It's all too easy for parents to be sidetracked right when their children need them most -- during the teenage years. Fact is, parents need to spend more time with their children when they reach adolescence, not less. Unfortunately, this is also the time when the kids get busy with school, sports and youth group activities, and parents are at the peak of their careers. A busy, stressed-out parent may not only ignore their teenager, but when their teen makes mistakes (and they will), the parent may respond in ways that don't always convey unconditional love. Walls go up in their relationship and suddenly the teenager and parent become strangers.

At our Heartlight residential counseling center, this is about the same time that we get a call from the frantic parent saying their teenager is spinning out of control. You see, teenagers need their parents more than they will ever admit. And when the relationship is broken, it is all too easy for a teenager to start down the wrong path in life. When they do, it is a wake-up call for the parents.

So, if you need to build your relationship with your teenager (who doesn't?), then I have some ideas for you. In fact, here are ten recommendations for mending your relationship.

10 Relationship Builders for Parents with Teenage Children

1. Spend weekly time together, one on one...

Of all the advice I ever give, this is one you cannot ignore; Spend individual and focused time with your teen each and every week. Take your child out for breakfast or do a lunch - and make it a habit. Even if they resist or say they are too busy, you must insist. It tells your child, "You are worth spending time with." Meet in a place that you can talk, and come prepared with a topic to discuss of interest to your teen. It doesn't have to take a lot of time. But it should be consistent and planned.

2. Share challenging experiences...

Find a challenging activity that you both appreciate, then pursue it together with excitement. For instance, perhaps you both like NASCAR, or gardening, volunteering, or maybe nature photography. Dedicate some resources, time, effort, interest, and vigor to developing your interest together.

3. Look for opportunities for discussion...

Whether you are in the car, watching TV, or just in passing, think about questions you can ask your teenager having to do with moral choices. Make them thought-provoking, open-ended questions about life and decisions we all make. Find out what they think, how they would respond in certain situations, where they would go for help, and why they think a certain way. Reinforce expressions of wisdom from your teen, but never belittle or correct bad thinking. Talk about controversial subjects as you would a friend or co-worker for whom you have extreme respect.

4. Listen more and answer less...

If you want your teen to understand you better, then stop telling him or her what you are thinking. That is, wait until you are asked for your opinion. Zip your lip - just be quiet. Stop lecturing, and start listening. Your teen won't be ready to really listen until he is the initiator of the discussion, so just hush up and get out of the way of him taking the lead, then be ready to give an answer when you are asked.

5. Develop a sense of humor...

Some of us are sour, bitter, and stressed all of the time. We need to lighten up -- especially around sensitive teenagers. When was the last time you really laughed? Sit down and watch some hilarious movies and laugh until you cry. Or, have a joke night -- where everyone has to come to dinner with a joke to share. Even if it's corny, everyone laughs, and the tension is broken.

6. Play together...

This is different from #2. In this suggestion, find something that your teenager really likes to do and do it with them. Play paint ball, go horseback riding, fishing, hunting, camping or star gazing. Whatever your teenager loves to do for fun and recreation. Live it up and enjoy life with your teenager in some way -- just the two of you. If you don't like what they like they like to do, then just be there to watch or help them in some way.

7. Remember your child's past and believe in your child's future...

Carry a photo of your child as a youngster with you at all times! Post their baby photo on your refrigerator. This way you'll never forget who this child was, before they turned into an alien in their teen years. Keep in mind the joy of bringing them home at birth and remember that the thumb print of God is still on their life.

8. Establish boundaries...

Every good thing in life has its rules and boundaries, including your relationship with your teen. Let them know where they can and can't "go" in your relationship. Tell them what you expect, before something challenges those expectations. Clearly establish your belief system and household rules. Being too lax as a parent and trying to act more as their friend and peer will hurt, not help, your relationship.

9. Selflessly confront their mistakes...

Keep in mind that discipline is all about helping your teen, not you. It is for their own good. Confront with calmness and correct with firmness. Demonstrate a love and respect that has their best interests at heart. Your child needs to know you love them enough to correct and discipline them when they behave in ways that offend others or break your household rules or the rules of society. Find healthy ways to discipline through loss of certain freedoms and privileges for a time. Never resort to physical discipline with a teenager and be sure to approach all discipline on a united front with your spouse. And be sure to reward a teen for good behavior by adding more freedoms and privileges. That's more important to them than anything else at this age.

10. Act on your faith and your beliefs...

Don't just say or preach it! Put your beliefs into action. Serve others, love others, forgive others, pray, worship. Exercise your faith in front of your teenager.

Relationships with teenagers thrive when time is spent together in a setting where everyone agrees that nobody is perfect and unconditional love is delivered across a bridge of friendship. It's a friendship that never stops — even if your teen doesn't respond or goes on making mistakes. And by the way, your teen may never have a long discussion with you; it may always be the instant message version. But listen carefully, because what is said will probably be short and you'll have to do some reading between the lines and asking a few quick questions to clarify what they meant. This signifies that you are really listening and wanting to understand them.

Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with loving-kindness have I drawn thee. Jeremiah 31:3

 

To read Mark's blogs, visit www.markgregston.com. The Heartlight Residential Counseling Center for Teenagers can be seen at www.heartlightministries.org.