Is the world different today than when you were a teen? Have your life experiences affected how you view things and how you respond? Is your view of things changing as you grow older and your circumstances change? Many of you are responding “Of course!” Although we conceptually understand that, why is it so difficult for us, as parents, to consider this and apply that knowledge to our relationship with our teens?
I had a parent group do an activity where each small group looked at the same picture, but each group was assigned to pretend to be a different person from the picture. Of course, each group described the picture differently. Each group then had to guess what person each group was pretending to be. They laughed at the variation of each perspective and understood why others saw the picture differently. When asked if anyone thought any others were wrong in their views or got mad at anyone for seeing things differently they said “of course not”.
Then I said, “Imagine that you told your teen to be home at 9 p.m. and they responded, “That's stupid. My friends don't have to be home then, and I want to hang out with them.” Is your teen's perspective wrong? The room erupted, "Of course it's wrong,” “My house, my rules,” “I wouldn't dare talk like that to my parents,” “They need to be home when I say so. They can't just come home whenever they want,” and so on. Wow! I didn't say the teen came home late or ask if the teen was wrong in how they responded. I simply asked if their perspective was wrong.
Yet, how often did my own teen say something, and I immediately reacted as though he had committed an unpardonable action? All he did was make a statement. I went elsewhere in my mind and held him accountable for things he hadn't done. He simply expressed his perspective, or opinion. I also had a hard time accepting that perspective isn't wrong; it's just a viewpoint. A teen's perspective of curfew is quite normal. As a teen, I usually thought my curfew was “stupid” too.
These parents’ reactions are also typical after dealing with a teen's inappropriate behavior and attitude for some time. It reveals our fear that our child is headed down the wrong path, and we think the only way out is control and greater boundaries. Jumping to conclusions and thinking verbal statements are a reality becomes normal to us.
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What if we remembered that our perspective changes as we go through life learning and experiencing things? What if we saw our teen as we see other people with perspectives that can be validated and understood? We don't need to change our decision; we simply recognize that their view of the situation is more limited than ours. I began to see how Colossians 3:12-13 could be applied to parenting. God says to clothe ourselves with kindness, compassion, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving any grievances. There was a distinct time during our struggles when I realized I needed to be patient and let our son learn things in his timing, not mine. When he learned lessons or changed his perspective through his own struggle and in his own timing, it made a bigger impression on him. When I tried to force lessons on him, things didn't go very well. As I learned to patiently bear with him and offered supportive guidance rather than directives, our relationship improved, and I felt a lot less stress.
Imagine yourself responding to your teen's comments with empathy and interest. What if your reply was something like: “I'm sure you would rather spend more time with your friends, I felt the same way. But as a parent, I expect you home at 9 o'clock.” Another option is to ask them what they think is reasonable with regard to a situation, and their reasoning behind their thoughts. This gives parents a chance to hear our teen’s thought process and learn more about them. We can then respond in a manner similar to the first suggestion while respecting our teen. We may even find our teens have some valid reasoning and we can use that as groundwork for them earning more freedom.
When I started considering how my son might view a situation and what his thinking might be before we discussed something, our conversations improved greatly. I found myself far more patient and wanting to understand why he thought the way he did. I learned more about how he thought, was able to respond differently, and changed how I approached most of our conversations. Sometimes I even realized that his way of thinking made sense and changed how I viewed something.
Whether I'm talking to my son or other people, I don't always remember that someone else's perspective isn't wrong, but I recognize it way more often and can shift my approach when I see it. I encourage you to try and imagine how your teen may view something before you talk, and then approach the conversation with a challenge to measuring the right or wrong of your perspective. Ask more questions to find out why they think what they do, and don't try to correct their thinking. Help them figure out the answers themselves, and give them the chance to grow from their own choices—both good and bad. Love them when they make the wrong choices, and support them while they seek out a different option. Their perspective isn't wrong; it's just different from yours.