So you’re a parent. Or you’re a teenager. That means you know what’s coming. You can sense it deep inside, see it in the broken eye contact and the cleared throat. You can hear it in the quiet, strained, slightly nervous words: “We need to talk.”
You and I, parent and teen, are about to sit down together and talk about something serious. Whatever it is, it’s a delicate subject, and we’re both uncomfortable. It’s an awkward conversation.
Awkwardness is something we humans love to avoid. Nobody likes how it makes us feel. But for Christ-following teenagers and parents, awkwardness is an inescapable part of learning. Jesus himself could be called the master of awkward conversations. He modeled the reality that hard conversations are necessary for the sake of gospel growth. His young disciples in first-century Palestine learned this, and his young disciples in modern-day America need to learn it, too.
As a teenage Christ-follower, I want to share with you five awkward and sanctifying conversations I believe every teenager and parent should have.
If there was a dictionary definition for “awkward parent-teen conversations,” it would just say “SEX,” and it would say it all in capital letters and some ominous font. These conversations are undoubtedly the weirdest and most awkward talks I’ve ever had with my parents. Yet as I form my beliefs about sexuality, I’ve needed my parents to equip me with a healthy and biblical framework to do that. I’ve needed (and continue to need) ongoing dialogue and an open invitation for vulnerable communication.
And I’m blessed to have that. But our conversations about sexuality still make me embarrassed. I have questions, confusions, and thoughts that need godly answers. It can be uncomfortable to articulate those thoughts and questions, and it can be uncomfortable for my parents to articulate difficult answers. Recently my mom and I sat down to talk about a book I read, a book about modern teenagers’ perspectives on social media and sex. The book was shocking and I had a lot of questions and thoughts, but my mom made me feel comfortable in coming to her. I blushed, but she made it a safe space.
Through these awkward conversations, I’ve come to see that sexuality is so much more than just the act of sex. It’s about our whole personhood, who God made us as male and female image bearers. And it’s about teenagers’ transitioning identities as we grow physically and emotionally from children to adults. My parents and I must have awkward conversations about my female-ness — my emotions, my desires, and my God-given role as a woman. Without those kinds of discussions, I would be ill-equipped to make important and sensitive decisions with a responsible and biblical view of sexuality.
2. Personal Sin and Change
While the conversations with my parents about sex have been the most uncomfortable, the conversations about my sin have been the most painful. Being confronted with unrepentant (or unknown) sin is incredibly difficult. In those moments, I instinctively get self-righteous and defensive. I feel blindsided, like mom and dad had launched a cruel sneak attack against me. But these conversations force me to humble myself before God. They strip away my false pretenses and excuses and bring me to authentic repentance. They sanctify me.
A few years ago my mom gently approached me to comment on how much time I was spending on my computer. I remember the way I tensed up, how my pride wanted to immediately stop the conversation. I told myself how wrong she was. But I also remember when I realized she was right and the unexpected shame that came with that realization. My mom knew I was due for a heart check. I wasn’t using my time the best way I could (Ephesians 5:16), and that made her unafraid to say, “I understand that this is hard to talk about, but I love you too much to let it go.”
3. Entertainment and Social Media
In this image-obsessed culture, parents and teens also have to have some awkward talks about acceptable entertainment choices and appropriate media boundaries. Maybe you, teenager, desperately want to see the new movie everyone else is going to see, but you, parent, have some genuine moral concerns. The clash will come in an awkward conversation. Conflicting desires will duel.
Parent, you will have to explain why this movie is biblically inconsistent with a person’s love for Jesus and pursuit of godliness (1 Corinthians 10:31). Teenager, you will have to graciously submit to that. It will be a difficult conversation, and you may still disagree at the end of it, but it will assist you both greatly, parent and teenager, in your spiritual growth to have the conversation.
4. Friends (Online and Off)
To talk about teen friendships in the 21st century is to talk about social media. Parent, you and your teenager have to talk about security and safety, both online and off. You have to talk about speaking the truth in love. You also have to talk about what kind of friends we have, and what kinds of things we see on social media.
Parent, you may have to confront us about who we’re spending time with and even counsel us to end a friendship. That’s your God-given right and responsibility (Proverbs 1:8–15). You are called to guard us and care for us, even when we don’t want that care. Conversations about friendship and social media will be painful, because we will butt heads. You may have to hurt our feelings. Yet I promise you, those are the conversations a more mature and sanctified me will appreciate in years to come.
5. Future Dreams and Plans
Teenagers need to talk with parents about our future and our dreams and our life-long pursuit of Christ. We need long conversations in large doses, with mutual respect and gracious spirits. But there will inevitably be conflict. Sometimes, parents, you will not like our plans. You will have your own expectations and ideas. You want what’s best for us, but sometimes we disagree, because you, teenager, have your own dreams. You don’t like your parents’ suggested college or career, and you will have to say so.
The talks with my parents about majors and jobs and rent are awkward. They just are. But these conversations are critical for putting us on the same page about my future. Unity is the end goal, so we persist through the temporary tension for that greater good.
Awkwardness for the Sake of Growth
My mom and I frequently have awkward conversations. That’s probably because we sit down once a week for a formal time of talking about my life, sin, questions, pursuits, future, and faith. It’s often uncomfortable, particularly when we have to talk about any of those five things (or all of them!). But I still look on those times as essential for the sake of my personal growth, especially in the gospel. So does she.
They’re essential because while awkwardness is difficult, there is one thing worse than awkward conversations: It’s awkward silence. Silence that comes from fear of communication. Silence that follows questions unasked. Silence that breeds ignorance and immaturity. Silence that fosters shame. Silence that stifles growth. Silence that brings darkness instead of light. Silence that hides the truth.
Parents and teenagers, avoid that silence at all costs. Instead, talk. And when the awkward conversations come, embrace them, because they’re far better than the alternative.
More from Desiring God
A Call to Teenagers to Be Free | John Piper writes for the liberation of teenagers. Be wise and strong and free from the slavery of culture-conformity.
Advice to Teens About Their Parents | In this episode of Ask Pastor John, he gives advice to a teenager who feels discouraged by the spiritual relationship with his dad.
Letter to an Incomplete, Insecure Teenager | A teenager in John Piper’s church wrote him for advice about life in general, and identity in particular. Here is the letter he wrote to them, including memories from his teenage years.