Are You Really Listening?
By T. Suzanne Eller
Today we begin a first in a series by T. Suzanne Eller.
Suzanne interviewed hundreds of teens and college students (from
13 to 21) over a nine-month period to hear what they had to say
on important issues—what pushes them away from family, from
their faith. What they need. Why they don’t talk and what
they would say if they did. Today she begins with a conversation
about listening to your teen.
The lyrics of one popular rock band asks parents, “are
my screams loud enough for you to hear?” Music is the poetry
of every generation and songs such as these tell us that teenagers
long to be heard. It is important to understand the challenges
in your teen’s world, but what if there is a wall of silence
between you? How can you listen if your teen refuses to talk?
I interviewed hundreds of teens to find out the answer to that
question and discovered that teens want to have a conversation,
but many times won’t attempt it unless they are sure that
their parents will listen.
Question: If your parents could do one thing
to impact you, what would it be?
Having parents that listen is such a blessing. -- Vickie
M., Age 21
My dad is good to talk to. He doesn’t ask questions.
He just listens. That is what I like about talking to him.
-- Brianna B., Age 16
So what are the barriers to communication? What gets in the way
of much-needed conversations? Teens shared five reasons why they
might not talk with their parents:
1. My parents might not understand
2. To avoid a lecture
3. My parents would freak out
4. My parents would try to fix it
5. My parents don’t know who I am
In today’s column, we’ll talk about two of these.
My Parents Might Not Understand
What I go through is so different from what they went through.
The normalcy of school and behavior has changed. What I put up
with every day would probably get to them even though I’m
used to it. -- Laura N., Age 15
It’s difficult for teens to tell a parent about someone
at school having casual sex in the bathroom or what it’s
like to stand up for their faith in a culture that is increasingly
hostile to Christianity. How do you put in plain words that you
are the only virgin in your entire class? How can you tell your
parents that you are considered intolerant when you try to express
your beliefs? The biggest fear teens have about talking with an
adult is not having to share the truth, but trying to express
the truth without receiving judgment—not for what they do,
but for their culture.
How would you react if your teen told you that a girl in her
class was a lesbian? What would you do if your daughter told you
that a friend had an abortion? Both of these situations are commonplace
in your teen’s culture, and yet your teen is trying to live
out a faith that says that both of these decisions are wrong.
Today’s teens are attempting to show God’s love in
a culture that says that if they take a stand against these and
other issues they are demonstrating hatred or intolerance.
Do you realize how difficult that is? You may not understand
or agree with today’s cultural views, but it’s important
to listen. Our teens need to know that there is someone who will
listen to what they have to say. These conversations may be great
opportunities to give nudges in the right direction or encouragement
that they are doing the right thing. Though we might not understand
the world our teens live in, listening gives them a safe place
My Parents Will Try to Fix It
Question: Would you tell your parents if you
made a terrible mistake?
Hundreds of teens responded to the above question with, “It
depends.” After probing further, I discovered that if a
mistake or a problem were so obvious that the teens’ parents
would eventually find out, the teens would talk to them about
it. If it was huge, like a pregnancy or an addiction, they wanted
their parents’ help. But if the mistake or problem was minor
or less than earth shattering, they wanted to handle it themselves.
It wasn’t a matter of trying to hide the mistake, but rather
wanting to work through the problem on their own.
During my son’s first year of college, he let some important
things slide. He did well in many areas but lost a large scholarship.
When he shared the news with us, our impulse was to get him back
on track. As my husband and I talked, I thought about the stacks
of surveys sitting in my home office that were about this very
topic. Ryan wasn’t looking for us to fix the problem but
to be there for him while he fixed it himself. We let him know
that we recognized the positive things he had accomplished and
that we would trust him to take care of the rest. We promised
to continue to believe in him and encourage him while he took
It wasn’t easy, but later we saw the results. He assumed
total responsibility for his choices. He owned the decisions he
made and the resulting successes. It was a real step of maturity
on his part, and I was proud of him.
It depends upon the situation. If I were older, I would want
their support and forgiveness, but not necessarily their help.
I would want to do it myself and be the adult I was brought up
to be. -- Teddi H., Age 13
As I wrote this I realized how much I love my parents, despite
their faults, and how much they love me, despite mine. And how
much they must be like God, watching us, letting us screw up,
but loving us with such a deep, abiding, everlasting love that
we will never comprehend it. -- Karianne P., Age 17
Teens have definite ideas on how they want a parent to respond
when they mess up. Their suggestions included forgiveness, encouragement,
and pointing them in the right direction. Teens define help as
encouragement, not as parents jumping in to fix the problem. They
aren’t looking for instant solutions but for someone to
show them how to learn from their mistakes.
If you want to fix your teen’s mistakes or problems, you’re
not alone. It’s instinct. Our teens were once innocent babies
and we protected them. We put locks on the cabinets so they wouldn’t
drink Drano®. We kissed the bruises on their knees when they
fell down. We taught them how to look both ways before crossing
the street. We represented total authority and protection in their
lives. As parents of teens, our role changes. We don’t abdicate
our responsibilities simply because our teens’ voices have
changed, but we do have to recognize that our teens will face
difficult times. Sometimes they will make blunders, and blunders
are growth opportunities. How we react when they share those mistakes
will determine the amount of maturity our teens gain from the
Making It Real: Make a date with your teen.
Take her to a quiet place where you can have lunch or dinner,
or go to a park. Let your teen know (in as few words as possible)
that you want to listen to what she has to say. Tell her that
your relationship with her is important. Ask if there is anything
that you do that frustrates or makes communication difficult.
Assure her that you will listen and not be offended or respond
with advice or lectures.
Then do just that.
Don’t push beyond this point. Don’t try to delve
deeper. At this point you simply want to show your teen that you
are open to listening. Even if she doesn’t respond, this
exercise might open the door a crack when she realizes that you
really do want to listen.
Editor's Note: This is the first in a series of parenting
columns that T. Suzanne Eller will be writing for CBN.com. Watch
for her new column each month.
Suzanne Eller is a veteran youthworker, youth culture columnist,
conference speaker, and author of Real
Issues, Real Teens – What Every Parent Needs to Know.
She can be reached at http://realteenfaith.com
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