to have heard their parents apologizing to them. To you who are struggling, I beg of you to swallow your pride together with your saliva and just do it. It works like magic.
- Express to your teenagers your desire to have better communication with them and take their seemingly disinterested look as a big smile of welcome.
- Take time to be involved in his interests, hobbies, activities etc. Time spells Take Initiative More Eagerly. Try asking your teenager, “I have two hours to spend with you this evening. What would you like to do?”
- Play and pray with them. One man told me the greatest help his parents have given him is the assurance they are praying for him everyday. I cannot think of a greater gife I can give to my sons than the gift of my time spent in remembering them before the throne of grace. Besides praying for them and with them, the next most important thing I can do with them is to play with them. Long after our teenagers have forgotten what we have tried to teach them verbally, they will still remember the good time they spent playing with us: bicycling, tennis, skiing, fishing, roller skating, chess, baseball, football, ping pong, hiking, jogging, sightseeing, shopping, etc. Both of my teenage sons have expressed to me something like, “School work sometimes interrupts what I really like to do.” If playing with your teenagers is way down on your priority list, I invite you to stand upside down and look at the list again.
- Involve them in the planning of family activities, vacations, decorating, major purchases, etc. Like spending time with them, asking your teenagers opinions is one sure way to enhance their self-esteem and confidence. Let’s fact it, some of our fourteen-year-olds know more about cars than their parents will ever know. The sooner we solicit their opinions, the sooner we will find out how smart and sensible they are in so many areas. Ask and you will be surprised.
- Share with them your difficulties, burdens, dreams, fears, success, failures, etc. If you are afraid they may not be able to take it, try to name one thing your parents shared with you that you thought was too much of a burden for you. I won’t be surprised if you think of no such thing.
- Respect their opinion. Affirm the part that you agree with them. For the part you do not agree, see if you can help your teenager to clarify his thinking further by asking him questions. The process of clarification not only helps him to sharpen his thinking but also teaches him a useful lesson of good communication.
- Show appreciation.
- Never, at least rarely, say, “You are not old enough” because it sounds too much like “you are not good enough.” Instead, respect them as you would an adult. Another variation of this point is, do not say, “When I was your age…”
- Ask (give them choices) instead of tell. If you were to ask your teenager, “which would you prefer, ‘let’s go to so-and-so restaurant for dinner,’ or ‘where should we go for dinner’”, which one do you think he would prefer? Most people prefer to have choices most of the time. For those times you do not want your teenagers to have choices (father and mother should have choices too sometimes), they don’t ask them but invite them instead.
- Listen to them. Study them. The more you know about them, the more you will understand, appreciate and love them.
- Touch them. Hug them. Kiss them. Most Chinese immigrants are not brought up with much physical intimacy and many are reluctant to do it. I can certainly understand. On the other hand, many people told me they had to learn how to touch and they were glad they did. Physical contact is one good way to communicate with our teenagers even though it might be hard for some.
- Rarely insist on outward conformity. The emphasis of the Bible is on the heart: values, principles, perspective, forgiveness, love, etc. The heart is where changes need to take place. Everything else is of secondary importance.
Don’t insist on your view and rule unless you can back it up with solid Biblical evidence.
Last night we read chapter 3 of II Thessalonians during our family devotions. Later I explained to my sons that Paul was exhorting the people not to idle but to work for the living because some Christians were anticipating the imminent coming of Christ and they felt they did not have to work. One of my sons said, “The passage does not say they were idle because of the hope of Christ’s coming.” I said, “But the rest of I & II Thessalonians speak so much of the coming of Christ so it is in that context that Paul asks the Christians not to be idle.” Not giving up, my son said, “But the passage does not explicitly saying that.” “You are right. It doesn’t say that. But I feel the context implies that.” “Maybe, I guess it’s OK,” he concluded.
When you are not overly dogmatic when the Bible is not explicitly clear, you allow your teenagers to see you are a reasonable man. By so doing, you encourage him to be reasonable.
- Have a time of family devotions together. Some of the most important and interesting discussions in our household take place at the family devotion time. It is a blessed time. We may not be able to have it every night for one reason or another, but we try. If your family is more musical, you will have a greater time, I am sure.
- Encourage them by praise, your approval, your presence, your hug/touch/smile, etc. Like the rest of the population, your teenagers will respond better to encouragement than criticism, threats, nagging, ridicule and sarcasm. When you teenagers feel encouraged, they will be more willing to comply with the wishes of their parents. They may even be willing to share some of the hopes and fears in their lives.
- Discuss things that interest you and/or them: current issues, church issues, gardening, bicycling, TV shows, politics, sports, school, etc. Most people, including teenagers, would talk if you were willing to talk about things that interest them. Let them talk about their hobbies, their favorite sports and their current interests and you may have your open door of communication.
- Serve the Lord together with them. I have seen families who serve the Lord together in doing skits, singing, traveling for the Lord. My sons have been most helpful in helping me set up sound systems and other equipment. Last year in Hong Kong, they had to carry a very heavy screen in crowded streets for over 15 minutes. Serving the Lord together is a wonderful way to get to know each other and open up avenues of communications.
- Make them your priorities. Don’t just give them the leftovers. Arrange your calendar so there are times which are blocked out especially for them. Stick to the schedule. If you must change it, consult them first and let them have the veto power unless there is absolutely no way out. The more often we break our promises, the weaker will be the channel of communication we have with our teenagers. If we don’t honor our time with them, why should they honor their time with us?
- Express and demonstrate your love and respect for your teenagers in ways which they can understand and appreciate. You may be stashing away thousands of dollars for their college funds, but they may not be able to appreciate it just now whereas your surprised appearance at the track meet might do the job. Last night I intentionally went to the washroom in the master bedroom because I knew my son was watching TV in the master bedroom. On the way out, I asked him, “Do you know why I used this washroom?” “No, why?” he asked with a surprised look on his face. “Because I wanted to see you.” “Uh,” he smiled.