Rebuilding the Bridge: How to Reconnect with Your Teenager
Hello Parents! As the school year is near its end, the summer begins with endeavors to reconnect with the whole family. Where you plan family vacations, summer camps, visits with the grandparents, and long summer nights with family activities, an entire busy year has zipped right along. You can’t help but think that your teen is a little older, wiser, and perhaps a little more mature from all the ups and downs that your teen goes through. Yet, as parents, you can’t help but feel disconnected from your child because of the hustle and bustle of work and band-aid parenting. So you pray that the transition to the summer will slow time down and give the family the time to recuperate and get the healing that it needs. But where do we start as a parent? How can you communicate with your teen who hasn’t said 10 of the exact words all year long? You can hear it now as you recollect all the cliché conversations in your roller deck:
Mom: “How was school?”
Mom: “Anything exciting happened at school?”
Mom: “Nothing at all?”
Teen: “Umm, nope.”
Mom: “Well, how is your friend Andy?”
Mom: “Are you guys still friends? Are you guys hanging out this weekend?”
Teen: “Umm, nope.” “I’m going to my room.”
Mom: “Uhh, Ok, I guess..” (as your teen runs upstairs, you quickly slip in) “Love you!!”
Teen: “Love you..”
Sounds familiar? We all struggle to connect with our children, especially when they become teens. Sometimes we are overwhelmed by the vast gap of differences. Still, as parents, we hope to raise our children in a Christlike way. At the same time, we walk a fine line between being good examples and being sanctified by the Holy Spirit. Being vulnerable and transparent to our children seems to be the farthest thought on how to parent our children. Still, it is sometimes precisely the remedy for building a better connection with our hormone-filled teens who are growing up to be young adults. So where do we start from here?
Here are some tips on reconnecting with your teen, who may be coming out of an anxiety-filled environment, toxic relationships, and numbing habits (video games, social media, TikTok, binge-watch)
A Place To Start With Your Teen:
Be fully present: This may seem minor, but in a world of unlimited distractions, giving undivided attention to your teenager will communicate genuine care.
Seek to understand: Ask questions not to solve problems for your child but to understand the world that they are living in.
Be loving: It is crucial that, whether or not you and your kids agree when the discussion is over, they know that you love them and that your love will never go away.
Repair, Reparent, Repeat
What it is: The Atlantic spoke to several psychologists about breaking negative
Why it’s hopeful: A phenomenon called “intergenerational transmission” refers to how certain parenting traits seem to pass from one generation to the next. Suppose you grew up with parents who displayed qualities like warmth and acceptance, for example. In that case, you may convey those traits to your children without much effort. On the other hand, abuse and neglect have a dark and cyclical power that can be hard to escape. Sources encouraged parents to draw from many parenting strategies, getting intentional and reflective about what they want to retain from their own childhoods. As Christians, it’s helpful to remember that we are heirs to Christ’s legacy: one of forgiveness, redemption, and the power, through Him, to break the curses that can break families apart.
For Teens Dealing With Anxiety:
Fight for relationship. As with all discipleship, the first step is deepening the relationship. When ministering to teens who struggle with anxiety, you must be a safe place for them. Teens with anxiety feel pressure from all angles. Sometimes that pressure comes from you simply because you are their parent, laying out expectations and following through on hard life lessons. To balance that, look for intentional, un-stressful ways to connect. Build margin into your calendar to spend time with your teenager, intentionally avoiding conversations about grades, homework, or chores. Spend time listening. Talk about the small things, laying a foundation of trust to talk about the problematic items.
Develop a spiritual strategy. Alongside a counselor or therapist, you will likely be working with your teenager to develop strategies for managing anxiety. Make sure you also incorporate spiritual elements! It may include critical verses you find together and post on a mirror or screenshot on their phone. Perhaps craft a five-word prayer your teen can repeatedly pray when anxiety creeps in. Work together to develop a list of truths that they can reference, or you can gently remind them of when the lies of fear are loud.
Find a balance of truth and grace. Your teenager needs your understanding. They need you to recognize that their struggle with anxiety isn’t a cry for attention, an excuse to avoid situations, or something they can control. At the same time, your teenager needs you to help them battle anxiety from taking over their lives. Balance understanding with pushing them forward by speaking the truth and not being afraid to challenge them.
Don’t avoid the hard things. It can be easy to feel that you are walking on eggshells, fearful of triggering anxiety in the teenager you love. Romans 5:3-4 says, “We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.” As difficult as it is to watch our kids struggle, we recognize that God will use this in their lives. Our goal has to be to disciple them through the struggle, not help them avoid it altogether.
Emphasize healthy daily spiritual habits. Our spiritual strength is not as profoundly developed in critical moments as in everyday life, routine practices of growing closer to God. When we help our kids establish daily Bible reading, Prayer, and memorizing God’s Word, we help them strengthen their hearts when the battle of anxiety hits.
Model patience. The battle with anxiety is complex and challenging to overcome overnight. It is truly a roller coaster as some seasons will be peaceful and settled, and some seasons will be challenging, with one anxiety attack after another. Nevertheless, you can model for your teenager that you have faith that God is working in them and through them, recognizing that His plan is often long-term and not immediate. First, however, you can trust.
Lamentations 3:22-23, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning.”
Another essential practice for parents and caring adults is sympathizing with our
Hebrews 4:15 says, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.”
In his book Gentle and Lowly, pastor Dane Ortlund examines the use of the word “sympathize”:
The word for ‘sympathize’ here is a compound word formed from the prefix meaning ‘with’ (like our English prefix co-) joined with the verb to suffer. ‘Sympathize’ here is not cool and detached pity. It is a depth of felt solidarity that is echoed in our lives most closely only as parents to children. Indeed, it is deeper even than that. Jesus is pained in our pain; in our suffering, he feels the agony as his own even though it isn’t. His is a love that cannot hold down when he sees his people in pain.
Note how he emphasizes that Christ’s sympathy is our goal compared to earthly relationships. It is closest to the relationship between parents and children. The best thing you can do as a parent of a child suffering from anxiety is empathize—something you are likely already doing without even realizing it. Their pain is your pain authentically. Though this might be difficult to communicate to your teen or child, you can show it even without words by being there for them physically with things like hugs and a reassuring presence or just by making it clear that you are always safe and available for them to process their pain in whatever way they need to.
What does the concept of discipleship mean to you? Besides what we’ve discussed here, what things come to mind when you consider how to disciple your children in their experience of anxiety?
Practical steps to work with anxiety
As we’ve been saying, a step you can take to help your child if they are struggling with anxiety is to seek professional help. Though your love will be essential in assisting them to work through and develop health amid pressure, sometimes a bit more support is needed. It might come from individual or family therapy, Biblical counseling, or a clinical diagnosis.
We want to assure you that no medical or professional treatment your child receives indicates a lack of faith on their or your part. However, we may and should pray for God’s healing; sometimes, that healing comes through professional services. Think of it this way: if your child had a broken leg, while you should pray for God’s presence during its healing, you wouldn’t think twice about going to the hospital to get the bones set and the leg put in a cast if needed. Most of us wouldn’t see that as a failure to trust; in fact, the doctors and the technology that allow a person with a broken leg to recover fully is a way that God exhibits His healing power. So if your child needs professional help to deal with their anxiety, trust that God is working in their life and using the therapists, doctors, psychologists, and psychiatrists to bring about healing. Like many other mental health issues, anxiety can affect our physical health. Likewise, nutrition, sleep, and exercise enormously impact our mental health. Verywellmind.com summarizes a recent study published in Frontiers in Psychology:
“Getting good quality sleep, exercising, and eating more raw fruits and vegetables is crucial for good mental health and well-being.”
For someone with anxiety, it may be a struggle to get good sleep due to racing thoughts, to go to a gym or do group sports because of social anxiety, or even to eat healthy food that might not feel comforting or “safe.” However, despite how hard doing these things might be, it’s essential to do them to work towards health. Another essential thing to realize is that anxiety can get worse when we try to avoid it instead of facing it head-on. In Psychology Today, Susan Biali Haas, M.D. says,
“It changes your brain’s physiology to face your fears, especially in doses you can handle without getting completely overwhelmed…If I had chickened out, I would have taught my brain that fear and avoidance is the right reaction to this “threat,” It would have been worse the next time. Phobia experts know this to be true.”
Though phrases like “just get over it” or “push through” are ultimately unhelpful and can even be harmful as “solves” for anxiety, there is also a certain amount of control that people with anxiety can and should practice exerting over their minds. Mental illness is complicated and can make day-to-day life impossible, but it isn’t. With a balance of receiving support, trusting God for help, and taking responsibility for our growth and symptom management, even people with severe anxiety disorders or other mental illnesses can live fulfilling, stable lives.
What are strategies you’ve developed for dealing with your anxiety or stress? How can you help model healthy coping mechanisms to your kids?
We leave you with Philippians 4:6-7: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by Prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” We cannot overstate the importance of “prayer and thanksgiving.” As John Piper writes for the Gospel Coalition: “Prayer is the way you walk by the Spirit. Prayer is the way you walk by faith. In other words, it’s the breath of the Christian life all day. Just breathe in, breathe out. It’s the way you live.” As parents, praying for our children is our highest call and responsibility. Sometimes they do not feel able, willing, or aware of how to bring their pain before the Lord. In these times, we can stand in the gap and bring our requests on their behalf before Jesus as He brings them before the throne of God. Under the salvation of Christ, encouraged by the presence of the Holy Spirit, we may feel safe to approach the untouchable Father of Lights with the confidence of a child climbing onto their father’s lap.
Pastor Ray Lacson
Middle School Pastor