Principles for Connecting to Your Teen
About the Guest
Do you treat your teen as a child or an adult? Today long-time school guidance counselor Rick Horne helps parents better understand their teens. Find out what your teen really wants and what you can do to see some lasting change in his or her behavior.
Do you treat your teen as a child or an adult?
Principles for Connecting to Your Teen
Rick: Teenagers like to think but they don’t like to think – you know what I mean? They don’t want to see it sometimes – they don’t want to go there because they know where it’s going to lead. They know that they have to make a choice: You mean these problems that I’m experiencing, these things that I don’t like I’m bringing on myself? So, if I make changes to be different – things can be different?
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, December 18th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. When you’re working with a teenager instead of trying to make that child change sometimes it’s better to show the child why making a change makes sense.
Welcome to FamilyLife Today thanks for joining us. You going to make me act like a teenager again?
Dennis: Well, you earlier asked me to act like one.
Bob: Well, I know.
Dennis: You and I both got into the role with our guest though quite quickly.
Bob: We were able to jump right in!
Dennis: I do have to give you the award. A little bit later we’re going to talk about body language that a parent has – Bob was into the part—wouldn’t you say?
Rick: He sure was!
Dennis: Rick Horne joins us again on FamilyLife Today—Rick welcome back. I’m just glad you came back after Bob did that to you.
Bob: It’s that much pain from a teenager.
Dennis: I mean his mom almost quit.
Rick: He knows how to role-play a teenager that’s angry!
Dennis: He really does! Rick is the author of a book: Get Outta My Face. It’s a book on how to deal with teenage anger, and it comes from a gentleman who has six children of his own – 30 years of experience as a Christian school guidance counselor. I just want to take you to one of the core parts of the book here that I found really helpful.
It was a biblical lens, or a biblical look at a teenager. Really there’s nothing profound about it. I don’t want to diminish what you’ve said here, but it’s just a reminder of who it is we’re dealing with when we’re dealing with teenagers. Share those eight things with our listeners.
Rick: That’s right – yes. Well these are eight lenses: I call them biblical lenses – ways to look at teens because we do forget sometimes who we’re looking at. The first one is that teens are sinners – that sounds like a pretty negative way to start but it’s really very positive in the sense that if we don’t remember that they’re sinners then whatever solutions we’re going to ever bring to help our kids are going to be off track as well.
Bob: Not just that they’re not perfect but that the root of their problem is their rebellion against God.
Rick: That’s right – that’s ultimately where it is.
Bob: If we figure that it’s something else, and try to treat the symptom we may wind up with nothing fixed at all.
Dennis: Well, when a teenager is angry the easiest thing to feel is that they’re angry at you. They’re rebelling against you, but if you have this concept in place you realize that there’s a bigger picture taking place here that their real rebellion is against God not you as the parent.
What’s the second one?
Rick: By having that – that leads to the second one because teenagers can be respected as young adults. It doesn’t mean they have everything together but they are created in the image of God so, they are given an identity by God. One of the Hebrew words – na’ar is the most common word used in the Old Testament. It’s used more than 200 times primarily for young people from the time of puberty til about the age of 30. So, we’re talking about Daniel, and David – they were both identified as na’ar. The book of Proverbs – in Proverbs 1:4 is addressed to the youth— that’s the same word.
So, you think of all the things in the book of Proverbs—they relate to these people—all those kind of decisions they can be respected.
Bob: I think you point out here that a lot of time as parent’s we fail to make the shift between looking at our children as children, and looking at them as young adults. If we fail to make that shift, and continue to treat them like children as they are emerging adults then we do exasperate our kids don’t we?
Rick: We do that’s right. There’s more to them than the fact that they’re sinners. They are sinners, and we can’t forget that, but there’s more to them, and that’s the third lens. By common grace we can see our angry teens have the ability to make good choices. Every once in a while I’ll have kids come in and say, “Well, I can’t do anything—it doesn’t matter what I do—it’s always going to be wrong.”
Then, you know whether they think that of us as a parent or whatever. I use a rather kind of a silly illustration—I think it’s in the book, but it really communicates to kids too. I’ll say, “Well, when you woke up this morning did you kind of have a pressure in your mid-section, and you went down to a room maybe at the end of the hall in your house and you went in there, and you came out a little bit later and there was no longer any pressure.” You mean going to the bathroom – yes I went to the bathroom.
Well, then I’ll say, “Well, that was a good choice. You can still make good choices. Now you’ve made some bad ones. Yes you might have gotten yourself into some hot water but you can make good choices.
I notice you’re sitting here, and you have clothes on—that’s a good choice. There are simple ways but sometimes kids can become very narrow in their perspective—very tunnel vision oriented, and they lose perspective. By us communicating this bigger picture right away they’re hearing something different from us than just focusing on their problem.
Dennis: Yes, and just thinking about the negatives. One of the things that I always thought about our teenager, and I would remind Barbara quite frequently as well as remind myself is that teenagers desperately need their parents to believe in them because they go through a period of time when they do not believe in themselves.
Rick: Because the problem is what’s annoying us the temptation is for us to only see that and lose the broader scope of who God has made them by common grace, and what they really are composed of.
Dennis: Your teen needs you to be on his team not always on his case.
Rick: That doesn’t mean you necessarily approve of everything he does. It just means you’re there to love him, and respect him, and support him as a person who’s created in the image of God, and one who can make good choices.
Bob: If all your teen is hearing from you is all of the ways he’s messing up or all of the things that he’s doing wrong. If he never hears or she never hears any affirmation who wants to live in that house right? I don’t want to live in that house so there has to be some expression of affirmation and love, and cheering them on when they do make good choices.
Rick: That’s the next lens that it leads to naturally and that is God’s goodness builds right into us – hardwires into us the ability to make wise choices. We all have good desires within us by God’s common grace. God’s put a sense of His law within us Paul tells us in Romans chapter 2. So, there is a sense of fairness, a sense of justice, a sense of rightness. They want freedom, they want to be mature – now sin has distorted all of that for sure, and I don’t want to minimize any of that but at the same time to say, “That there is more to our kids than just the sinful expression of those things.” If we recognize that it enables us to really show a respect, and communicate respect to them.
Dennis: Yes, just to affirm for those wise choices.
Rick: That’s right. They can make good choices. Another lens was: changes need to go deeper than just the surface. We need to see that the change that’s necessary in our kids is really a heart change.
One of the dangers of what I’ve written here is that because when these principles are practiced kids will often make some very dramatic changes in their behavior. The reason is because for the first time I’m helping them see that what they really want they’re destroying by doing some of the things they’re doing. If they change their behavior they can get what they really want.
The temptation is just to stay then on the surface, and to settle for the fact that now there’s peace in the home. Now they’re not using profanity, now they’re coming in on time, now they’re not slamming the door, and being angry all the time. Those changes can be very real, and they can come about but if we only settle for that we’re missing the fact that they have a heart that needs to be changed, and transformed too. So, the heart needs to be in the cross hairs of every parent from the outset in terms of our working with kids.
Bob: Let me unpack this a little bit because I think this is very important. We can get our kids whether they’re small or big to modify their behavior, and we do that with rewards and punishment. When you reward a child and they like the reward they’ll act right – when you punish them they’ll stop acting that way. The problem is if you don’t deal with the heart issues then as soon as the reward and punishment structure is taken away they just go back to whatever feels good or is working at the time.
Rick: It’s not propped up any longer that’s right.
Bob: That’s right so you have to ask the question what’s in your heart? Out of the abundance of the heart not only does the mouth speak, but all behavior flows out of the heart and that’s where we have to be reaching inside and saying, “I want to make sure I’m getting into my child’s heart.”
Dennis: A great Bible study for your kids if they’re teenagers is to pay them 25 cents, 50 cents, or if you have a lot of cash a buck for every reference, and every principle they can find in scripture about the word heart. I did this in a Bible study with our youngest two, and it cost me about 45 dollars.
Bob: Could they just go to the concordance and look it up or go on the Bible software and type it in?
Dennis: I think they had the concordance so I taught them how to use that but I think one of them found like 40 to 50, and the other was 35 to 40 different lessons about the heart. It’s all about how God wants our whole heart. He wants to change us from the heart all the way to the exterior, and it ultimately is where is your heart? What does have your attention, what is the object of your love, your affection, what are you living for?
I think a Bible study like this can cause some great discussion with your teenagers in terms of where their hearts are focused. This next one is teens can, and must think about their choices in light of goals and consequences.
Rick: Yes, I often talk to kids about – they are free to choose or not choose to change. I can’t make them change and I will very often several times throughout a discussion pepper the conversation with the fact—listen you don’t have to change anything – if you’re okay being grounded, if it’s okay for you to keep on having a bad relationship with your mom or your dad – if you like that I’d say, “Keep doing what you’re doing because you’ll keep getting what you’re getting.”
But, if you want that to change then you can make changes because you’ve already shown some other experiences where you’ve changed and because you made some changes some things in your relationships changed, and people trusted you and you had other privileges and so forth. But if you don’t want to – you don’t have to. There are no such things as accidental choices – they’re all intentional and they are connected to what I want.
That’s one of the reasons radical changes can take place with angry kids because when they begin to see that what they’re doing is really shooting themselves in the foot then they’ll change their behavior because they’re going to get what they really want – what they wisely want and kids will move mountains in order for that to happen.
Dennis: This next biblical lens that you have – I really liked a section of your book that illustrated this: its scriptural principles cover both how to speak, and what to say to angry teens. In other words you didn’t just coach parents in what they say but you also talk about their body language and how they say it. You actually have an acrostic for how their body language is important in communicating with a teen. You spell out the word resolve: Share that with our listeners.
Rick: There are pretty common body language features. There are some folks like Howard Hendricks and others who have made just an awful lot of an emphasis on the fact that we only communicate with words about 7% of the time. You know body language comprises about 38% of that communication, or tone of voice I guess does, and body language about 55%. So, without ever saying a word we can communicate mountains worth of material. R E S O L V E just several principles – relax – the time for this kind of discussion is not when I’m tense but when I am relaxed and I bring it before the Lord, and I have His calming spirit bringing me to have a bigger perspective about what’s going on.
Dennis: In other words you have to be in control!
Rick: Have to be in control.
Bob: Don’t do it as soon as you’ve gotten home from the traffic jam, and you’re off the highway, and you’ve had a bad day.
Rick: You’re hungry. Yes that’s right! Enjoy the time – as a parent talking even to our angry kids when you approach it with these concepts in mind can be enjoyable because you’re not again confronting your son or daughter. You’re going to allow the confrontation between your daughter, and her self, or your son, and himself not between you and them. That becomes kind of fun because one of the things that makes working with teenagers at least for me fun is teenagers like to think but they don’t like to think – do you know what I mean?
Dennis: So, you’re helping them with self-discovery?
Rick: You really are, and they don’t want to see it sometimes. They don’t want to go there because they know where it’s going to lead. They know that they have to make a choice. You mean these problems that I’m experiencing, these things I don’t like I’m bringing on myself? So if I make changes to be different things can be different? Sometimes they don’t like to see that but you can enjoy this – enjoy the time.
The way we sit is also important. In my office I have a much like this kind of like a dining room table, but it’s kind of oval so there’s no place to really be a barrier but there is still an edge that I’m not forcing eye contact. I give them an opportunity to be safe and they can sit in an angle. You know if you sit face-to-face it’s kind of like an interrogation but sitting at an angle you give your son or daughter an opportunity to not have to look at you. That gives them freedom – in fact that’s one of the ways you can tell that you’ve really tuned in and that you’ve listened big. The way we’ve talked in the beginning of this – when you have connected there will actually very often be a change in the physical appearance of your son or daughter.
Bob: They’re going move more in your direction.
Rick: They’ll move – they’ll look your way, they’ll maybe move your way, they’ll sit back and relax more – there are a variety of ways when you see that happen you know I’ve made some contact.
Dennis: To that point the open stance that a parent can have rather than having arms crossed, legs crossed, finger pointed, we just need to be open. It’s interesting I’ve been involved in a number of conflicts both at home with the kids but also here in the ministry working with people. When I sense my arms beginning to fold I check my attitude, and wonder if it’s not a reflection of what’s taking place – am I getting defensive? Or, am I starting to want to preach, or feeling self-righteous? I feel like we could learn a lot about just kind of checking out your own posture as a parent as you engage in the child. What’s the next one?
Rick: Leaning – you can intensify or relax a conversation just by your posture as to whether you lean forward, whether you lean back –if you want to make a point, you want to really get attention leaning forward can help do that. At the same time there’s a place to lean back – now none of these are intended to be manipulative strategies, and they can all be construed as that. They can be artificial – it’s like so many other things if there isn’t genuineness.
The purpose of this is to recognize that communication is not just my words. So, I am communicating by my body language as well so if I lean forward I’m saying something. If I lean back it might be that I’m trying to say something else. It’s the same way with your son or daughter when they lean forward or back.
Dennis: Especially if you’re trying to listen to your child to make sure they feel like you understand it may really help that you lean towards them.
Rick: Absolutely – yes because then they get the sense you are trying to tune in.
Bob: The last two letters in the acrostic V and E – voice and eye contact – again the tone of voice we use, the volume of our voice, just the sound even as I’ve just softened my voice in here makes a difference. Or, if I get forceful with my voice – I mean how we use our voice is significant in our communication, and then looking.
Rick: Yes – eye contact can mean I’m grilling you, it can mean I’m interrogating you, or it can mean I’m sensitive toward you. I mean even when the news broadcasters put criminals on TV – if they are somebody that’s going to testify what they’ll do is they’ll block out eyes because the eyes can communicate so much. So they can as well with us in talking to our teens.
Dennis: You know what we’re doing here is attempting to come alongside parents and help them just be wise in how they’re communicating, and what they’re communicating because sometimes how we’re standing, where our fingers are pointed, how we’re looking at our child can completely distract, and create a defensiveness in the child so the child will never ever hear what we’re saying.
If you look at 1 Corinthians 13 it’s talking about love enduring all things, bearing all things, believing all things. Love is looking for a way to break through. I think we as parents many times feel like the child needs to do more of this, and we shouldn’t have to bear so much responsibility but that’s why we’re the parents. We’re supposed to be more mature, we’re supposed to engage our children in wisdom, and as I’ve said many times not get in the emotional mud puddle with them, and become a mud wrestler. Because that’s what a teenager will try to do. They’ll try to completely manipulate you, get you so upset that you lose control and at that point you’re no longer the parent – they’re in control.
Rick: I believe the real antidote to that is making sure my goals, my posture, my stance right from the outset is to want the glory of God in this whole thing. The ultimate goal is not peace in my home – I want that! The ultimate goal isn’t my good reputation as a dad, or as a parent, or as a counselor – the ultimate goal is wanting the glory of God.
Bob: It’s not even that I get things done my way as a parent or that my child respect me except in this context as you’re saying where the scriptures teach a child to respect his parents. Do we care about God’s reputation and God’s glory more than our own agenda?
Rick: Because that frees me up then to love my son and daughter without thinking I have to make them change.
Dennis: Yes – it’s not about me as the parent. What your dream is for the parent is you want their lives to ultimately honor God, and that’s the glory of God. That’s what you’re talking about here. Rick I just appreciate what you’ve done here in this book taking your years of experience – more than three decades as a guidance counselor – working with teens as well as a father of six children – we had six as well: Four teenagers at one time.
As I read your book I thought I wish he’d have been around about 20 years ago when we first started our teenage journey because we had teenagers for I think more than a dozen years. You know in those times parents need coaching, they need friends, they need counselors, and they need people who have experience outside of ours to come alongside us and to biblically counsel us. That’s what we want to do here on FamilyLife Today, and that’s what you’ve done in your book. Thanks for doing it.
Rick: Thank you!
Bob: Well, and I think there are a lot of parents who have been listening today who are walking away with a fresh sense of what their assignment is, and how they’re supposed to carry it out in a way that keeps the objective in mind, and that keeps God at the center of their task.
Let me encourage folks to go to our website FamilyLifeToday.com – there’s more information available there about the book that Rick has written- it’s called: Get Outta My Face and you can find out more on-line at FamilyLifeToday.com or call 1-800-FLTODAY. 1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800 F as in “family L as in “life and then the word TODAY. When you get in touch with us we’ll let you know how you can have a copy of Rick’s book sent to you.
Well, you know next week it’s going to be Christmas day, and then the week after that it’s going to be 2010 so just a couple of weeks left in the year, and a couple of weeks left for us to take advantage of the matching gift opportunity that has been extended to us here during December.
We had some friends of the ministry who came to us back before the month began, and they said, We want to encourage FamilyLife Today listeners to consider making a year-end contribution to help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today and to do that they said we’d like to make a matching gift available. After we had heard from a handful of families the total amount of that matching gift had grown to actually the largest matching gift opportunity we’ve ever had here at year-end at FamilyLife, and that is $1,250,000.
We’ve already heard from a number of listeners who have called in and said We want to be a part of helping to support the ministry, and see our donation be doubled. Thanks to those of you who have already called in or gone on-line to make a donation: We appreciate it.
We still have a ways to go so we’re hoping you will consider today either calling 1-800-FLTODAY – make a donation over the phone or go on-line at FamilyLifeToday.com and make your donation online. When you do, whatever that donation is it’s going to be matched dollar for dollar up to a total of $1.25 million dollars. So, again we hope to hear from you, and I want to say, Thanks in advance for whatever you’re able to do in helping to support this radio ministry.
We hope you have a great weekend. I hope you and your family are able to worship together this weekend, and I hope you can be back with us on Monday when Dr. Al Mohler is going to join us. We’re going to talk about how we walk as followers of Christ in a culture where the very existence of God is being called into question regularly. I hope you can join us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today Keith Lynch and our entire broadcast production team on behalf of our host Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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