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Real Issues, Real Teens – What Every Parent Needs to Know

By T. Suzanne Eller
Life Journey (Cook)
ISBN: 0781440580

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Are You Really Listening?

By T. Suzanne Eller
Guest Columnist

CBN.comToday we begin a first in a series by T. Suzanne Eller. Suzanne interviewed hundreds of teens and college students (from 13 to 21) over a nine-month period to hear what they had to say on important issues—what pushes them away from family, from their faith. What they need. Why they don’t talk and what they would say if they did. Today she begins with a conversation about listening to your teen.


The lyrics of one popular rock band asks parents, “are my screams loud enough for you to hear?” Music is the poetry of every generation and songs such as these tell us that teenagers long to be heard. It is important to understand the challenges in your teen’s world, but what if there is a wall of silence between you? How can you listen if your teen refuses to talk? I interviewed hundreds of teens to find out the answer to that question and discovered that teens want to have a conversation, but many times won’t attempt it unless they are sure that their parents will listen.

Question: If your parents could do one thing to impact you, what would it be?

Having parents that listen is such a blessing. -- Vickie M., Age 21

My dad is good to talk to. He doesn’t ask questions. He just listens. That is what I like about talking to him. -- Brianna B., Age 16

So what are the barriers to communication? What gets in the way of much-needed conversations? Teens shared five reasons why they might not talk with their parents:

1. My parents might not understand
2. To avoid a lecture
3. My parents would freak out
4. My parents would try to fix it
5. My parents don’t know who I am

In today’s column, we’ll talk about two of these.

My Parents Might Not Understand

What I go through is so different from what they went through. The normalcy of school and behavior has changed. What I put up with every day would probably get to them even though I’m used to it. -- Laura N., Age 15

It’s difficult for teens to tell a parent about someone at school having casual sex in the bathroom or what it’s like to stand up for their faith in a culture that is increasingly hostile to Christianity. How do you put in plain words that you are the only virgin in your entire class? How can you tell your parents that you are considered intolerant when you try to express your beliefs? The biggest fear teens have about talking with an adult is not having to share the truth, but trying to express the truth without receiving judgment—not for what they do, but for their culture.

How would you react if your teen told you that a girl in her class was a lesbian? What would you do if your daughter told you that a friend had an abortion? Both of these situations are commonplace in your teen’s culture, and yet your teen is trying to live out a faith that says that both of these decisions are wrong. Today’s teens are attempting to show God’s love in a culture that says that if they take a stand against these and other issues they are demonstrating hatred or intolerance.

Do you realize how difficult that is? You may not understand or agree with today’s cultural views, but it’s important to listen. Our teens need to know that there is someone who will listen to what they have to say. These conversations may be great opportunities to give nudges in the right direction or encouragement that they are doing the right thing. Though we might not understand the world our teens live in, listening gives them a safe place to land.

My Parents Will Try to Fix It

Question: Would you tell your parents if you made a terrible mistake?

Hundreds of teens responded to the above question with, “It depends.” After probing further, I discovered that if a mistake or a problem were so obvious that the teens’ parents would eventually find out, the teens would talk to them about it. If it was huge, like a pregnancy or an addiction, they wanted their parents’ help. But if the mistake or problem was minor or less than earth shattering, they wanted to handle it themselves. It wasn’t a matter of trying to hide the mistake, but rather wanting to work through the problem on their own.

During my son’s first year of college, he let some important things slide. He did well in many areas but lost a large scholarship. When he shared the news with us, our impulse was to get him back on track. As my husband and I talked, I thought about the stacks of surveys sitting in my home office that were about this very topic. Ryan wasn’t looking for us to fix the problem but to be there for him while he fixed it himself. We let him know that we recognized the positive things he had accomplished and that we would trust him to take care of the rest. We promised to continue to believe in him and encourage him while he took responsibility.

It wasn’t easy, but later we saw the results. He assumed total responsibility for his choices. He owned the decisions he made and the resulting successes. It was a real step of maturity on his part, and I was proud of him.

It depends upon the situation. If I were older, I would want their support and forgiveness, but not necessarily their help. I would want to do it myself and be the adult I was brought up to be. -- Teddi H., Age 13

As I wrote this I realized how much I love my parents, despite their faults, and how much they love me, despite mine. And how much they must be like God, watching us, letting us screw up, but loving us with such a deep, abiding, everlasting love that we will never comprehend it. -- Karianne P., Age 17

Teens have definite ideas on how they want a parent to respond when they mess up. Their suggestions included forgiveness, encouragement, and pointing them in the right direction. Teens define help as encouragement, not as parents jumping in to fix the problem. They aren’t looking for instant solutions but for someone to show them how to learn from their mistakes.

If you want to fix your teen’s mistakes or problems, you’re not alone. It’s instinct. Our teens were once innocent babies and we protected them. We put locks on the cabinets so they wouldn’t drink Drano®. We kissed the bruises on their knees when they fell down. We taught them how to look both ways before crossing the street. We represented total authority and protection in their lives. As parents of teens, our role changes. We don’t abdicate our responsibilities simply because our teens’ voices have changed, but we do have to recognize that our teens will face difficult times. Sometimes they will make blunders, and blunders are growth opportunities. How we react when they share those mistakes will determine the amount of maturity our teens gain from the experience.

Making It Real: Make a date with your teen. Take her to a quiet place where you can have lunch or dinner, or go to a park. Let your teen know (in as few words as possible) that you want to listen to what she has to say. Tell her that your relationship with her is important. Ask if there is anything that you do that frustrates or makes communication difficult. Assure her that you will listen and not be offended or respond with advice or lectures.

Then do just that.

Don’t push beyond this point. Don’t try to delve deeper. At this point you simply want to show your teen that you are open to listening. Even if she doesn’t respond, this exercise might open the door a crack when she realizes that you really do want to listen.

Editor's Note: This is the first in a series of parenting columns that T. Suzanne Eller will be writing for Watch for her new column each month.

T. Suzanne Eller is a veteran youthworker, youth culture columnist, conference speaker, and author of Real Issues, Real Teens – What Every Parent Needs to Know. She can be reached at or


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