Huh? Are You Talking to Me?

ImageI read a book recently that had too much dialogue.  To me it felt like “Blah blah blah,” and I finally started skipping over the dialogue (and ignoring it in the process).

Parents of middle schoolers sometimes try to engage in too much dialogue.  Or they deliver long monologues, which are worse.  Remember how the adults sounded in the old Charlie Brown cartoons?  That’s what middle schoolers hear after the first few words.

Keep in mind that when you lecture a teenager, you are the only one listening after the first minute or two.  At some point you’ll figure that out and ask a question like, “Are you even paying attention?” or “You’re not listening, are you?”  Such questions will cause defensiveness and “attitude” in the teenager – and now you’ve got a whole new problem to deal with.

You’ll get the best results by keeping your speeches short and to the point.  Skip the questions altogether, especially the ones doomed to make things worse: “What were you thinking?” or “Did you think I wouldn’t find out?”

Name the problem, issue the consequence – and include a sincere apology, if it’s appropriate: “I’m sorry, but since you didn’t call last night when you were going to be late, you won’t be allowed to go to tonight’s birthday party.”  No need to raise your voice, point your finger, or make the teen look remorseful.  Just say your piece and walk away.

Because at that point, both of you will still be listening.

“I Know He’s Immature. . .”

Photo Credit to Flickr User dieselbug2007

Photo Credit to Flickr User dieselbug2007

“. . .but what can I do about it?  I can’t just tell him to be mature!”  This was the cry of a former parent during a conference.  After observing and pondering for years, I’ve narrowed it to three things:  expectations, responsibility, and accountability.

If parents don’t expect teens to behave like adults, they won’t.  Immature teens don’t help with household chores, hold doors open for those behind them, order their own food at a restaurant, or use table manners.  They interrupt conversations and sulk or throw tantrums to get what they want.  They are not considerate of others, nor do they think about how their behavior impacts others – because nobody expects them to.

Increased responsibilities allow parents to communicate trust and respect for their teens as they grow older.  When I survey classes, I usually learn that about half of them don’t do regular housecleaning or yardwork; a handful don’t even make their own lunches or clean their own bedrooms.  Such students miss out on the personal satisfaction of turning chaos into order, and the self-confidence that comes with completing “grown-up” work.

Parents who hold teens accountable don’t let them blame teachers for low grades or use friends as an excuse for poor choices.  They allow teens to face the consequences of their actions, while assuring them of their love and support.  I compare it to letting a toddler fall when she’s learning to walk – it’s the only way she learns that she can get back up and try again.

Set expectations, teach responsibility, and hold teens accountable – and you will find yourself facing a mature young adult.