Setting the Stage for Parent-Teen Communication

What, Mom? (With headphones on, leaning back, still focused on his screen.)

What has your son heard you say and is still hearing?  Your voice, muffled. You, speaking muffledly. Then more muffledly, only louder. Keep it up, and he’ll hear you most muffledly and likely most loudly! That’s not a good start to whatever you were hoping to communicate–and respect is on the line.

Respectful parent-teen communication begins with setting the stage for real listening.  But the stage in this case needs the props removed—computer screen, mobile phone, headphones—so you can start a dialogue in a way that encourages real listening. And as a result, you will teach your teen conversational skills that respect you and others.

The alternative is likely misunderstanding. Or, because you’re not feeling heard and he’s feeling aggravated about losing his flow, an argument could easily erupt. But not the classical kind of argument in which there’s an exchange of ideas and support for those ideas. Rather, the whiny kind, the negative kind, or the angry kind.

There are ways to interrupt your child on technology that don’t cause him to feel his work or even play is disrespected. (After all, he may have worked hard for that online ‘play’ time.)  A word fitly spoken is an essential bridge moving a dialogue toward persuasiveness and understanding.

In managing online time, teach your child to listen well to you. You are also teaching them to respect you. And then patiently respect your child in return. The communication methods and respect you model within the home is what your child will likely apply outside of it. We are to bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord and to teach them to obey us as parents. Meanwhile, we remember that if we’re showing the fruit of the Spirit, we will be showing them patient and kind instruction out of love for them.

Parent-Teen Communication Without a Screen in Between

So, don’t compete with a screen in between you. Or with headphones that are meant to eliminate ambient noise–you, in this case.  Take the lead to avoid this interference, because your teen probably won’t–and will more likely see you as the interference.  Help your teen learn how to listen and to make more effective arguments by teaching them to first disengage from technology. Tap his shoulder (if he can’t hear you through his headphones). Say “Let’s talk a minute” or “I need you now.” After you’ve made clear the need to talk, offer him a few seconds to break away from the technical task in front of him.  Proverbs 15 reminds us “a patient man calms a quarrel.”

Help Your Teen Listen

Most online activities involve a process. If you allow him to be online, it’s not fair to interrupt that at your every inclination. He can’t abruptly stop this process without error, aggravation, insult to an online team member, loss of one’s train of thought, or data loss.  You can respect your teen by forewarning him of your need to discuss something and then allowing him a moment to ‘get into position.’

Now disengaged from technology, he can better listen to what you have to say. And he’ll be able to reply without distraction. Instead of appearing to deign to give you his time, he may be more fully attentive, a sign of respect. You are teaching him to love through actions, not just words.

Both of you now fully present, a polite, clear and logical “argument” can commence. You have helped him listen under authority–a useful habit for his long-term good. And quality, respectful parent-teen communication may prevent unintentional disobedience resulting from misunderstanding.

So, take control of your relationship through better communication methods. Insist your teen first be free from distraction.  Only then can a full discussion–or argument–be most productive.

And when your teen questions why he should have to take out the garbage today, you can look deeply into his eyes and give your most cogent argument:  Because I said so.

Samson over Master Chief

Maybe you have a child who is dolefully lurking in your vicinity. He begrudgingly said goodnight to Master Chief in Halo: Infinite after your third request. Could you turn this into a moment to help him gain a smidgen of knowledge, understanding, and wisdom—biblically speaking?

Master Chief is a strong “supersoldier” with telescopic vision, as you may know from your child’s long hours of videogaming. You consider which strong men of the Bible you know, and Samson comes to mind (Judges 13-16).

It’s time to engage.

Talkin’ ’bout the Bible: Samson

“So, you play as Master Chief when you play Halo, don’t you?” you ask.
“Yeah,” your child answers.
“He’s a hero, right? With strength, fighting skills, and even telescopic vision?”
“Do you remember any heroes like that in the Bible?”
“No. Aren’t they all, like, just quiet men who think about God?”

(Simplify—or give greater nuance and complexity—to this sample dialogue depending on your child’s age, maturity, and Bible knowledge.)

“Actually, the Bible describes a strong warrior and judge named Samson who was dedicated to God. God gave him supernatural strength. That’s because he had a mission to do. The Bible says ‘He will take the lead in delivering Israel from the hands of the Philistines’ (Judges 13:5b).”

He’s beginning to hear, “Blah, blah, blah.” So, you ask another question.

Keep His Interest

“Do you get to choose what kinds of missions you play through as Master Chief?”

(He’s paying attention again. Listen for his answer and what kinds of missions his personality draws him to. This will be valuable in future conversations.)

You continue: “Samson’s main mission was to kill off some evil Philistines to help Israel. He got distracted by beautiful women, though, and some bad relationships. He was distracted by what he saw. Does Master Chief’s telescopic vision ever cause him problems? Does it ever hurt your mission or only help it?”

(Play off whatever his response is for your mutual enjoyment or continue your story.)

“Samson’s distracted eyes eventually caused the Philistines to catch him and PLUCK OUT his eyes. Not only that, but a woman—the Philistine Delilah—tricked him and cut his long hair, which God had made the source of his strength. That made him powerless. Samson and Delilah is a famous Bible story. Can Master Chief be robbed of his powers?”

Pay attention to his response—always listen like the caring interlocutor you know you can be.

The Last Word

“Our overall mission—you would probably call it a ‘campaign*’— is to stay close to God. He’s our greatest power and gives us our strength. He gives it through the Holy Spirit, not through our hair like he did for Samson. God also gives us missions. Samson’s mission resulted in him killing the Philistines by pulling down the pillars of the building they were in. But it killed him at the same time. Still, he was avenged for them plucking out his eyes, and he served God’s purposes in the end. If he had kept his eyes and thoughts on God more—been more obedient—it may have been a better result for him. How does Master Chief’s story end?”

(Let him answer and have the last word.)

Your child may know his Bible heroes and not think that Samson is the best person to compare to Master Chief. That’s OK! If that’s the case, you can both, over time, do a little reading to find a better match. That’s all good; it keeps the conversation alive. And he’ll be on his way to comparing and contrasting heroes himself—gaining knowledge and understanding, and thinking biblically.


*I am told that many missions make a campaign.

Make Faith Relevant to Online Experiences

Do you teach the tenets of your Christian faith in tandem with your children’s videogame and other online experiences? Do you make faith relevant to that part of their lives? Do you build a bridge between their Bible time and their ‘tech’ time? Or do you tend to separate the two?

One of the most interesting ways I have found to make faith relevant to kids who are very engaged with video games, various apps, and the internet in general is to juxtapose their technology experiences with your own Bible knowledge. This is a light, well-grounded, and active way to broaden their application of faith. It merges their faith with the blue light of their screen day, preventing  compartmentalization. In this way, faith moves into an area of their life often devoid of it.

Fostering Faith

Faith comes from hearing—and hearing by the word of God.  And so, by speaking the Word of God into their everyday online experiences, you will pique their curiosity about how the Bible makes sense of their online lives.  This dialogue will help their growing faith to penetrate their experiences. As a result, you will find even more natural, fitting ways to engage them this way.

Recently, I saw a good, big-picture post, The World Wants Your Family, by Martha Dunson.  In it she laid out a variety of ways to fight against secular cultural trends.  The first is living the traditional—now counter-cultural—form of family life: dad, mom and kids. Another is giving your children a form of schooling that excludes political ideological indoctrination. And finally, she mentions actively teaching your children the Christian faith.

By talking about how Christian themes and virtues can feed into tech experiences, we can guide our children toward sound principles and away from secular pitfalls in thinking.  They will develop a Bible-based frame of reference about what they see and hear online. Tech experiences and Truth are laid side by side in the forefront of their minds.

This is not to say that anything goes as long as you find some tenuous way to connect their experience to biblical wisdom.  You, of course, must place safeguards around media and technology. This is important for the mental and spiritual health of your family. Dunson reminds us about the benefit of restricting and supervising internet access as well as thinking critically about entertainment that kids watch. Set up those guardrails first. Then, thoughtfully–and even playfully–animate biblical truth and reality with the pixels as the foil.

How to Make Faith Relevant

As you develop your children’s character and open up their hearts by making biblical connections, you will be starkly reminded “there is nothing new under the sun.” And more so, you will see that the possible connections are endless.

Character development and Christian training occur when you draw connections. By this I mean connections between video game play, say, and Biblical stories, historical figures, Christian themes and biblical language. The biblical canon offers a rich and germane source of conversation.  In time, you see more clearly the impact of your children’s technology time on their heart and mind. You learn more about who they are and are becoming.

Try having casual, regular, Bible-based conversations about your children’s online experiences. Make it an ongoing dialogue. It may require some initial effort on your part to initiate and carry through on the concept. That’s a good thing, right? If you don’t do this, one whole area of your children’s life could be devoid of God-awareness.

The Good News

I am recommending, in particular, that you–in part–teach the tenets of your Christian faith in the context of technology commonly found in your home. For example, when biblical commands are considered against a particular videogame sequence or character’s actions, you often see a stark contrast. In other cases, a biblical story may seem similar to a character or scene that appears in a game. The good news (no pun intended): Because you know your children’s personality and general life experience, composing conversations about a dichotomy or similarity is easier than it may seem.

My next post will offer you sample dialogue as a demonstration of how you can make faith relevant to your children’s online lives.  More will follow in the coming months.