This article is part of the Help! series.
The Sound of Silence
“How was your day?” I ask my teenage daughter after school.
“Fine.” She responds.
“Anything interesting or noteworthy to report?”
I know Proverbs says the heart is like deep waters (Prov. 20:5), but surely there are more than single syllable grunts inside her. How can I draw out thoughts and feelings? I want to become a woman of understanding, but my teenager is not doing much to help me. We have a good relationship. She isn’t angry, frustrated, or bitter—she’s 14.
The desire to know and understand my teenager is good and right. I am called to teach her God’s laws, instruct her in righteousness, point her to Christ, show her God’s promises, and encourage her in her faith. But how can I possibly do that when all I get is “fine” And “nope”? How can I know her experiences and understand her heart enough to faithfully guide her to Jesus if she won’t open up?
Finding the Keys
In a wooden bowl by my front door sits a key ring filled with keys. Each one has been uniquely cut to unlock doors I have permission to enter: our home, our car, our shed out back, a post office mailbox, and a few of our friends’ front doors. Each shiny piece of metal grants me access to a place that to others is off-limits. When our children are young, we hold what feels like a master key and nothing is off-limits. We see almost everything, and their words and behaviors are simpler and easier to access.
Now, as a parent of a teenager, it’s easy to feel locked out. It is painful to stand on the wrong side of the door of your son or daughter’s heart as though they’ve changed the locks. Your teenager, the one uniquely created by God for you and your spouse to shepherd, must now willingly choose to hand you the key and let you in. Until this happens, keep fumbling awkwardly with all the keys you do have. There is no one suggestion that acts as the master key that will formulaically unlock every tricky teenage heart. But here are a few helpful keys you might try first.
In the New Testament, Jesus’s discipleship model leaned very little on getting his disciples to “open up.” Instead, he spent time with them, teaching God’s commandments, the way to eternal life, and modeling what a life of holiness looks like. This rag-tag group of men learned to follow God by being in the presence of Jesus. He encouraged them. He corrected them. He spoke into their struggles. Jesus was undeterred by his exhaustion, busyness, or irritation, and remained present with his disciples for their good.
I have a feeling most of us will have to try a little harder to convince our teenagers to follow in our shadow and learn from our presence. But even when your teenager doesn’t seem interested in letting you into their world, let them know you’re there whenever they decide to open the door. Be intentionally present, both physically and emotionally. Put your phone down. Turn off the television. Ask questions. Listen. Sympathize. Spend one-on-one time together doing what they love. Enjoy downtime together. Get creative with cultivating community with your teenager for the purpose of discipleship. Teenagers are much more likely to open up to you when they know you’re present and engaged.
Teenagers are much more likely to open up to you when they know you’re present and engaged.
In James 5:7–8, James encourages us to be patient until the coming of the Lord. “See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient.” As you wait for your teenager to open up, in the ultimate hope that they will yield their life to the Lord and bear fruit, you must wait patiently, not begrudgingly, because love is patient and kind (1 Cor. 13:4).
Be patient as your teen learns to trust you. As an adult, you’ve likely learned who to turn to for godly council, who you can trust to point you to the encouragement of Scripture, and who will lovingly point out sin in your life. You’ve probably observed which friends guard their tongues and keep your burdens private and which “friends” do not and instead air secrets like a trashy online tabloid. You’ve made note of which friends always have opinions to offer and which are slow to speak and quick to hear. You know who will pray for you. You’ve learned by trial and error, and perhaps sometimes by fire, who to trust with the keys to your heart. If you desire someone who is wise, trustworthy, loyal, and a good listener, be patient as your teenager learns to discern the same things. Pray they’ll decide after watching your life, to trust you enough to begin opening up.
In parenting, it’s often the times we feel most out of our depth when we are most driven to our knees in prayer. This is not a coincidence. God uses our weakness to point us toward his strength. If you’ve been present and patient and the doors of your teen’s heart are still locked tight, stay the course and keep praying.
Pray that your teen would love the Lord God with all their heart and soul and might (Deut. 6:5). Pray that the Lord’s kindness would lead them to repentance (Rom. 2:4) and that they would be justified by grace through faith in Christ. Pray that your teen’s heart would be like a stream of water in the hand of the Lord and that he would turn it wherever he wills (Prov. 21:1). Ask with the Psalmist, “Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands” (Ps. 90:17) as you continue working to create open lines of communication and trust with your teenager.
As your teenager learns to navigate difficult friendships, balance the immense educational and social pressures at school, and find her identity amidst a confused culture—she will need Christian parents who will help, encourage, offer biblical counsel, and constantly redirect her to Christ and the good news of the gospel. Persevere. If you feel like you’re standing on the outside of your teenager’s padlocked heart, don’t give up looking for the keys. Pursue your teen by faith with prayerfully patient presence, and trust God to do the work of unlocking his or her heart, for his glory.