James 1:19 is one of the most practical scriptures in all the Bible. It makes sense to our minds the second we read it. Inside we say “Yes, that’s exactly right!” or “Oh dear, I’ve really needed to hear this.” Some of us think about someone else and wish they had read this passage instead of me. I cannot think of a more powerful and applicable passage for parents than James 1:19-20.
Teens need space. They thrive on space from their parents. In a way it is the developmental task of adolescence. Before they were born they were one with mom in body. In birth there is a healthy and necessary separation that takes place. In adolescence there is another separation that must take place for healthy launching. We will do well to quit seeing teens’ need for space as a threat or a rebellious or troubled attitude.
Since teens need space they do not do well when they feel crowded by a lot of questions from their parents.
“How was your day?”
“What did you learn in school?”
“How did you rip your shirt?”
“I don’t know.”
“Do you have homework?”
“Can you say something more than ‘yes, no, maybe?'”
“I don’t know.”
Kids responding like this are not necessarily needing treatment, they may just be needing space. Most of us would not do well in a situation where someone is trying to force us to talk. If someone pushes you the automatic response is to do what? Push back, plant your feet in the ground and refuse to budge. You are more likely to get your kid to talk if you can help him sense the space he needs. One great way to do this is to be quick to listen and slow to speak. Quick to listen and slow to respond with a sermon. Quick to listen, period. No lectures, no getting angry, no judging or telling them they are wrong or that it worries you or that you wish they would act different, etc. Just listen. Reflect. Validate. Empathize. Then stop before you go telling them they are wrong – that’s what they expect you to do and that’s one reason they do not want to talk.
Let me make clear I’m not prescribing neglect. Your kids need to be having conversations with you and they need your guidance. I’m just saying you can’t force someone to open up. They typically retreat further away. Get them talking with more open ended questions. Show interest in them in less expected ways. For example, instead of saying “How was school?” try “What was the best class you had today?” or “What was your favorite part of your day today?” They still might respond with a short answer so then say, “Tell me more about that.” The tone does not come across like an interrogation, it’s conversational, interested, almost flattering, more inviting. If the teen still resists and doesn’t want to talk then pass their test by letting them off the hook for now. If they take the bait and tell you more about their day avoid typical parent traps such as fixing them, telling them they are wrong, judging them or their friends etc. If they open up, that is a gift. Honor it. Of course there comes a time for steering your teen in a good direction, but you have to pass the James 1:19-20 test first before they will let you steer.