Whether we like it or not, it seems to happen to most teens—at some point, they decide their parents aren’t the coolest people that ever existed. For most of their pre-teen life, we parents could pass for such, but the title rarely remains ours forever. (And when we’re honest for a second, we know we were never the coolest people to begin with.)
But despite your not-cool factor, you want your teen to spend time with you. Not so you can have a friend, but because you love them, you want a good relationship, and you want to invest in their souls. Which is where “bribery” enters the scene.
And what should you bribe them to do, you ask? Oh simply, to spend time with you.
In other words, if your teen doesn’t want to spend time with you, that’s okay. It’s normal. But why not put a little effort into helping them want to? In other words, make time with you a bit more appealing. For example, offer to take your teen to coffee, to lunch, or to frozen yogurt (on your dime, of course). Or take them shopping. Wake them up with their favorite breakfast, or take them to their favorite store. Do something they enjoy with them.
Bribery probably sounds negative (and it often is)… But think along the lines of a strategic incentive, a peace offering, or think of speaking your teen’s “love language.” Let’s call it strategic kindness — the type that makes your teen think spending time with you doesn’t sound half bad.
While the context is quite different, remember wise Abigail who won over David (when he wasn’t in the best of moods) with timely provided food (1 Samuel 25)? David could have said, “Don’t bribe me with your food lady!” Instead, David softened up by Abigail’s strategic act of kindness. That’s the idea we are going for.
The effectiveness of strategic kindness is spelled out in Proverbs 18:16:
A man’s gift makes room for him and brings him before the great.
People like gifts. We’re all willing to spend time with those who are kind, and we especially respond well to kind people bearing gifts.
The good thing is, we are not deceptively bribing our kids (obviously), and we aren’t doing it with bad motives, or to “pervert justice” (Proverbs 17:23). Clearly, the goal isn’t to trick our kid into something that only benefits us. To the contrary, we are working to bring our teen double benefit! We are showing strategic kindness.
How the Bribe will Benefit Your Teen
When you treat your teen to something, you actually want them to enjoy it. Since toddlerhood you probably showed your child love by giving gifts. So on the most basic level, your “strategic kindness” is simply tangible love.
But on a deeper level, you are strategically capturing time with your teen in order to care for their soul. Because time together allows opportunity for conversation. Conversation gives you insight into their life. It helps you know how to pray for them. Good time spent together builds trust, and it gives you a chance to be a source of truth and love. Your teen may not know they need these things from you, but they do. So give them an incentive to be the recipient of your care.
A Word to the Wise
Once your teen is face-to-face with you, don’t make him/her regret it. Your teen is a lot more perceptive than they once were. If they sense you’ve captured them only to dispense a lecture, they won’t readily say “yes” to “hanging out” anytime soon. Be thoughtful about your approach. Make sure they see your efforts as what they really are – a gesture of love.
Think of time with your teen as part of a long-term investment (not a one-time opportunity). Expect to get more time with them in the future. Which means you don’t need to ask every personal question in the book. Don’t share your opinion on everything. Listen more, talk less. In summary, make it pleasant, and you just might have another chance to invest again soon.
Picture a meeting you set up to share the gospel with a neighbor. Or picture a coffee date with a friend you hope to encourage. Or picture one-on-one time with a gal you are discipling. What would you purposefully do before all those meetings?
When you want God to direct a conversation, or when you know you need wisdom on what to say (or not say), prayer is crucial. This is the mindset you need to have when you intentionally spend time with your teen.
Though you’ve spent countless casual hours with your child over the years, you are now in a stage of life where your kid is less like a child and is more like a young adult— and one whom you’re seeking to further disciple to whatever degree they will allow.
And hopefully you know when it comes to discipling anyone, you need God’s wisdom to direct and guide you. So pray up.
Ask God to make your time enjoyable and profitable. Ask God to keep you from saying anything unnecessarily offensive or thoughtless. Ask him to help your teen open up and trust you. Ask God to help you see what your teen most needs from you. And ultimately, pray they are drawn more to Jesus by your example, your words, and by your love and prayers.
I admit, bribing might not be the best word to use. But it’s a simple and memorable concept: give your teen a compelling reason to spend time with you!
This generation needs parents who can break through the barrier of uncoolness. They need godly moms and dads who invest in them. So do what you got to do. Buy pizza, buy latte’s, go shopping, walk the beach, take them to the movies. Show some strategic kindness and thereby entice your teen to spend time with you!