Updated: Apr 30, 2022
"You're so stupid. Why would you do something like that?"
"You should be more like your sister. Sometimes I wonder if you're even my child."
I cringed when I heard a mother say that to her daughter. The look in the daughter's eyes told the story her lips dare not utter. The verbal punches landed like well-placed uppercuts thrown by an "in his prime" Mike Tyson. The daughter wondered how her own mother could speak to her like that. Her teachers were already telling her she was doing below-average work in the classroom. Her so-called friend at school started spreading nasty rumors about her. If anyone would affirm her worth, wouldn't it be her mother? Not so. She tried to fill her calendar with after-school activities. At least by the time she got home, she'd be too tired to process her mother's words.
The Parent-Child Waltz
Teenagers nationwide see themselves in this story. This is the waltz of life. The parent-child dance intensifies during a child's teenage years.
One of the main complaints I hear from young people: My parents don't understand what it means to be a teenager.
This isn't anything new. I had those same complaints as a teenager.
As a parent, I often wonder if I'll enter this dance with my child. I can do the math. When I'm 51 years old, my little guy will be a strapping 20-year-old adult. Will I be the cool, hip parent, or will I be the parent who just doesn't understand? I want to say I'll be cool and hip. As a dad, I try to keep up with trends and fads. I keep my ear to the streets as much as a 41-year-old pastor can. But there are just some things that fall through the cracks. Admittedly, there are times when I can't keep up. And that scares me.
The Understanding Parent
Today, many parents don't understand their children's unique quirks—the "what makes them who they are"—so they tend to think there's something wrong with the child. Maybe there's something wrong with the parents. Parents should make every effort to become involved in their child's life. That includes learning cultural trends, understanding their language, and immersing ourselves in their lives. This doesn't mean we smother them. We shouldn't reek of inauthenticity. This doesn't mean we become their friend. Kids don't need us to be their friends; they need us to be their parents. But it does involve some understanding. It involves understanding their likes and dislikes—not projecting our own onto them. Mastering this can help break down the invisible barrier many teens put up as they go through the individuation process.
Kids don't need us to be their friends; they need us to be their parents.
Speaking The Language
The Book of Acts should serve as a parent's guide to reaching their children. In the opening chapters of Acts, the disciples are in Jerusalem for Pentecost. When the Spirit fell on the disciples they began to speak the language of the people gathered in Jerusalem at the time. The people were bewildered to hear the believer speak their own languages (Acts 2:6). These same bewildered people then asked a specific question: What do we need to do to be saved (Acts 2:37)? Their initial encounter with the message was because they heard it in their own language. It wasn't a sermon. Peter didn't chastise. It wasn't an invite (or mandate) to attend church every week. Instead, the people became intrigued by the Gospel because the disciples spoke their respective languages.
Help Me Understand
How much more are parents called to speak their children's language? Some parents today refuse to take interest in their children's culture. This leads to a communication failure. Which leads to a broken relationship. So I prayed today. Because I've done the math. 51 minus 20. 31 years of cultural separation. Lord, help me to understand my son's culture. Help me to attempt to understand, even when it doesn't make sense to my Generation X mind. Most of all, help me to be a parent who just—understands.
Question: Do you have any concerns about understanding your child's generation?