O ur youngest daughter, Tiffany, faced three brain tumor surgeries and radiation before she turned six. Although she’s doing OK, the radiation’s after effects, nausea, and dizziness still trouble her. The doctors believe a chemical imbalance in her brain causes these symptoms.

A human body requires certain chemicals to provide a communication bridge between the brain and the nerve endings that feed into the rest of the body. It needs a healthy and balanced dose of those chemical bridges so the brain can effectively communicate with the body. Likewise, every parent-teen relationship requires good communication to stay healthy. What are the bridges that foster good communication? Words.

When Tiffany’s chemical bridges don’t work, she gets sick. The same holds true in parent-teen relationships. When our word bridges work well, relationships stay healthy. When they don’t, relationships get sick. As Miles McPherson writes, “I believe there is a direct correlation between the quality of communication between parent and child and the strength of that relationship.”

In the throes of anger, we can easily turn those bridges of health into weapons that damage relationships. Paul reminds us of this danger in Ephesians 4:26 when he writes, “Be angry and do not sin.” He also reminds us that our words can become conduits of healing. No rotten talk should come from your mouth, but only what is good for the building up of someone in need, in order to give grace to those who hear (Fph. 4:29).

Five relationship principles have helped me minimize the temptation to turn my words into weapons.

1. Convince yourself that your teenager does want to talk to you, even though he or she may not admit it to you. Scott Larson, an expert on difficult parent-teen relationships writes, “Many parents wonder if their kids really want their help. Believe me—they do. One major study revealed that while kids do go to each other first for advice, they don’t trust it. Overwhelmingly, the youth surveyed indicated they would prefer to go to their parents or other adults first, but they did not believe they had a relationship with them that allowed them to talk openly about their problems.” My oldest daughter’s words and actions often conveyed that she couldn’t care less if we never communicated. Unfortunately, because I believed it, sometimes I didn’t give the extra effort to keep the communication lines open.

2. Let your teenager vent without lecturing him or her.

David and Claudia Arp pose these questions: “Are you willing to resist the urge to correct every angry word or action? Are you willing to let your adolescents vent emotions?”

These questions recently haunted me after I lectured Tiffany . Another after-effect of her brain surgery, the loss of some short-term memory, affects her school performance. On the way back from a doctor’s appointment she angrily said, “I hate my algebra teacher!”

Her teacher had failed to account for her limitations and had lowered her grade even though she had done her best. At that moment, she really needed to express those painful emotions. Unfortunately, I blew it that day when I admonished her with the spiritual platitude, “Jesus doesn’t want us to hate people.”

I knew she didn’t hate him, and she certainly didn’t need a lecture. She needed me to place my hand on her shoulder and say, “Tiffany, I’m so sorry. I know how very much it must hurt you when your teacher acts like that. I love you with all my heart, and I want to know how I can help.”

When we don’t let our teens vent their emotions appropriately, they may act like a box turtle I kept as a kid. When he felt the least hit threatened, he’d pull his head into his shell and wouldn’t stick it out again until he felt safe.

3. Zip your lips when you feel angry.

When we react in anger, we put a kink in the lifeline of communication, much like what happened in some of the old deep-sea diving movies. The diver, many fath-oms below the water’s surface, relied on the hose to provide oxygen to keep him alive. If something put a kink in the line, the lack of oxygen would quickly suffocate him. Likewise, our angry words in reaction to our teen’s anger can strangle the life out of the relationship.

James explains how to defuse a volatile situation. My clear brothers and sisters, be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry (Jas. 1:19, NUI’).

Thomas Jefferson’s words have also helped me avoid angry reactions: “When angry, count to ten before you speak; if very angry, count to a hundred.”

4. Stay alert when windows of opportunity to communicate with your teen open. They won’t last long..

“Teens often want to talk to us at the most inconvenient time—when the dinner is about to burn, when we’re tired and want a couple of minutes alone to regroup, late at night, right before guests arc to arrive.

Most of my good conversations with my teens come in sound—bytes of 30-60 seconds when they want to talk. If I’m lost in my own world, I miss those opportunities. But, if I’m sensitive to the Holy Spirit in those brief moments and respond with focused attention, I connect. with them and the relationship grows stronger.

5. Speak positive words to your teen even when you don’t feel like it.

When our teens seem to do everything wrong, it’s tough to find anything good to say. However, three words will fit even the worst situation: “I love you.”

Aside from “I love you, make a list of qualities that you appreciate about your teen. Write them down and keep the list with you. When she blows it, pull out your list. At the right moment, speak positive words into your daughter’s heart to build those crucial bridges.

The doctors continue to improve Tiffany’s chemical communication bridges with medicine. Likewise, affirming words can become relational medicine to bring health and joy to parent-teen relationships. As Solomon wrote , A joyful hear t is good medicine. (Prov. 17:22).

                                                                        Dr. Charles Stone, Jr. serves as

                                                                        the teaching pastor of spiritual for-

                                                                        mation at Crossroads Grace Com-

                                                                        munity Church in Manteca, Calif..



August 2004. (Pgs. 8 - 9)

LIFEWAY Press. One LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN 37234

                    Fax (615) 251-5818. Or:

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