Many of us have heard this passage many times — I quoted it last week — but it still bears repeating: “These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up.” Deuteronomy 6:6, 7, NAS95. In this article I want to talk about having spiritual conversations with your teens.
You may consider this suggestion to be the hardest of them all, and it is often the case that teens are hard to talk with. But consider — maybe even remember — some of the reasons why…
- Conversations with parents often turn into parental lectures
- Sometimes “thinking out loud” is a quick route to criticism in a teen’s mind
- Sometimes parents who get “cornered” by their teens’ questions get defensive and dictatorial
- Sometimes teens are under the impression that parents aren’t really interested in what they think about spiritual matters (that’s one among other things that we’re trying to correct here)
- Sometimes teens haven’t really thought through many spiritual issues (having been spoon fed what to believe)
Such communication breakdowns and misunderstandings need to be repaired first before any real spiritual conversation can happen. But in many cases, this can be as easy as acknowledging and apologizing for your part of the communication problems and offer to start anew. Teens — like the rest of us — are often quite responsive to offers to renew conversation and relationship. So, if there is a conversational freeze going on between you and your teen, consider your conversational style, your conversational attitudes, your response to challenging questions, your tendency to criticize (not that certain kinds of criticism aren’t crucial sometimes), or any other barrier you might be responsible for and change things.
Beyond that, however, let me encourage to start the conversations with open-ended questions. For example, “I was reading Isaiah the other day and I ran across a verse that kind of made me think. What do you think it means?” Or here’s one that’s a little dangerous, but will probably get a pretty good response, “What do you think is the best way for me [or “our family”] to put today’s sermon into practice?” Or, “Why do you think that [place the name of a pop star — there’s always one in self-destruct mode] does those sorts of things? How could the Lord improve [X’s] life?” Or anything else that you know your teen might respond to in a spiritual vein. Help them — again, by means of questions — learn to think critically (not in the sense of being critical, but in sense of the careful examination of things to discover the truth) about things they’re tempted by, what they see others doing, about faith and life and truth. It is the uncritical group-think of peer pressure that you want to inoculate them against. Starting points could be sermons, Bible classes, personal study questions, website material (we have a lot on our church website), everyday situations, or headlines. Interestingly enough, sometimes a shared prayer with your teen can be a great point of departure for a wonderful spiritual conversation.
But let me also warn you that you’ll probably need to do some heavier spiritual thinking too — maybe even a little research. Your teens will probably ask questions that you’ve never thought about, or at least haven’t thought about in a long time. They tend to “think outside the box” a lot; so, don’t expect to have “the answer” every time. And sometimes such questions might not be a welcome challenge in a busy life; but you’re a parent — it will be necessary not only for the spiritual welfare of your teens, but it’s also good for YOU.
If this is the first time you’ve tried doing this, it may start off slow; but take courage, with increased frequency, it will grow into better and deeper conversations. Before too long both you and your teen will engage in it as naturally as breathing and you’ll both look forward to opportunities to talk about the deeper things of life — by the way, those are often the things that kids are interested in more than video games, pop culture, and the opposite sex. You are your teen’s best chance at a solid, devout, well-thought-through life of discipleship to Jesus. God requires it of your discipleship as a parent to teach them His way. Help them to think, to grow in Christian commitment through becoming sure of what they believe. Have lots of spiritual conversations with your teen.