The more you say, the less they listen

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I mentioned only a couple of things (within a 10 minute conversation) to be of help to my young adult son. Did he welcome my advice? NOT AT ALL. Instead, he told me “the more you tell me to do something, the less I want to do it.”

Okay, then. So, my son isn’t open to positive suggestions. How is he going to figure out life? He is so young and there’s so much that he doesn’t know.

Perhaps, you’ve run into this dilemma, too, if you’re the parent, teacher or other adult-figure in a teenager/young adult life.

What is it about young people that you tell them “go west, young man,” and they go south?

Developmentally, rebellion is a rite of passage for teenagers. You will notice it in two categories: social non-conformity rebellion (hence, pierced lips, purple hair, etc.) and parental non-compliance rebellion (you tell them be in at 10 p.m. and they come in at 10:30.)

It’s a tricky balancing act to know when it’s time to allow a child to assume more responsibility for themselves. But, as soon as human beings are potty-trained is the time to allow natural consequences to occur, within a developmentally appropriate way.

The sooner a person has to clean up his/her own messes, the sooner s/ he is motivated to learn from them and find effective ways to manage his or her life.

So, fast forward to the teenage years. With peer pressure, temptation, and executive function not fully developed what’s an adult to do? The greater part of a relationship with a teenager is listening and to ask questions which are open-ended, affirming, reflective and provide a summation (OARS). Dr. John Coleman covers this in a modified way in his book “Why Won’t my Teenager Talk to Me?”

Some examples of how to approach not only your teenager/young adult but essentially anyone, include:

  • “What do you need from me” instead of “this is what you should/need to do.”
  • “Help me understand,” instead of  “you’re not listening to me.”
  • “I see you worked as hard as you could,” instead of “why didn’t you study more/work harder?”

Barring any significant health issues or outright dangerous rebellion, most teens are highly sensitized to the pressure of succeeding. As one teen told me: “I’m well aware of the importance of the SAT exams and when my parents nag me about it, it just causes me to feel more stress.”

Teenagers have a heavy work/school load and each of them has a unique approach to arranging the order of  tasks.  When parents give unsolicited advice, it can cause the stack to topple because teenagers are easily influenced by perceived judgement from important role models. So, instead of telling them how they should carry their load, ask them what you can do to help them carry it. And, if they tell you, “nothing,” then allow them autonomy. If the load topples, let it fall. You serve as the calm bystander ready to assist if asked.

Overcoming adversity builds confidence and resilience. Some of the best change makers, leaders, and inventors in history learned from daunting circumstances and mistakes.

As Thomas Edison said: “I haven’t failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that didn’t work.”

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