“Did you hear anything I just said?”

Over the past ten years of working with teenagers, that is the question I find myself asking repeatedly. One of the biggest struggles with communicating with a teenager is the assumption that communication actually happened! What I said seemed clear. But the lack of verbal acknowledgment or behavioral response made it evident that the message never got through.

As a parent of a teenager, that’s probably the same question you find yourself asking daily. Why is it so hard to communicate with my teenager? Frustration tempts us to point the finger at generalizations like “teenagers don’t know how to interact with people face to face anymore…screens have taken over!” And while some of those generalizations may hold true (a recent study shows that teens with higher screen time struggle in face-to-face social interactions), they might not be the biggest roadblock in your communication with your teen.

Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves argue in their book Emotional Intelligence 2.0 that the human body’s neurological system ensures that a person will always have an emotional response before they can respond with a logical one. This presents a problem for your teenager. In a recent article Joseph Campellone MD, from Johns Hopkins University, argued, “In teens’ brains, the connections between the emotional part of the brain and the decision-making center are still developing—and not always at the same rate. That’s why when teens have overwhelming emotional input, they can’t explain later what they were thinking. They weren’t thinking as much as they were feeling.”

Did you catch that?

Your teenager will always feel before they think. Your teenager constantly filters your words through their emotions, not logic. And because their brain is still maturing, their ability to separate their feelings from their response is impeded. Here’s the big takeaway. How you communicate is equally important as what you communicate.

The Bible understands this connection between our emotions and our words.

Anxiety weighs down the heart, but a kind word cheers it up. Proverbs 12:25

Interestingly, Proverbs doesn’t say that the heart was lectured out of being weighed down. It was cheered up with words. The biblical blueprint to connecting with your teenager is using your words to create emotional stability so that you can communicate effectively.

So the next time you try to get through to your teenager, slow down and try these three things.

Diagnose their emotional state

One of the easiest ways to identify how your teenager feels is by asking, “It seems you are really upset by what I have to say. Is that true?” Or “I really want to understand how you feel right now. Can you help me see how you feel?” Your effort to understand their feelings may not be reciprocated with an explanation, but it will show that you know they are wrestling with their emotions and that you want to connect.

Use your words to bring stability

Don’t rush into the conversation with emotionally charged phrases or accusations. “I don’t care,” and “Get over it,” are recipes for disaster when connecting and communicating with your teen. Acknowledge their emotions and do your best to validate and stabilize their feelings with calm and clear communication.

Look in the mirror

Guess who else has emotions? That’s right, you! Understand that you are prone to the same emotional attack on your logic and reasoning as your teenager! Take a second and center yourself. Make sure you are not emotionally reacting to your teenager and their response to your communication attempts.

At the end of the day, communicating with anyone, let alone a teenager living in your own home, can be challenging. Give yourself and your teen some grace and a long leash when communicating. Remind yourself of who you were when you were younger, fight for connection, and strive to understand your teenager, not dismiss them.

By: Patrick Weikle
Youth Pastor