“I Have a Question,” Ensign, July 2000, 67
Gawain Wells, psychologist, Brigham Young University Comprehensive Clinic.
In the middle of their teenage years, many young people are resistant to parents’ desires to guide them. In the words of one mother, “When my daughter turned 14 it seemed like she went around the dark side of the moon and I lost ‘voice contact’ with her until she was 16. Then, somehow, we became friends again.”
To help your teenager, continue to show love and patience and quietly fast and pray that you might have the whisperings of the Holy Spirit to guide you. Prayerfully consider the other suggestions below and seek to discern which ideas best apply to your situation.
“The Family: A Proclamation to the World” teaches us that successful families are based “on principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities.” These principles are not simply emergency measures; they are most effective when applied day by day in our lives.
In addition to these principles, research suggests three fundamental elements that can lead to strong parent-child relationships (recognizing, of course, that children have agency and may not respond to even the best parenting practices): (1) expressing love and cherishing children so they have a strong sense of belonging; (2) communicating limits and expectations so that children learn obedience, cooperation, and a sense of achievement; and (3) communicating respect for children’s individual preferences within these limits.
Of the three, the bond of love is primary and most critical. There comes a time in all children’s lives when the only reason they will do what we want them to do is that they know we love them. If there is trouble with a child, we have to reassert that bond first, even if it must be stated as, “I love you too much to let you …”
Here are a few more ideas to try:
You may want to enlist other adults to help you guide your teenager through this more distant time. Many of us in our youth had heroes and heroines such as Aaronic Priesthood leaders and Young Women advisers who provided essential counsel when, for whatever reason, our parents were suspect.
Through family activities, model the principles you wish you could discuss with your teenager. It is important to make home and family a fun place to be. Those “wholesome recreational activities” mentioned in “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” need to emphasize noncompetition, interaction, and innocent laughing time. In my opinion, movies and videos which require no communication or interaction just don’t accomplish the same thing as a game of charades, for example.
Invite your teenager in mild, nonpressing ways to share thoughts and feelings. Open-ended questions such as “How was your day?” leave her room to tell you as much or as little as she wants, but in either case she will know that she has been invited to share.
Finally, if you are worried that time is passing without an apparent opportunity to offer suggestions, you may want to write to your teen. Through the words of a loving letter she may be able to hear both your love and your wish to provide the wisdom of your greater experience. Even if she doesn’t respond, she may have heard you. Sometimes, like the parents of Enos, we may have to pray for our children for a long time before they are touched by what we have taught, before they say for themselves: “And the words which I had often heard my father speak concerning eternal life, and the joy of the saints, sunk deep into my heart” (Enos 1:3).