Keeping the Lines of Communication Open
1, 2. What is communication, and why is it important?
COMMUNICATION is more than just talking. As the apostle Paul put it: If your words are not understood by the hearer, “you will, in fact, be speaking into the air.” (1 Corinthians 14:9) Does what you say get through to your children, and do you really understand what they are trying to tell you?
2 For true communication, there must be a transmitting of thoughts, ideas and feelings from one mind to another. If love may be called the heart of happy family living, then communication could be called its lifeblood. Breakdowns in communication between marriage mates spell trouble; they are equally serious, if not more so, when they come between parents and children.
TAKING A LONG-RANGE VIEW
3. During what period in a child’s life should parents expect problems in communication?
3 The greatest stresses on the lines of communication between parents and their children come, not during the early years of a child’s life, but during adolescence—the “teen-age” years. Parents should recognize that this is going to be the case. It is unrealistic for them to expect that, because the earlier years of their children’s lives are relatively trouble free, those later years will be also. Problems will definitely come, and clear, effective communication can be a key factor in solving or reducing them. Realizing this, parents need to look ahead, think ahead, for “better is the end afterward of a matter than its beginning.”—Ecclesiastes 7:8.
4. Must all family communication be in the form of conversation? Explain.
4 Many things go into establishing, building up and keeping family lines of communication operating. Over the years, a man and his wife can build up a depth of confidence, trust and mutual understanding that make communication possible even without words—just a look, a smile or a touch can speak volumes for them. They should aim to build up the same strong basis for communication with their children. Before a baby understands speech, parents communicate to it feelings of security and love. While the children are growing up, if the family works, plays and, more than that, worships together, then strong lines of communication are established. Keeping those lines open, however, calls for real effort and wisdom.
ENCOURAGING YOUR CHILD TO BE EXPRESSIVE
5-7. (a) Why is it good for parents to be careful about stopping a child from speaking? (b) How could parents teach children about politeness and courtesy?
5 The old saying is that “children should be seen and not heard.” True—at times. Children need to learn that, as God’s Word says, there is “a time to keep quiet and a time to speak.” (Ecclesiastes 3:7) But children crave attention, and parents must guard against stifling free expression unnecessarily. Do not expect a small child’s response to experiences to be the same as an adult’s. The adult sees a single incident as just part of the broad panorama of life. The child may become very excited and so wholly absorbed in some matter of immediate interest that he forgets almost everything else. A small child may burst into the room and excitedly begin relating some event to his father or mother. If the parent cuts the child off with an irritated “Quiet down!” or makes some other angry expression, the child’s enthusiasm may be crushed. Childish chatter may not seem to convey much. But, by encouraging natural expression from your children, you may prevent them later in life from keeping to themselves things that you want and need to know.
6 Politeness and courtesy contribute to good communication. Children should learn to be polite, and parents should set the example for them in their own communication with the children, as well as in other ways. Reproof will be necessary and should be given when needed, even with severity. (Proverbs 3:11, 12; 15:31, 32; Titus 1:13) However, if children are habitually cut off, continually corrected or, worse, disparaged and even ridiculed by a parent when they speak, they will likely become withdrawn—or they will go to someone else when they want to talk. The older the son or daughter grows, the more this becomes the case. Why not do this—at the end of this day stop and review your conversations with your son or daughter, and then ask yourself: How many times did I say things that expressed appreciation, encouragement, commendation or praise? On the other hand, how many times did I say things that implied the opposite, that tended to ‘put him or her down,’ that suggested dissatisfaction, irritation or exasperation? You may be surprised at what your review reveals.—Proverbs 12:18.
7 Parental patience and self-control are frequently needed. Youths are inclined to be impetuous. They may blurt out what is on their minds, perhaps interrupting an adult conversation. A parent could bluntly rebuke a young one. But sometimes it may be wiser to listen politely, thereby furnishing an example of self-control and then, after answering briefly, kindly remind the child of the need to be polite and considerate. So, here again, the counsel may apply to be “swift about hearing, slow about speaking, slow about wrath.”—James 1:19.
8. How might parents encourage their children to come to them for guidance?
8 You want your children to feel moved to seek your guidance when they have problems. You can encourage them to do that by showing that you also seek guidance in life and have someone to whom you look with submission. In commenting on a way he establishes good communication with his children while they are still small, one father said this:
“Nearly every night I have prayers with the children at bedtime. They are generally in their bed, and I kneel beside it and hold them in my arms. I say a prayer and often they say one afterward. It is not uncommon for them to kiss me and say, ‘Daddy, I love you,’ and then reveal something that is in their heart. In the warmth of their bed and the security of their father’s embrace they may tell of some personal problem they want help with or maybe just make an expression of affection.”
At mealtimes and on other occasions, if your prayers are—not routine—but expressive, spoken from the heart and reflecting a genuine personal relationship with your heavenly Creator and Father, this can contribute immeasurably toward a wholesome relationship with your offspring.—1 John 3:21; 4:17, 18.
THE TRANSITION YEARS
9. What can be said about the problems and needs of adolescents when compared with those of younger children?
9 Adolescence is a time of transition, a time when your son or daughter is no longer a child but is not yet an adult. Teen-age bodies are undergoing changes, and these affect emotions. The problems and needs of teen-agers differ from those in the preteen period. So the parents’ approach to those problems and needs must be adjusted, for what worked for the preteen-ager will not always work for the adolescent. There is need for more giving of reasons, and this calls for more, not less, communication.
10. (a) Why are simple explanations about sex not sufficient for adolescents? (b) How might parents get into discussions with their child about sex?
10 The simple explanations you gave to your small child about sex, for example, will not meet the needs of adolescents. They feel sex urges, but embarrassment often keeps them from approaching their father or mother with questions. Parents must take the initiative, and this will not be easy unless they have built up and maintained good lines of communication, particularly by being warm companions of their children, in work and play. The onset of seminal emissions for the boy or menstruation for the girl will be less upsetting if they have been explained beforehand. (Leviticus 15:16, 17; 18:19) A father may, perhaps while on a walk with his son, bring up the matter of masturbation, mentioning that most young men have at least some problem with it, and ask, ‘How are you doing in that regard?’ or ‘Have you found it to be a problem?’ Even some family discussions can deal with related problems of adolescence, with both father and mother contributing their counsel in a relaxed but frank way.
UNDERSTANDING THE NEEDS OF TEEN-AGERS
11. In what ways do adolescents differ from adults?
11 “Acquire wisdom; and with all that you acquire, acquire understanding.” (Proverbs 4:7) As parents, be wise in the ways of the young; show insight as to their feelings. Do not forget how it was for you to be young. Remember, too, that while every older person was once young and knows what it was like, no young person has ever experienced being old. The adolescent youth doesn’t want to be treated like a child anymore, but he is not an adult and does not have many adult interests yet. He still has a lot of play in him and needs some time for it.
12. How do teen-agers want to be treated by their parents?
12 There are certain things that youths especially want from parents at this stage of life. They want to be understood; they want, more than ever, to be treated as individuals; they want guidelines and direction that are consistent and that take into account their approach to adulthood; they want very much to feel needed and appreciated.
13. How might teen-age children react to parental restrictions, and why?
13 Parents should not be surprised because some measure of resistance to restrictions begins to surface in adolescence. This is due to the youths’ approach to eventual independence and the normal desire for wider latitude of movement and choice. Helpless babies need constant parental care, small children need careful protection, but as they grow older the field of activity widens, and the ties with those beyond the family circle increase and strengthen. The gropings toward independence may make a son or daughter somewhat difficult to deal with. Parents cannot let their authority be ignored or overruled—for their children’s own good. But they can cope wisely and maintain communication if they keep in mind what motivates this possibly disturbing conduct.
14. How might parents deal successfully with a child’s desire for greater independence?
14 Confronted with their son’s or daughter’s urge for greater independence, what are parents to do? That urge is like a compressed spring held in the hand. Let it go suddenly and it will fly off uncontrolled in an unpredictable direction. Hold it in too long and you exhaust yourself and weaken it. But let it go gradually in a controlled way and it will stand in its proper place.
15. What shows that Jesus’ growth to adulthood came under parental direction?
15 We find an example of such controlled growth toward independence in the case of Jesus as a young lad. Of his preteen years, the historical account at Luke 2:40 says that “the young child continued growing and getting strong, being filled with wisdom, and God’s favor continued upon him.” His parents doubtless played a major role in his development, for, though he was perfect, his wisdom would not be automatic. They regularly provided the spiritual climate for his training, as the account goes on to relate. At the age of 12, while the family was in Jerusalem attending the Passover festival, Jesus went to the temple and engaged in conversation with the religious teachers there. Evidently his parents allowed their 12-year-old son this degree of freedom of movement. They departed from Jerusalem without realizing that he was being left behind, perhaps assuming that he was with other returning friends or relatives. Three days later they found him at the temple, not trying to teach his elders but “listening to them and questioning them.” His mother pointed out the mental anguish they had experienced and Jesus, with no disrespect, in effect replied that he thought they would surely know where to find him when they were ready to leave. Though he exercised some freedom of movement, the account says that Jesus thereafter “continued subject to them,” adjusting to their guidelines and restrictions as he entered his teen years, and he “went on progressing in wisdom and in physical growth and in favor with God and men.”—Luke 2:41-52.
16. When parents experience problems with an adolescent, what should they keep in mind?
16 Similarly, parents should allow teen-age sons or daughters a degree of independence, gradually increasing it as they near adulthood, letting them make more and more personal decisions, under parental guidance and supervision. When difficulties arise, understanding why will help parents to avoid making great issues of minor things. Many times a teen-ager is not deliberately rebelling against his parents, but he is trying to establish a degree of independence without knowing how to go about it. So, the parents may make mistakes, perhaps making issues of the wrong things. If the matter is not too serious, let it pass. But when it is serious, be firm. Do not ‘strain out gnats’ nor ‘swallow camels.’—Matthew 23:24.
17. What factors should parents take into consideration when placing restrictions on adolescent children?
17 Parents can help the continuance of a fine relationship with their adolescent sons and daughters by showing good balance in the restrictions they place on them. Remember that while the “wisdom from above is first of all chaste,” it is also “reasonable” and “full of mercy,” “not hypocritical.” (James 3:17) There are some things that the Bible shows to be totally unacceptable, including stealing, fornication, idolatry and similar gross wrongs. (1 Corinthians 6:9, 10) With many other things, the rightness or wrongness may depend on the extent or degree to which a matter is carried. Food is good, but if we eat too much we become gluttons. So, too, with some forms of recreation, such as dancing, playing games, having parties, or similar activities. Many times it is not what is done, but the way it is done and the company in which it is done. So, just as we would not condemn eating when what we really mean is gluttony, parents would not want to make a blanket condemnation of some youthful activity if the real objection is to the extreme form or degree to which some carry it, or to some undesirable circumstances that could creep in.—Compare Colossians 2:23.
18. How might parents caution their children about associates?
18 All young people feel the need for having friends. Few may be considered “ideal,” but, then, don’t your own children have their weak points? You may want to restrict their associations with some young persons because of viewing these as potentially harmful. (Proverbs 13:20; 2 Thessalonians 3:13, 14; 2 Timothy 2:20, 21) With others, you may see some things you like and some things you do not like. Rather than excluding one completely because of some lack, you may want to express appreciation to your children for their friend’s good qualities while pointing out the need for caution in the weaker areas, encouraging your son or daughter to prove a force for good in those areas, to the lasting benefit of the friend.
19. In harmony with the principle set forth at Luke 12:48, how can children be helped to have the right view of freedom?
19 One way to aid your teen-age son or daughter to develop a right view toward increased freedom is to help him or her see that greater responsibility goes with greater freedom. “To whom much was given, much will be demanded of him.” (Luke 12:48) The more responsible children show themselves to be, the greater trust the parents can place in them.—Galatians 5:13; 1 Peter 2:16.
COMMUNICATING COUNSEL AND CORRECTION
20. What besides power or authority over children is needed to prevent a breakdown of communication?
20 If a person counsels you but doesn’t understand your position, you feel his counsel is unrealistic. If he has the power to force you to follow his demands, you may resent this as unjust. Parents should keep in mind that “the understanding heart is one that searches for knowledge,” and “a man of knowledge is reinforcing power.” (Proverbs 15:14; 24:5) You may have power over your children, but, if it is reinforced by knowledge and understanding, you will be more effective in communicating with them. Failure to show understanding when correcting young persons can lead to a “generation gap” and a breakdown of communication.
21. How should parents handle children who become involved in serious wrongdoing?
21 What will you do if your child does get into difficulty, makes a serious mistake or commits some wrong that takes you by surprise? You should never condone the wrong. (Isaiah 5:20; Malachi 2:17) But realize that now of all times your son or daughter needs understanding help and skillful direction. Like Jehovah God, you may in effect say, ‘Come and let us set matters straight; the situation is serious, but by no means beyond repair.’ (Isaiah 1:18) Angry outbursts or harsh condemnations may throttle communication. All too many youths who go wrong have said: ‘I couldn’t talk to my parents—they would have been furious with me.’ Ephesians 4:26 says: “If you are angry, do not let anger lead you into sin.” (New English Bible) Hold your emotions in check while you hear what your son or daughter has to say. Then your fairness in listening will make the correction you give easier to accept.
22. Why should parents never imply that they have given up on their children?
22 Perhaps it is not just one incident but a period of difficulty, a pattern of manifesting some undesirable trait. Though discipline is essential, parents must never by word or spirit imply that they have given up on the child. Your long-suffering will be a measure of the depth of your love. (1 Corinthians 13:4) Do not combat evil with evil, but conquer it with good. (Romans 12:21) Only harm is done if a youth is humiliated before others by statements that he is “lazy,” “rebellious,” “good for nothing,” or “hopeless.” Love does not stop hoping. (1 Corinthians 13:7) A youth may go so far as to become delinquent and leave home. Though in no way expressing approval, parents can keep the way open for his return. How? By showing that they reject, not him, but his course. They can continue to express to him their belief that he has within him good qualities and their hope that these will win out. If that proves to be the case, he will, like the prodigal son of Jesus’ illustration, be able to turn homeward with the assurance that his repentant return will not be greeted with harshness or coldness.—Luke 15:11-32.
A SENSE OF INDIVIDUAL WORTH
23. Why is it important for adolescents to feel that they are valuable members of the family?
23 All human creatures need some recognition, to be accepted and approved, to feel that they belong. To get the acceptance and approval needed, of course, a person cannot become too independent. He must stay within the bounds of conduct approved by the group with which he belongs. Youths in their teens feel that need to belong in the family. Make them feel that they are valuable members of the family circle, contributing to its welfare, even being allowed to share in some of the family’s planning and decisions.
24. What should parents avoid doing so that one child does not become envious of another child?
24 “Let us not become egotistical,” says the apostle, “stirring up competition with one another, envying one another.” (Galatians 5:26) Praise from a parent when a son or daughter does well will help to prevent such a spirit from rising; but comparing a youth unfavorably with someone else who is frequently held up as superior will create envy or resentment. The apostle said that each one should “prove what his own work is, and then he will have cause for exultation in regard to himself alone, and not in comparison with the other person.” (Galatians 6:4) The youth wants to be accepted for what he himself is and for who he is and for what he is able to do, being loved by his parents for these things.
25. How can parents aid their children to develop a sense of worth?
25 Parents can help their son or daughter develop a sense of worth by training such a one to take on life’s responsibilities in all areas. They have been training their children since infancy, in honesty, truthfulness and right treatment of others; they build on this earlier foundation by showing how these qualities apply in human society. How to take on the responsibility of a job and be dependable at it is included. Jesus, in his “progressing in wisdom” as a teen-ager, evidently learned a trade at his foster father Joseph’s side, for even when he reached the age of 30 and began his public Kingdom work, people referred to him as “the carpenter.” (Mark 6:3) During the teen-age period, boys especially should learn what it means to work and to satisfy an employer or a customer, even though the work be as simple in nature as running errands. They can be shown that by being diligent, serious and reliable workers they gain self-respect and the respect and appreciation of others; that not only are they a credit to their parents and family but they also “adorn the teaching of our Savior, God, in all things.”—Titus 2:6-10.
26. What ancient custom acknowledged that a daughter was a valuable member of the family?
26 Daughters, too, can learn the arts of housekeeping and homemaking and earn appreciation and praise both inside and outside the family. A daughter’s potential worth to her family is illustrated by the practice in Bible times of exacting a dowry or bride price when a daughter was given in marriage. This was doubtless viewed as a compensation for the loss of her services to the family.—Genesis 34:11, 12; Exodus 22:16.
27. Why should educational opportunities be used to good advantage?
27 Opportunities for education should be used to good advantage to equip young ones for meeting life’s challenges in the present system of things. Such young ones are included in the apostle’s encouragement that “our people also learn to maintain fine works [honest employment, New English Bible] so as to meet their pressing needs, that they may not be unfruitful.”—Titus 3:14.
THE PROTECTION OF THE BIBLE’S MORAL CODE
28, 29. (a) What counsel does the Bible give about associations? (b) How can parents help their children to heed this counsel?
28 Parents are understandably concerned when circumstances, perhaps the neighborhood in which they live or the school their children attend, oblige these to associate with some youths who are delinquent and self-destructive. Parents may realize the truth of the Bible’s statement that “bad associations spoil useful habits.” They are therefore unwilling to accept the begging child’s argument: ‘Everyone else gets to do it; why can’t I?’ Probably not everyone is, but even so, it isn’t reason enough for your child to do it if it is wrong or unwise. “Do not be envious of bad men [or children], and do not show yourself craving to get in with them. For despoiling is what their heart keeps meditating, and trouble is what their own lips keep speaking. By wisdom a household will be built up, and by discernment it will prove firmly established.”—1 Corinthians 15:33; Proverbs 24:1-3.
29 You cannot trail your children through school or through life. However, by building up your household with wisdom you can send with them a good moral code and right principles for guidance. “The words of the wise ones are like oxgoads.” (Ecclesiastes 12:11) In ancient times these goads were long sticks with pointed tips. They were used to prod the animals to keep moving in the right direction. Wise words of God will keep us moving the right way, and, if we stray, will cause our conscience to prick us to change our course. For your children’s lasting welfare, send such wisdom along with them. Communicate it to them by both word and example. Instill a set of true values, and that is what your children will seek in others they choose as personal companions.—Psalm 119:9, 63.
30. How can parents provide their children with a God-given moral code?
30 In all of this, remember that moral values are far more likely to be instilled if there is a home atmosphere in which those principles are respected and followed. Have the attitudes you want your children to have. In your own home, within the family circle, be sure that your children find adult understanding, love, forgiveness, a safe degree of freedom and independence along with justice and fairness, and the feeling of acceptance and belonging that they need. In these ways communicate to them a God-given moral code to take with them beyond the family circle. You can give them no finer heritage.—Proverbs 20:7.