Author says teens communicate if parents are willing to listen
That's the biggest lesson author Rodney Gage has learned during 10 years of speaking to more than three million teenagers.
"Young people can communicate their unspoken needs without necessarily verbalizing anything," Gage said. "Kids communicate with their eyes, facial expressions, body language, attitude and appearance."
Understanding teen needs is a key to understanding their behavior, Gage writes in his new book, "Why Your Kids Do What They Do: Responding to the Driving Forces Behind Your Teen's Behavior." The book is published by the Broadman & Holman division of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Using an acrostic, he identifies five basic emotional needs that must be met in order for teens to develop into healthy, mature adults.
"Every teenager has a need to be noticed, to receive encouragement, to receive empathy, to receive direction and to receive security," he writes.
Teen needs will not be met by giving them material objects, Gage said. Therefore, a car, a CD or a computer won't satisfy them.
"The truth is, God has created us with needs so that we might constantly look to him, allowing him to meet our needs directly or indirectly through others," Gage writes.
Parents can use needs displayed by their teens as a gauge to determine what they require. For example, the need to be noticed tells parents their teen should receive focused attention, respect, appreciation and value an individual.
Likewise, questions such as 'Who am I? Who am I physically, sexually, emotionally, in my relationships, in my faith, in my values?' indicate teens need to feel a sense of significance and purpose in life, he said.
"Even if teenagers don't articulate those basic questions about their lives, they do want assurance their presence on earth is important and valuable to someone," Gage writes.
When teen needs aren't met, serious problems can develop, he said.
"We spent a year researching behavioral problems among today's youth," said Gage who heads the ministry organization, Rodney Gage International, an interdenominational ministry aimed at helping parents and teenagers. "We discovered that almost all major behavioral problems were linked to unmet emotional needs."
Armed with information about their teen's needs, parents' next step is action, he said.
This step, Gage says, is a challenging one: "Actions speak louder than words. You can fool a fool, you can con a con, but you can't kid a kid.
"Teens know whether their parents are for real. I believe the greatest thing parents can do is model Christlikeness to their kids. Kids may not believe what you say, but they will believe what you do."
Gage has much to say about ineffective parenting. He highlighted three roles parents usually play that can sabotage a relationship with a teenager:
1. Nagging. Some parents substitute nagging for communication. "Nagging can be habit-forming."
2. Escaping from responsibility. "This type of parent usually casts blame on others, even the teenager, for irresponsibility."
3. The 'Spy.' "This parent is like 007, always snooping into the teen's business as if they're trying to catch the teen doing something wrong. Parents must remember to look for a pattern of behavior with supporting signs before 'spying' on their kids."
In his book Gage addresses six false assumptions parents can make about their kids.
1. My teenager seems OK; I must be doing everything right.
2. My teenager is a mess. I'm a terrible parent. I can't possibly meet this kid's needs.
3. It's just a phase of adolescence. I made it through my teenage years.
4. It's too late or it's too early.
5. My teenager will turn out better than I did.
6. I'm (select a problem, ex. single parent), so I don't have (select an excuse, eg. time) to determine my teenager's needs and meet them.
Gage said the assumption a teenager who acts out is just going through a phase is wrong. Such faulty thinking, he said, ignores the fact youth are being raised in a whole new world. Divorce, materialism, working parents and television create a new environment. On top of those pressures, Americans have a culture that no longer embraces moral and biblical values.
Kids are exposed to more destructive ideas than any other generation.
"It has been said that today's youth could be labeled the 'Polaroid Generation': They are overexposed and underdeveloped," he said.
Gage's accompanying devotional book, "Becoming the Parent Your Teenager Needs: Inspirations for Daily Encouragement" is designed to encourage parents as they meet the challenges of raising teenagers today.
Gage believes the challenge he presents to parents by asking them to focus on the emotional needs of youth can be revolutionary.
"Parents may have to put their needs on hold in order to invest time, energy and emotions into raising their teenagers. They need to stay in touch with their kids as much as they can so they can discern when a particular need may be going unmet," Gage said.
"Behind every deed, there is a need."
Gage's books can be purchased in LifeWay Christian Stores, other book stores or online at www.lifewaystores.com.