Caring For Your Teens
by Karin Sasser

I have never felt a more awesome responsibility than when I brought my first newborn child home from the hospital. All of a sudden, I was on call twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. My husband and I were solely responsible for his care, having to meet each and every one of his needs. We fed him, bathed him, changed him, soothed him, and marveled over him. The same was true with our second child. As our children mature and grow older, taking on more responsibilities for themselves (as well as having more opinions and a will to push back), we can sometimes lose a little of that awe and marvel we had with them when they were first born. Yet, our call as their parents will always be to love, cherish, and care for them. But we’ve learned that caring for a teenager looks a lot different than caring for a newborn or even a child.

One of the first things we need to do in order to care for our teens well is to simply listen. As parents, this is often more easily said than done. There are a few obstacles that arise when our teens try to talk to us that can keep us from listening well. One is timing. Sometimes, it might be when we are in the middle of a task we are focused on. Often, it is late at night when we are exhausted and just ready to go to sleep. But, as parents of teenagers, we need to do all that we can to make ourselves available when they are ready to talk, whether it is convenient for us or not. As friendships become more and more important and our influence as parents can take a back seat, we really need to do all we can to be accessible when our teens are open to communicating with us.

Another obstacle that stands in the way of parents listening well to their teens is being distracted. A recent study conducted by the Pew Research Center found that “Nearly half of teens (46%) say their parent is at least sometimes distracted by their phone when they’re trying to talk to them.” Ouch! I have to admit my daughter has called me out on this one a time or two. When our teens have something to say to us, whether they are asking a mundane question, telling us a story, or confiding a hurt, we need to give them our undivided attention. We need to put down what we are doing and look them in the eye, whether it is to say, “Give me a minute so I can give you my full attention,” or to listen intently right away. At the very least we can acknowledge this isn’t a good time and suggest a time in which you can be fully present and then follow through.

James 1:19 states, “My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” The second phrase in this verse is yet another hindrance that can keep parents from listening well. Have you ever caught yourself formulating your response in the middle of your child talking to you? Here’s the thing: sometimes, we need to respond to our teens. But other times, they are not really looking for our input. I was recently listening to a podcast on parenting in which the interviewee, David Galvan, gave this advice. He said when his daughter had recently shared with him about a problem she was having, he asked her the following questions: 1. Do you want to know what I think? (To this question, she responded, “Yes.”) and 2. Do you want help solving the problem? (To which she answered, “No.”). After she responded to his second question, he honored her request (that had to be difficult!), and in this case, several days later, his daughter came back to him to ask for advice. Days before, I had tried to give my daughter some information, to which she responded to me, “Why are you telling me this? I didn’t ask for your help!” At first, I was offended. But as I thought about it, I realized she needs me to trust that she can solve her own problems and will come to me when she wants or needs advice. Part of caring for our teens is being willing to let go of control.

So often, when our teens talk to us, they just want to be heard. Part of caring for them is to try to remember what it was like to be a teenager and put ourselves in their shoes. We need to try hard to understand how they are feeling and the circumstances that lead to their thoughts, feelings, and even behaviors. When we do speak, sometimes the best thing we can do is ask questions not only to better understand them but to help them determine their best next steps.

A great benefit of being a good listener to our teens is it will help us to know how we can better pray for them. This is one of the best ways we can care for our teenagers well. We have to be a student of our middle and high school students. We have to be observant, study them, and be attuned to what is going on in their lives so we can be praying specifically for their needs. Caring well for our children means entrusting them to our Father’s care.

One last thing to consider when caring for your teenager is to think about how they best receive love. I have a friend whose love language is physical touch. Whenever his teen is upset, he longs to give her a hug. But that’s not what she wants, and she is quick to tell him. This particular child would prefer quality time, often asking him if he would go for a drive with her instead. How does your teen best receive love? What are ways that you can show him or her that would resonate best? 

Be present for your teen; give them your undivided attention; care about what they care about even if you don’t really care about it much at all; listen more than you speak; ask questions and permission to speak into their circumstances; show them you trust them; love them in a way they can best receive your love; and pray for them continually. When you do these things not only will you be caring for them well, you will have influence in their lives and a strong relationship with them well beyond the years when they reside in your home.