Believe it or not your adolescent students care about what you think and want to have a relationship with you! I can’t count the number of times in my 30+ years of youth ministry I have heard students say “my parents would kill me!”
In George Barna’s book Real Teens he published some very interesting stats.
- 57% of teens feel very close and 90% of teens feel fairly close to mom “When we asked teen to identify the one aspect they would like to change about their relationships with their mothers, one out of every three young people listed some aspect of improved communications. The most common improvements listed were having more open and honest talks, developing better understanding, and having less fighting and arguing when they interact.” (page 67)
- 40% of teen feel very close and 75% of teens feel fairly close to dad. When teens were asked to describe the single most critical change they would make to their relationships with their fathers, the most startling response was that on-third said they would not make any changes. The most common substantive changes suggested were the need to spend more time together (19%) wanting better communication (13%) discussing personal issues (7%) and spending less time arguing and fighting 6%). (page 71)
Barna goes on to say that boys especially they have a heightened need for their fathers attention and influence up until about age 16. That desire rapidly diminishes: “The signal to fathers is clear: If you have not connected in a resonant way with your teen by age 16, such a connection probably will not happen.” (page 72)
“One of the greatest commendations awarded to teens’ parents is that, of the 14 sources of influence we evaluated, parents were the only ones listed by most teens as having “a lot” of influence on how they think and act.” 78% of students Barna surveyed indicated that their parents have a lot of impact on the way they think and act. “No other individual or people group came close to having that degree of perceived influence.” (page 72)
That is all GREAT news! Your students are interested in having a relationship with you, but during adolescents that relationship has to change because they are changing.
Over the years I have seen parents damage their relationship with their students by making a couple of discipline mistakes that can cause damage.
#1 Discipline with emotional consequences rather than real life / natural consequences.
Sometimes our students do stuff that is so frustrating that we lose it. We can end up raising our voices, calling names and or withdrawing our affection from them. When we do those kinds of things we are trying to modify their behaviour by using emotional consequences. In many ways it would be like a cop pulling us over for speeding and verbally letting us have it with both barrels. It is amazing to me how calm they are when they give out speeding tickets. Their approach is “I caught you speeding, you know there is a penalty, here it is.” They give out the consequence without the least upset or angst. As parents, when our students cross a barrier, we must discipline them so they learn to moderate their behaviour. If we can do it calmly and without withdrawing our affection, even though they may be mad as a hornet with us, we can still preserve the relationship.
#2 Discipline with surprise or over the top consequences rather than measured & predetermined consequences.
I had the experience of breaking some rules on a bus ride out to a camp with some kids this past fall. I now have a record with the Regina school division… it’s a long story. The penalty phase of my encounter was to have some of my property confiscated! I felt like a hardened criminal. (The students and teachers I was with thought it was hilarious.) The point is this: I didn’t know I was breaking any rules. Had I known there was a rule, I would not have broken it. The consequences were both a surprise and over the top. Some times our students do things that are clearly out of bounds and require that we step in. If they honestly didn’t know that what they were doing was off side, we need to discuss the problem and talk about what will happen in the future. That is fair warning. I know of some parents who ask “If you were me what would you do as a consequence for this? (Sometimes their kids are way tougher on themselves than their parents would be, and the parents can moderate the punishment. We need to make sure the consequences are known ahead of time and are within reasonable limits.
We need to guide our students while protecting the relationship with them that they are longing for.