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Being Relationally Rich with Your Teen

Being Relationally Rich with Your Teen


I’m convinced that parenting kids is more than just an exercise in entertainment, improvement and survival. It’s more than the challenge to move kids from dependence to independence. And it’s more than a boot camp or preparation for the battles your children will face in the world.

At its core, parenting kids is about relationship.

You see, we were all created to be relational—teens most of all. You don’t have to spend much time around 16-year-olds to see that they long to connect and engage with other people. It’s a basic need that every child, from two to twenty-two, has. And when mom and dad make those personal connections with their son or daughter, new doors into their children’s lives begin to open. That sign hanging up on a teen’s door that says, “Keep Out” transforms into a welcome mat for parents who have invested time into a rich relationship with their children.

Unfortunately, many parents spend their time making sure their teenagers are completing homework, getting good grades, keeping their rooms clean, attending school activities, staying away from porn, not drinking alcohol, doing chores, becoming successful, staying out of trouble, abstaining from sex, getting along with siblings, and a long list of other goals. With all the effort being channeled into these areas, its not surprising parents don’t have the time or resources to develop a rich relationship with their kids. If you spend all your time on a list of “do’s” and “don’ts,” but forget what your child needs the most, the door of opportunity to invest in your teen may just remain closed. So, while you might have kids who keep their rooms clean and earn a high GPA, they’re lacking in the one thing that truly matters, and that’s a relationship with mom and dad.

So how can parents invest in a rich relationship with their teen?

Spend Time

Teens need time with you. That’s not simply being under the same roof. Your daughter needs time to have a one-on-one conversation with you regularly. Your son needs quality time engaged in activity with you. This should be good news for parents! It’s not a burden. It means you don’t have to shell out big bucks for expensive presents, better tutors, or bigger vacations. The best gift you can give your teen is your time and attention. Every hour spent talking or engaged in some activity with your child is like depositing a million bucks into their emotional and spiritual account. It’s saying, “I value you so much, I’m willing give you my time and focus.” Start right now by putting regular meetings on the calendar, featuring just you and your child. Make those dates a priority, and you’ll be banking a fortune into the life of your child.

Listen Carefully

It sounds too simple, but it’s all too true—there is tremendous value in listening to your teen. Watch what happens around the dinner table, when one of your kids gets interrupted, and you jump in and say, “Hold on! Kim was talking, and I want to hear what she was saying.” Notice the results when you lecture less, and listen more. Feel the difference in the air when you refrain from giving unsolicited advice, and simply hear what your kid is telling you. Mom and Dad—you’ve spent a lot of years speaking into the life of your child. And you’ve done a great job of so far! Now, take a step back, and start listening more. You’ll be amazed how opening your ears to your child allows them to open their hearts to you.

Allow Consequences

Just like rules without relationship leads to rebellion, so relationship without rules leads to chaos! You can’t enjoy a deep and healthy connection with your child if boundaries aren’t in place. And when those boundaries are breached, you have to let the consequences take over. Many parents feel like enforcing consequences will destroy their relationship with their teens. But the opposite is true. Kids need to know there are fences around them. They need to know there are lines they cannot cross. If you state the rules and consequences beforehand, teens will have no reason to blame you when they choose to cross those lines. Just make sure your relationship isn’t tied to your teen’s performance. Even when teens suffer the consequences of poor decisions, continue to love them, move towards them, and spend quality time with them.

Stop Disrespect

Nothing hinders rich relationships like disrespect. If your teen is treating you, or the family, with contempt, now’s the time to jump in and get involved. The best way to nip disrespect in the bud is to get your son or daughter alone, and seek to understand what’s behind the attitude. “We’ve all noticed you’ve been acting disrespectful lately. What has happened recently that made you act this way? Why don’t you listen to what we say? Why are you unkind to your siblings? Why do you find it hard to take advice from others?” Probe into the disrespect and listen to the reasons without judgment or blame. But also make it clear that in order to have a healthy connection, disrespect cannot be allowed. It damages relationships, and you don’t want that for yourself or your teen.

Allow Mistakes

Lastly, being relationally rich in your family means allowing mistakes to occur. I don’t think anybody reading this would claim to be perfect. In fact, I think we’d all agree that there’s not a perfect person on earth. So why do we expect perfection in our kids? These unreal hopes makes for shallow connections, because no one can live up to that goal. Understand that you and your teen will both make mistakes. Deal with them, and move on. Don’t overreact. Don’t make little mistakes into big emergencies. Don’t file them away to bring them out during an argument. Allowing your family the freedom to make mistakes takes away the pressure, and offers an invitation to your kids to be who they are around you, without putting on a mask or a disguise.

Time’s not going to stop so you can work on these things later. The influential teenage years will be gone before you know it, and soon you’ll be sending that little kid off to college or helping her move into an apartment. So take advantage of the time you have, before it passes. The moods of a lifetime are often found in the never-to-be-forgotten experiences of the teen years. Make sure you’re investing in those experiences. Value relating over controlling. Investing in a relationship with your teen will reap dividends now, and in the years to come.


Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a residential counseling center for struggling teens located in Longview, Texas.