What advice do you give for parents of teens from the Millennial generation?

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Parents of Millennials (children born in and after 1982) are confused. These moms and dads are giving their children more time and attention than their parents gave them, but these kids don't seem to appreciate any of their efforts. It is a truism to say every generation of parents is uncomfortable with teenage offspring. Today, however, that statement carries even more weight. On the wide cultural plain, the efforts of parents are being counterbalanced by the shift to post-Christian post modernism. Out parents might have felt awkward about Elvis and the Beatles, or Debby Boone and Andy Gibb, but parents today don't understand how teenagers can be so entertained but so bored, so filled with information sources but so unwise, so pampered but so untrusting of authority.

Here are eight specific principles about parenting Millennials:

  1. Understand yourself. Get some feedback about your ability to affirm and love your children. Find out if you tend to be overprotective or permissive, and also determine your spouse's tendencies. Knowing yourself provides a benchmark for making changes in how you treat your kids. It's never too late to change.

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    Engage them intentionally. Learn all you can about their culture, and make time to talk. Great conversations sometimes can be planned, but often the unguarded moments yield the deepest level of heart-to-heart talks. Look for those moments. Pray that God will open your eyes to see them. I'm convinced they are there, but sometimes we miss the cues. On the way home from a ball game, on the way to pick up a movie, in the kitchen preparing dinner, and in the other mundane moments in life, God can give us windows to each other's soul if we look for them.

  3. Listen. If you use those precious moments to huff and puff and blow down the teenager's house, the next moment may not come until the next millennium! Ask questions. Avoid condemnation or correcting. And listen. Kids are looking at the expression in your eyes and listening to the tone of your voice to see if your words and your heart match up. If you say you want to listen but your voice has the taint of condemnation, the door will be shut.

    A friend of mine has a teenage daughter. They have a deal. When she picks up that her dad's voice or facial expression is not consistent with his word, she tells him. He told me, "I don't like it when she tells me, but if I say, 'I'm sorry. I'll try to do better. Let's try it again.' the conversation usually goes to a much deeper level. I think our agreement gives her a deeper sense of trust.

  4. Ask questions. Don't jump in with your absolutely essential, incredibly wise advice--even if you're right! Bite your tongue and ask a few questions. Remember, having the relationship is more important that forcing your opinion on your teenager. Win trust by being patient and asking the second and third questions instead of looking like a know-it-all. Pursue your teenager gently.

  5. Clarify what has been said. You may want to ask clarifying questions such as:

    • "How did you feel when that happened?"

    • "What happened next?"

    • "What do you think her motives were when she did that?"

    • "This is what I hear you saying. Is that right?"

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    Impart tools of decision making. Don't overwhelm your teenager with business management techniques, even if they have revolutionized your life. Use the back-door approach. Find unguarded moments, and ask a question or two to help your teenager plan a little better. When he sees success, you can then open Door #2 and say you've learned some techniques that help you be more effective. But don't push! Leave your teenager wanting more. Little by little, teach him to plan, prioritize, and schedule his time to accomplish his goals. Talk about consequences to encourage your teenager to internalize what he is learning. If he notices how good decision making makes him happier and more effective, he will be motivated to keep going in that direction. Of course, these techniques are learned best in the context of growing responsibilities. When your teenager feels the pressure of increased responsibility, he may be more receptive to learn and grow. Every step of the way, affirm efforts as well as progress.

  7. Practice spiritual formation at home. Make is a part of your family's lifestyle to notice, name, and nurture the presence of God. You can do this as a regular part of dinner conversation or perhaps as a debriefing time on Sunday on the way to church. You can ask, "How have we seen God at work in our lives since last Sunday morning?" That will also prepare each of you to pay attention to God and His Word in the services that morning.

    The offhanded times may be the best to impart spiritual formation. As you talk about the important and the not-so-important things of your lives, make it a habit to look for the Lord's hand in all you do. You probably will be surprised to see His sovereignty, His love, and His gracious provision as you never have before!

  8. Correct sparingly; affirm lavishly. Okay, I've said this before haven't I? I want to say it again. Our teenagers are no different from us. We all need large helpings of love all day every day. We live for it. We long for more. The only difference is that some teenagers are “going through that phase” of individuating, developing their own, separate identity apart from their parents. Some of them do this gracefully; most do it painfully. They are exasperating, but the need to be hugged. They are incredibly obstinate, but they need our kindness. They are out of control, but they need our steady, gently care. Most kids I know are well aware when they mess up. They usually don't need us to point that out. A better approach is to put your arm around him and ask, "How can I help you? I really care about you." That will do wonders for your teenager and for your relationship.

    Do you ever put your foot down? Do you ever say, "No!" Do you ever practice tough love to change the direction of a teenager's life? Of course you do when it is needed. If we practice these other principles, we won't have to resort to confrontation too often. When it is needed, I encourage you to seek the help of a pastor or Christian counselor to enable you to communicate with clarity and with realistic expectations. Quite often, the counselor will observe that the problems with the child may be systemic, that is, they reflect difficulties in the entire family's network of relationships. This is an opportunity for all of you to learn and grow. It may be painful, but it can be one of the most positive and revolutionary experiences for a family.

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Your particular teenager might be quite different from the typical Millennial. Every generation contains an enormous range of motives, lifestyles, hopes, and dreams. But the environment your teenager is experiencing in school and in our nation is decidedly different from the one you and I enjoyed or endured. You need to know that so you can be alert and aware of the dangers and the opportunities.

The Millennial Generation is not the most difficult bunch of young people to come along in years. In fact, as a group, they are more withdrawn than we've seen in many years. They need a sense of purpose; they need strong relationships; they need role models they can trust. If we understand them, we can more accurately shape the environment in our homes to meet their needs and point them toward lives of true meaning.

Author: Dawson McAllister of Dawson McAllister Live!. Content used by permission from Dawson's book Saving the Millennial Generation, © 1999, Thomas Nelson Publishers.

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