You observe your teenager talking non-stop with friends. Then you think about the typical conversations that you have had with your son or daughter. Instead of a lively back and forth your attempts at conversation tend to collapse into strained monosyllables.:
“Did you have a good day?”
“How was your test?”
“Do you have homework?”
“Do you have plans this weekend?”
“Is anything bothering you?”
“Did you clean your room?”
“I thought maybe we could talk later on.”
“What did you think of the sermon?”
“It was okay.”
“Why are you so hard to talk to?”
You attempt to support your teenager with a well-intended comment of encouragement about how things can be better, including appropriate Bible verses. In response, your son says, ”Can I go now?”
Such exchanges are disheartening. It seems like you are a burden to your teenager. So what do you do – think of more creative monologues? Not the best approach!
Let me suggest the path given by Proverbs 18:15 – become an aggressive and wise listener.
The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge,
for the ears of the wise seek it out.
Right now someone is asking, “How to do you listen to someone who won’t even talk to you?”
However, Proverbs is talking about listening that seeks knowledge and understanding. This kind of listening is about investing the time to intelligently and lovingly gather information that brings discernment.
Make a time to sit down with your spouse and recall how conversations have changed in the last several months of your teenager’s life. What shaping influences have been at work? If your teenager seems suddenly distant, that did not happen in a moment. Most likely, the change occurred over time. When your child was eight, things seemed fine. However, schedules, workloads, job changes, health issues, or challenges with relationships may have caused you to overlook the transition to these one-way conversations.
This Proverb is urging you to do more than listen to words. It is a model for gathering knowledge. As you do this, a picture may emerge of the challenges your teenager has faced that you have missed. With this knowledge, your questions will change from “How did school go?” to something more substantive. Here is a model you can use. You can adapt and edit this example to fit with what you want to explore:
“Was it hard for you when we moved when dad got that promotion a couple of years ago? As I look back on that time, Dad and I realized we weren’t very sensitive to what was going on with you. I am really sorry and ask your forgiveness. We want to listen now to what you were feeling back then.”
If there is not an immediate response, be patient. Seek God’s mercy and grace. Asking these questions is the first step to replacing monologues with dialogues. Combine this with investing the time it takes to know what matters to your teenagers. Listen to what they talk about without always commenting. Take a vibrant interest in what makes them happy and involved or sad and disconnected.
With this patient investment, with prayer for wisdom and discernment, your teenager’s short answers may grow into conversations that will enrich and bless you and your children!
This post originally appeared on Shepherd Press and was republished with permission.
Jay Younts is the author of Everyday Talk, Everyday Talk About Sex & Marriage, and he is the Shepherd Press blogger. He is a ruling elder at Redeemer Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church in Moore, South Carolina. He and his late wife Ruth have five adult children.