Standing in a cold creek bed with numb feet, I learned that the relationship between my teenage sons and me depends more on acceptance and availability than rules and authority.
Several years ago I heard one of my four boys using a four-letter word while playing ball with neighbors in the backyard. I reacted immediately by pulling him into the laundry room where we have our family “business” meetings. I was determined to teach him that his behavior was unacceptable and that he was accountable.
Things didn’t go according to plan. I had literally backed my son into a corner and he refused to admit his offense. I accused, he denied, and the conversation escalated into an argument that wasn’t getting either of us anywhere. We were both fortunate when my wife Stacy intervened. She convinced me to drop the subject for the moment and try a different approach.
My opportunity came during a family outing next to a little stream where my son wanted to hunt for crawdads. I would have preferred playing catch with a football to standing in that icy water and lifting large boulders, but before long both of us were totally involved in the hunt for our slippery prey.
After about 30 minutes, I casually reminded him of our laundry room “discussion.” What happened next amazed me. He quickly apologized for his denials and acknowledged his offense. We were both eager to put that episode behind us and get back to the crawdads in the creek bed.
This experience taught me that my children want a relationship with their father and I can only influence their attitudes and behavior by making myself available to them.
Time talks to teens
Pre-teens and teens may go out of their way to show that they’re not interested in spending time with their mom and dad, but they do want your time.
So talk and listen to your teens frequently. Don’t simply wait until they rebel against your rules or expectations to “converse” with them. Be available to them when they are ready to talk rather than only approaching them when it’s convenient for you.
Talk to your teens about the things they think are important and be sure to take their thoughts, opinions and concerns seriously. Most importantly, listen carefully. Ask questions about the music they listen to, the video games they play and the movies and television they watch. You demonstrate to young people that you think they are important when you show interest in the things and friends they care about.
Think about it. If your teens don’t feel safety and acceptance when talking with you in everyday conversation, will they discuss the really tough issues of adolescence like relationships with the opposite sex, alcohol, and drugs? Your conversations may seem unproductive at times, but each small investment of time can pay big dividends when your son or daughter really needs to talk. They will not only come to you, but they will listen when you give them advice.
The experience I had with my son in that creek bed reminded me that rules without relationship lead to rebellion. It also made me realize that my attention – given on my son’s terms and timetable – was the key that opened both of our hearts. The numb feet in that icy cold water were definitely worth it.