I am so sick and tired of my child not listening to me! I try my hardest to share my wisdom with them in order to help them avoid pain in life, and they completely tune me out!” Ever said those words? If so, you are like MOST parents. So many parents feel like they have more success talking to a brick wall than to their child (especially their teenager). Part of the reason for that is the tendency for parents to “talk down” to their kids.
One of the most important principles about talking with kids is to avoid being condescending. Some parents have told me they want to “dumb down” communication with their kids. If they mean they’re trying to talk on the child’s level, that’s a good strategy. My guess, though, is that the term dumb down implies two incorrect and destructive assumptions: that the child is inferior, and the parent is superior. Kids pick up on this perspective, and they deeply resent it.
We need to avoid the attitude: “I’m going to tell you what you need to know so you can become like me.” No kid wants to be EXACTLY like their parent — especially teenagers who are beginning to value independence and carve out their own identities! Instead, we should communicate with our words and attitudes, “These are complex topics. A lot of people have wrestled with these issues, and our family needs to wrestle with them, too. I value your ideas.”
Of course, this means that we don’t rush through an answer when a little child asks a question, and we don’t react with disgust when teenagers voice views that are very different from our own. We don’t have to agree, but we need to listen and ask follow-up questions instead of shutting the youngster down. “I don’t know if I agree, but tell me more of what you’re thinking” shows far more respect than, “I can’t believe that’s what you think!”
Don’t lecture, don’t laugh, don’t dismiss the kid’s input, and don’t talk to your child like he’s dumb or a fool. I list these errors because I’ve seen them so many times (and truthfully, I’ve made them far too often myself).
I often tell parents to think of themselves as missionaries to a foreign culture. When missionaries travel to the other side of the world or the other side of town, they put the gospel in the language of the people they’re trying to reach, but that’s not all. They also work hard to understand the foreign culture so they can put their messages into an appropriate context. Parents will greatly enhance communication with their kids if they do the same thing: adapt every message to the language and context of their kids’ worlds. It takes some work to understand the younger culture, but it’s well worth the effort.
This is one of the reasons I wrote my new book, “Talk Now And Later: How To Lead Kids Through Life’s Tough Topics” (releases on September 1, 2015). I can’t wait for you all to get it in your hands. I believe it is going to be a powerful resource for parents who want to lead their kids through life’s tough topics.