I’m pretty sure that to my students I often sound like the teacher in Charlie Brown cartoons: “Waa-wa-wah. Wah-waa-wa-wah” This is evidenced by the number of questions I hear after I explain something like a change in our schedule: “Instead of P.E. at the end of the day, today we’ll be having an assembly about bike safety.” As soon as I’m finished, someone will ask, “What’s the assembly about?” Quickly followed by, “We’re having an assembly? When?” And finished off with “Who’s having an assembly?”
Yet the other day during my birthday party, a strange thing happened. Two of the girls dashed out the door calling, “We’re going to see Mr. Acuna in the parking lot!” I turned to a visiting parent and muttered under my breath, “My husband’s got doughnuts.” A student sitting no closer than twenty feet away yelped, “Doughnuts?! I want doughnuts!!”
It will come as no surprise to hear that teens practice selective listening. Notice I didn’t call it selective “hearing.” Many times they hear us all right but choose to ignore us. Key topics will often penetrate, however, like money, food, and did-you-hear-about-what-happened-to. . .?
One annoying habit that reflects teens’ listening disability is when they reply to every question with “Huh?” I’ve found that if I don’t repeat myself – if I just wait while maintaining eye contact – usually my question will get answered. As in, “Where’s your assignment?” “Huh?” (pause) “Oh, I forgot it in my dad’s car.” Sometimes the “huh” is a stalling technique; sometimes it’s just taking time to gather one’s thoughts; often it’s simply a reflex.
Of course, part of the blame lies with that notorious Bubble. Teens can be so caught up in their own private worlds, listening to their own thoughts going round and round, that they’re barely aware someone on the outside is speaking. One piece of advice: be sure you really have their attention before imparting important information. This will cut down on the need to repeat yourself. You can also refuse to repeat yourself, saying, “I’m sorry, but I won’t say it again,” or – my favorite – “You’ll have to ask someone who was listening.”
Either that, or get used to inserting key words into your requests: “Could you please do the 50-dollar dishes now?” “Shouldn’t you be starting your hot fudge homework?” “Did-you-hear-who-broke-up-please-pick-up-your-dirty-laundry?”