Teenage Perspective on Parenting

Have you ever asked your own kids for parenting advice?

It’s a sobering little exercise, and I’ve discovered two environments where we can try it: one-on-one, or in a program setting. (Both will yield two different types of results)

For those of you willing to try this, don’t underestimate the insight you can gain listening to a teenage perspective about parenting. I’m not saying that they know all the answers (some think they do), but it’s valuable to hear their point of view and have a good understanding of how our teenagers feel.

Here’s two opportunities to listen:

ONE-ON-ONE:
In my book, Candid Confessions of an Imperfect Parent, I share a story of a conversation I had with my daughter Alyssa at breakfast. (During the school year I take each of my teenage girls to breakfast once a week for Daddy-daughter time. Alec and I did lunch each week this year.) This particular week had been a rough one for Alyssa and she was mad at me for some of the boundaries I imposed on her. So I asked her to make a list. I proposed, “If you could communicate 5 things to me and you knew I would listen and take them to heart, what would you tell me?”

That little task yielded great results. Alyssa poured her heart out telling me some deep feelings that she felt I wasn’t hearing. Things like, “Why don’t you trust me?”

Our breakfast conversation that week was powerful. We were able to talk about how trust is earned. I didn’t just respond with, “You’re just a kid-what do you know!” Instead I listened, looking for her feelings. Then, on the quest for answers, I kept putting the ball in her court, asking questions like, “Well, what boundaries do you think I should give you?” (I go into greater detail in my book) That particular breakfast conversation was landmark in Alyssa and my relationship.

PROGRAM SETTING:
Youth workers and/or church leaders can create opportunities to hear the teenage perspective on parenting in a program setting. I’m doing that this Sunday at my own church.

My church has a parent fellowship group that meet together during the Sunday school hour every Sunday. About 50 to 75 parents of teens meet together each week for fellowship and some teaching time. I’m acting as a lay leader right now, bringing in speakers each week to teach God’s word, talking about real life issues like parenting, marriage, etc. This week, I’m bringing four teenagers from four different families into our class to sit on a panel where I will ask them questions about their perspective on parenting. Each teenager is being given the questions in advance (as a matter of fact, I’m using this blog to provide them the questions- I’m texting each of them and saying, “Get the questions from my blog today.” Today’s teenagers check text more than email.) I told them to answer honestly, but review the answers with their parents. This point of this exercise isn’t to surprise their parents or air dirty laundry (this isn’t Springer).

This will work well because of the kids I’ve chosen. Three of the four kids are in their first year or two in college (18 and 19 years old), and one is an upperclassman in high school. All these kids are solid. Not perfect… but it’s clear that they love Christ and their relationship with Him is foundational in their lives. The parents of these kids are doing a great job raising Godly kids. Granted, these parents don’t all use the same parenting style. I think the parents in our class can gain incredible insight from the kids different perspectives.

Here’s the questions I’m asking them:

1. What is one of the greatest memories that you have with your parents?

2. Describe a time when you got into big trouble and how your parents responded?

3. What is one rule or boundary that your parents enforced on you as a teenager that you didn’t like at the time, but now, in hindsight, you see the value of?

4. What is one parenting principle that your parents practiced that you will definitely use with your own kids someday.

5. Name one thing that your parents practiced with you that you probably won’t do with your own kid? (For the four of you young people reading this– talk to your parents honestly about this and make sure they’re comfortable with your answer since this is in front of all their friends.)

6. If you could give one piece of parenting advice to the parents in this room and you know they would listen and take the advice to heart– what would you tell them? (talk with your parents about this answer to)

Then I’m going to open it up for the parents in the room to ask questions to the panel.

Parents… are you asking questions?

Are you listening?

About Jonathan McKee

president of The Source for Youth Ministry, is the author of over twenty books including the brand new If I Had a Parenting Do Over, 52 Ways to Connect with Your Smartphone Obsessed Kid; Sex Matters; The Amazon Best Seller - The Guy's Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket; and youth ministry books like Ministry By Teenagers; Connect; and the 10-Minute Talks series. He has over 20 years youth ministry experience and speaks to parents and leaders worldwide, all while providing free resources for youth workers and parents on his websites, TheSource4YM.com and TheSource4Parents.com. You can follow Jonathan on his blog, getting a regular dose of youth culture and parenting help. Jonathan, his wife Lori, and their three kids live in California.
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