How to Take Advantage of Teachable Moments with Your Kids

What is the best way to pass along your values to your teenager? What is the best way to influence your teenager to make good decisions?

While the methods that parents use to teach teenagers vary, many resort to lecturing as their preferred method. Why? It’s easiest. You talk and they listen and learn (or so you hope.) Unfortunately, while talking to your teenager (or, perhaps at them) might be easiest, lecturing is far from being the most effective method. Example:

What you say: “It’s important that you start demonstrating some responsibility by coming home on time.”
What many teenagers hear: “Blah, blah blah, blah blah blah. Do wah, do wah.”

Other parents take a more passive approach by letting go of their kids, allowing them to do most anything, while hoping their kids will learn the right lessons from their own experiences and mistakes. While this too may be an “easy” approach to parenting, a hands-off strategy such as this can produce destructive results. With no guidance, direction, coaching, or affirmation, teenagers are largely left to fend for themselves and expose themselves to the influences of circumstances and of peers closest to them.

Still other parents add a twist to the passive approach by trying to pick up the pieces, helping their teenager process situations when they have embraced unwise values, chosen unwise decisions, and made mistakes. This is a positive parenting technique and should be used along with whatever primary teaching styles are used. However, its use as the primary teaching style is not highly effective, because it is defensive in nature. In other words, it leaves the parent in a reactive posture, dealing with problems after they occur.

The most effective teaching style for parents is one that takes a proactive approach. It is one that helps teenagers process values and decisions before they are faced with making decisions. Certainly, all teenagers make mistakes. It is inevitable. In those times, they will find opportunities to learn some great lessons. Yet, helping your teenager learn how to process issues before they are faced, will have a tremendously positive impact on them.

One proactive teaching style is that of actively looking for “teachable moments” and then taking advantage of them. A “teachable moment” is any opportunity that presents itself, where you see values being presented or decisions being made. The possibility for creating teachable moments is virtually unlimited. These can arise from a TV program, a news report, a movie, conversation at the dinner table, the pastor’s last sermon, a book, situations happening at home, work, school, and so on.

If you want to take advantage of using the “teachable moment” teaching style with your teenager, here are some steps to help you succeed.

1. Decide that it’s worth the effort. This kind of teaching style takes time and focus on your part. You must actively look for situations that can turn into teachable moments. This requires your presence and participation in your teenager’s life. Some parents aren’t willing to pay this price.

2. Identify your goal. Meaningful teachable moments rarely just happen. You can’t ask your teenager: “What did you think of that movie?” and expect the question to blossom into a wonderful learning experience. You need to identify your goal. For example, what issue(s), value(s), or decision(s) do you want to discuss with your teenager that you noticed from the movie? Once you’ve identified the goal, then you can better facilitate a discussion that focuses on that issue, value, or decision.

3. Think ahead. Again, this requires more work for you, but is so worthwhile. When you identify a potential teachable moment, you’ll need to think ahead for the types of questions you can ask that will help your teenager process the topic of the discussion, trying to move them toward personal application.

4. Be willing to face resistance. If you have not been using the “teachable moment” strategy with your teenagers, and if your typical conversations generate a lot of grunts, or “Uh huh,” or “I don’t know,” or other typical teenager two-or-three word responses, then you should be ready to meet some resistance from your kids when you start trying to have more meaningful conversations. Your teenagers will not be used to your persistence and will probably wonder what is wrong with you or what you want from them. Your openness, vulnerability, and perseverance will likely begin to pay off in the long run.

5. Don’t go overboard. Look to maintain a balance between creating teachable moments and simply living life together with your teenager. Some parents, having found success in creating teachable moments, may be tempted to make every situation, every circumstance, and every conversation with their teenager into a teachable moment. Resist that temptation. Class doesn’t need to be in session 24/7. Your kids will grow weary and might even begin withdrawing from conversations with you, if they sense every moment spent with you comes attached with a life lesson.

When you use “teachable moments” as a primary teaching strategy with your kids, you will begin to increase the influence you have with your teenagers. This is exactly what you want, yes? You will also reap the benefit of strengthening your relationship with your child at a time when many parents find relationships with their children beginning to slip. And, you will be making these sometimes-turbulent adolescent years more enjoyable, not only for you, but for your entire family.

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Jim Liebelt

Jim Liebelt

Jim is Senior Writer, Editor and Researcher for HomeWord. Jim has over 35 years of experience as a youth and family ministry specialist, having served over the years as a pastor, author, consultant, mentor, trainer, college instructor, and speaker. Jim’s HomeWord culture blog also appears on Crosswalk.com and Religiontoday.com. Jim and his wife Jenny live in Quincy, MA.

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