A group of teenage girls on a Christian retreat were taken to a mountaintop and told to listen to their mothers.
One at a time, they were blindfolded and told what steps to take. Since cliffs were nearby, they had to walk slowly and deliberately. Each blindfolded girl was told to listen to her mom. Her mom was instructed to speak softer and softer until her voice became a whisper. Meanwhile, the girls watching were told to gradually get louder and louder to drown out the mother’s voice. After several steps, each blindfolded girl would panic as she asked, “Mom, where do I go? I can’t hear you!”
As her peers screamed louder, her mom’s voice was lost.
I love this exercise and its application to listening to God. For teenagers, who constantly get bombarded by outside voices, tuning in to God’s quiet whispers can make a huge difference in where they end up. It can protect them and steer them away from nearby cliffs.
Adolescence is a time of dangerous new territory. To blindly let our teens loose without any instruction would be irresponsible. Unlike us, they haven’t lived long enough to see tragedies. They don’t know what can happen from a seemingly harmless choice. They don’t believe us when we share stories of potentially fatal outcomes.
You can read Part 1 of Connecting With Your Teens here. A guide to how to talk with your teens. And now we will cover some ground about what to say.
We can’t always save them, but we can prepare them for the struggle. Here are critical conversations to get you started.
1. Talk about the toxic culture that’s shaping them. Let your teen know you’re on their side. As you hear about their peers making poor choices, acknowledge and applaud the difficulty of standing strong.
Let them know your priorities are their safety and honesty. Be honest, even if they mess up, because you need to know the truth to help them. Tell them not to ever hesitate to call you out of fear of getting in trouble. "Even if I’m upset, I’ll get over it if you’re safe. What I’d never get over is losing you, so value your life as much as I do.”
2. Talk about five-second decisions. Parents and teenagers face “five-second decisions” that randomly come up. For your teen, the decision could involve peer pressure at a party or participating in a prank. Pray in advance for wisdom. Tell your teen to trust their gut and err on the side of safety. Talk about exit strategies and blaming you to save face or get out of a bad situation.
3. Talk about choices and consequences. Every choice has a consequence, and it takes a thousand good choices for your teen to get where they wants to be. Even small choices, like being kind, impact who they become and what friends they attract.
Allowing them to face the consequences of poor decisions prepares them for reality. Getting detention because she got smart with a teacher may keep her from mouthing off to her boss one day. Taking away his phone because he lied about a text may teach him to be honest. Making him work to pay off a speeding ticket may make him think twice before speeding again.
They will reap what they sow. Learning early that positive choices = positive life while negative choices = dead-end roads can help prevent future heartaches.
4. Talk about conscience and living by a moral code. Some people make terrible choices yet feel no shame afterward because their conscience is asleep or dead.
Your teen should know that their conscience is a gift. Without it, they would never feel guilt or remorse. They would have no incentive to change, apologize, confess, think twice, or turn back to God.
The authors of Parenting Teens with Love and Logic write, “Children who are parented well gradually develop an internal voice that says, ‘I wonder how my next decision is going to affect me and those around me?’ This voice comes from having made bad decisions and living with the consequences while experiencing the love and empathy of their parents. This voice is far more important than all the external controls parents can think up.”
Naturally, we want what’s best for our kids, but do they want the best for themselves? Through a healthy conscience shaped by the Holy Spirit, your child can develop a moral code to live by and learn from.
5. Talk about setting standards, especially with the opposite sex. I always tell my kids "You teach people how to respect you." Your kids should hear this: “You and every girl you know are better than the lifestyle this world pushes on girls. Set a high bar for yourself and know the best guys will rise to the challenge.”
Too often girls get caught up in an over sexualized or permissive lifestyle. They use their sexuality to compete for attention—and end up feeling used or not good enough.
Meanwhile, the world tells boys that sexual conquest makes them a “man.” Especially in the teen years, they get applauded for objectifying girls. This mindset is toxic, yet it is reality, and your daughter needs to be aware. While some boys will question society’s message to them, others will buy into it. They’ll pursue easy opportunities and take advantage.
Your daughter and son will get teased no matter what choice they make, so they may as well make choices they can be proud of. Whatever they choose, they are still a child of God, loved beyond measure even on their worst day.
6. Talk about joy. I tell my kids they need two things in life: a stellar job and a hobby. If their hobby becomes their job, they need a new hobby.
In a world where every activity has a purpose—and career planning begins in childhood—teenagers need hobbies they enjoy for fun. Whether they’re gifted or accomplished doesn’t matter because the joy they get from painting, singing, acting, dancing, writing, building, playing intramural sports, or pursuing a passion is a creative outlet that releases dopamine and endorphines.
Life is too short to lose joy. Your teen needs an inner child who reminds them how to play.
7. Talk about high expectations (and failure). Author of Mindset, Carol Dweck says, “Great teachers set high standards for all their students, not just the ones who are already achieving.”
Great parents set high expectations too and empower their children to meet them. They also create a culture of grace and restoration. We can’t give teenagers high expectations and not share stories of failure. Too many teens are scared to fail because the world expects perfection. Since adolescence is a time for your teen to take healthy risks, face fears, bounce back, and gain confidence by doing what feels impossible, they need an adult in their life who openly share their stories of failure.
Tell them about a time you failed to be a good friend, lost your temper, told a lie, hurt someone, had your heart broken, made a poor choice, took a shortcut, embarrassed yourself or fell flat on your face. Talk about God’s mercy and His transforming grace. Our worst failures are our best teachers, so make sure your teen knows how God can use any experience to impart life-changing lessons. This is resilience.
8. Talk about hard topics. Most of you know I do not shy away from difficult conversations. But your kids probably do. That is why you have to take the lead, because they likely won’t.
Awkward conversations get easier with practice. I believe in staying ahead of topics and discussing them before they’re fully relevant because your kids will hear and see things sooner than you think. Due to technology, kids are growing up faster, and parents who think they’re protecting their kids by not addressing hard realities often have kids who don’t tell them what’s really happening.
Talk to your teens about sex, pornography, sexual assault, sexuality, sex trafficking, body changes, the hook-up culture, and other nitty-gritty topics. Give real-life stories that illustrate how drugs and alcohol set the stage for terrible choices and why it’s imperative to keep their radar up. Use news stories as a launching pad for conversations about character, good judgment, and learning from people’s mistakes.
Approaching nitty-gritty topics from God’s perspective, explaining how we (as sinful humans) take the good things He created and warp them in ways He never intended, helps them understand why we need an ultimate source of truth. Rather than a Google search, what many of your teen’s questions call for is a God search.
9. Talk about self-awareness. “We think temptation lies around us,” author of Purpose Driven Life, Rick Warren says, “but God says it begins within If you didn’t have the internal desire, the temptation could not attract you. Temptation always starts in your mind, not in circumstances.”
We all have vulnerabilities and blind spots. Sharing stories from your life will help your teen examine their life. You may admit how you used to be bossy, and it kept you from making friends until you realized how off-putting your bossiness could be.
It is a personal call how openly you share. Share small examples and go from there, knowing that real-life stories drive the lesson home.
10. Talk about saying no. What starts many girls down the wrong path is the inability to say no. Parents often tell me, ‘My daughter is a really good kid. She knows right from wrong, and that drinking is trouble. If she were at a party, I have no doubt she would do the right thing.’ But I see good kids all the time who got in trouble because they didn’t know how to say no, because their parents hadn’t prepared them for the situations in which they found themselves, because their parents expected a teenager to make a decision that an adult should have made. Even the best of daughters wants to please their friends. Teaching your daughter to say no could save her life. And teaching your son to respect the "no" could also save his. I always tell my boys, "respect running through your veins."
It’s important for your teen to know they always have a choice. Even if their best friends do something they don’t agree with, they can leave or stand alone. In every season, your teen will face situations that make them uncomfortable, and by learning to push through them, they gain a valuable life skill.
11. Talk about mental health. Today’s teenagers are the first generation of teenagers to feel more stressed than their parents.
You know your teen’s strengths and limitations. You understand their daily obstacles. Maybe he or she has a learning disability and struggles to get B’s. Maybe she gets recommended for every advanced class, but she stays up until 2 a.m. to get it all done. Maybe he plays a competitive sport, and when he gets home at nine p.m., he still has four hours of homework.
Train your teen to protect her mental health. What’s right for their friend may not be right for them, and if they feels consumed by stress—exhausted, depleted, withdrawn, isolated from friends and a normal teenage life—it’s time for a change. Since half of all mental illnesses start in adolescence, teaching your teen to pay attention to red flags can help them thrive and seek help when needed.
12. Talk about self-image, self-love. Your daughter gets bombarded with unrealistic images and ideals. Even if you say the right things at home, she’ll hear the wrong messages from the world.
Our society worships perfection, and the prettier and skinnier a girl gets, the more praise and attention she receives. What logically follows is a quest for perfection that keeps many girls seeking applause in areas dangerous to their health.
How can you help? By discussing healthy self-love. Reminding your daughter that God created her with intention and attention, and nothing about her is a mistake. Your daughter only gets one body in life, and it must last her a long time, so encourage her to take care of it. Help her build healthy habits with food, exercise, and lifestyle choices that she’ll carry into adulthood.
We should worry about eating disorders (95 percent of people with eating disorders are between the ages of twelve and twenty-five), and by the way boys are not immune to this either.
Good things become bad things when taken to extremes. Make this part of your conservation as you talk to your teen about moderation and balance.
13. Talk about being assertive and using their voice. Everyone’s voice deserves to be heard, and every teen needs guidance with using their voice wisely.
Some kids have a strong voice and say exactly what they think—yet they lack tact and warmth. Other kids have a kind voice. They’re loved and respected—but they don’t speak up. They let people take advantage of them and feel powerless over their lives.
It is possible to be strong and kind. Honest and tactful. If your teen is naturally strong, they may need help with being less abrasive and more sensitive. If your teen is naturally sensitive—and wants others to be happy—they may need assurance that their needs and desires matter too.
14. Talk about addiction. Alcoholism is starting younger and younger. Sadly, we have a culture where 9th graders need rehab and become part of a club that nobody wants to be in.
If you know an addict—or have seen what an addict’s decisions can cost them—you wouldn’t wish addiction on anyone. And when you hear about middle schoolers drinking or college coeds doing drugs, it logically follows that many of today’s casual users will battle lifelong problems.
Here are sobering facts from The Teenage Brain:
“A person stops maturing at the age that they start abusing substances.”
“Of the 10.5 million youths who had taken a drink, nearly 7 million admitted to binge drinking, and more than 40 percent of individuals who start drinking before the age of thirteen will develop alcohol abuse problems later in life, according to a report in the Journal of Substance Abuse.”
“The pot teens smoke today is up to seven times more potent than what was available twenty or more years ago.”
“With a still-maturing brain, teens are especially vulnerable to drugs that work directly on the brain’s chemistry . . . nine out of ten addicts say they first used drugs before they were eighteen years old.”
Addiction affects the rich and the poor, and since genetics plays a role, nobody knows which child in a family might be predisposed. Even a healthy adult is not “safe” from addiction, and since all of us are susceptible to this slippery slope, it’s important to be compassionate and help those who struggle.
15. Talk about discernment and spiritual warfare.
Sometimes trouble is clear, and sometimes it hides behind pretty faces. Your teen is entering a world of unpredictable situations, so pray for discernment and trustworthy friends. Remind them to look beyond what’s shiny or impressive and trust their instincts. When something doesn’t feel right, it’s usually not right.
Equipping your teen for the road ahead is no small feat. Empower them to feel prepared, not scared, and help them tune in to their Father’s voice, trusting Him for guidance and direction with every step they take. Have the conversations.
Silvia Farag, MSW, LSW, PsyD Candidate runs the Christian Center for Counseling and works with adolescent and adult clients in individual, couples & family therapy. Her personal philosophy is that through human connection, we can foster the encouragement needed to take courageous steps toward creating positive change. She uses evidenced based and strengths-based approaches & believes in the inherent ability of everyone to overcome when they are willing to step into their potential. Therapy illuminates the path so the client can make conscious steps towards emotional health. Her attitude is one of respect and acceptance of each client’s individuality, allowing for the creation of a safe, therapeutic space. Silvia serves with Coptic Women Fellowship, an archdiocese ministry focused on enriching, supporting, and strengthening the lives of women, along with the clergy and several accomplished women of the Coptic Orthodox Archdiocese of North America.