My daughter Zoey turns 17 in June. A few months later, she’ll start her senior year of high school. As I watch Zoey mature, sometimes I find myself inspecting her choices and opinions for evidence of my influence, including in matters of faith.
From baptism to confirmation and beyond, we’ve circled her with Lutheran witness. I hope that she shares my beliefs and that, going forward, she won’t feel the need to hide her faith from others. Lately, though, I’ve realized that any attempt to control how Zoey uses what I offer her is ultimately futile. She is her own person.
While I understand this on an intellectual level, I still need to remind myself to be careful not to push or preach while we’re engaged in conversation. Real dialogue between us isn’t about me identifying places where I can insert or reinforce my worldview. Nor is it OK for me to listen on autopilot, latch on to keywords and finally preach on a topic I’ve been waiting to cover. When she opens up, I aim simply to receive and comprehend her words, not thinking about what I’m going to say next.
I want to listen, learn and provide support so my teen trusts me to foster, not force, her faith development.
Zoey frequently references events and news stories about politics, Black Lives Matter and human rights. When she does this, I’m tempted to pepper her with questions about her opinions and whether she agrees with mine. I want to ask if she’s guided by faith and views things through such a lens. I’m not wrong to want to know these things—it’s OK to wonder about my daughter’s beliefs and whether they align with mine. It’s also OK to urge her to be an active, vocal Lutheran. But in healthy conversation, I must acknowledge that she isn’t my mirror image and that some of her values may differ from mine. I try to connect with her without an agenda.
I want to listen, learn and provide support so my teen trusts me to foster, not force, her faith development. After all, what she believes is, truly, inspired by God.
Encourage teens to open up by changing your standard queries about how the day went or why they haven’t seen a particular friend for weeks. Zero in on fun, surprising or even disappointing moments in the day by sharing something you normally wouldn’t. You might tell a funny story about an article you read rather than take an interrogative approach. Your teens may jump in and share their own stories. Or, when you’re finished sharing, you could encourage them to tell you about a moment/article that stuck out. You might also invite them to choose the music at home or as you travel so they can introduce you to some favorite songs.
Try this prayer to guide conversation with teens:
We pray for patience to listen with quiet minds and open hearts.
We pray to show respect, hear without judgment and extend grace.
We pray that we are heard as loving and trustworthy.
We pray for minds that are open to learning.
We pray for the courage to listen more than we speak.
In your name we pray,