June 25, 2012

Firsthand Communication With Your Teen

Ryan with his father, Kerry and brother, Josh, circa 2008.

//Guest post by Kerry and Chris’ oldest son, Ryan Shook:

When it comes to personal relationships I’ve never been a great communicator. I can make excuses, roll my eyes, change the subject, and argue with the best of them. But when it comes to real, honest, and meaningful communication I usually struggle to connect. Our lives are filled with messages bombarding us from every direction but we lack true connectedness more than ever. This is especially true when it comes to relationships between parents and their children. For many parents it seems as if your teen has little to no interest in really talking with you. You ask how your sons or daughters day was after school and all you get is a few words before they head upstairs to their room. For many teens it can feel like their parents are even more disconnected than they are, like their parents are from another planet and have absolutely no idea what their life is actually like.

I’ve had more than a few parents tell me that they gave a copy of one of my short films to their son or daughter and would really appreciate it if I could talk to their kid so that I may be a positive influence in their life. As much as I might enjoy talking with your teen, the truth is that your son or daughter needs and desires to connect with you more than you could know. It may not seem like it right now, but I guarantee that you still have a powerful influence on your child even in their teen years. I’m not a parent but I was a teen just a few years ago, so I vividly remember some of the things my parents and I did to break through the barriers and have real firsthand communication.

Be Available

“Eighty percent of success is showing up.” -Woody Allen

There are two ground rules for firsthand communication in any relationship. The first is to be available. My mom describes availability as “being all there.” Communication is definitely a two way street, but God has designed the parent-child relationship to be initiated by the parent. I was incredibly blessed to have two parents who really were all there and made every attempt to be available when I really needed them. Being available means that when you are home with your teen on the weekend that you make an attempt to talk with them, just to ask how things are going, or see if they want to get coffee.

Be Patient

“But you, O Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.” – Psalm 86:15

Now, if you do make yourself available and ask them to get coffee the likely response may be, “No, that’s the last thing I want to do on a Saturday.” This brings me to the second important ground rule for firsthand communication, patience. Teenagers are hormonal, insecure, and often impatient human beings. Some parents think that after thirteen years of patience with their child that they shouldn’t have to be very patient with their teen. While your teenager has probably matured in a lot of major ways, the truth is that connecting with your teen may actually require more patience than it ever has before.

Get Real

“Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place.” -Psalm 51:6

Being available and patient with your teen is an awesome first step to meaningful communication, but if you don’t go any deeper than that you will end up with a Brady Bunch style relationship that never really breaks through to firsthand communication. I loved watching Brady Bunch reruns as a kid because everything worked out by the end of the episode. Unfortunately, real life is not like a Brady Bunch episode. Things get messy, people get hurt, and the problems in our lives don’t get resolved in less than 30 minutes. This is probably the toughest part of firsthand communication because being honest with a teen, especially your own, is really awkward! I’m not advocating that you explain every past mistake with your kid, but if you want them to be honest with you about the tough topics of life, then you have to be willing to first be honest with them. Getting real also means first being honest in how you live your own life. Like it or not, your teen sees how you live and they definitely aren’t afraid to point out hypocrisy!

Be Intentional

The final piece of advice I have to form a true and firsthand relationship with your teen is to be intentional. Many parents I see today try to be a friend first and a parent second. The truth is that God calls you to be a parent to your teen first and a friend second. My parents were available, patient, and honest when trying to connect with me, but they were always intentional about placing boundaries on me and in our relationship. Teens will test you often to see what they can get away with. My parents explained to me that teens test their parents’ boundaries to know that they have limits, which leads to a sense of security in their relationship with you. Finding the balance between discipline and friendship isn’t easy, but by being intentional in your relationship it helps you to build a friendship with your teen that still respects the parent aspect of your relationship.

Go To The Source

If your relationship with your teen is anything like mine was with my parents, then you will have a day that you feel really close with your son or daughter and then the next may seem more disconnected than ever. Relationships change with time and its important to remember that some days will be better than others. If your teen refuses to connect with you that doesn’t mean you’re a bad parent. God may be working in your child’s life even if you don’t see it. If you really want to have a firsthand relationship with your teen, then I encourage you first make sure that your relationship with God is firsthand, honest, and strong. A firsthand relationship with God is what the strongest relationships in life are almost always founded on.


About Ryan Shook

Ryan Shook

Ryan Shook is the oldest son of Kerry and Chris. Ryan’s passion is to use his creativity to point his generation towards Christ. He is currently writing a book with his brother Josh titled Firsthand: Dumping Secondhand Religion For The Real God, to be released by Random House on March 19th, 2013. You can get the latest updates on the book from Ryan and Josh by “Liking” the Firsthand Facebook Page!