Give Advice (So Your Kid Will Take It)
By Ginny Graves
Offering wisdom to your teen or tween can put you on shaky ground. Here,
three ways to get your child to listen
One recent afternoon, while picking my sons up from school, I spotted Will,
our sociable 14-year-old, hanging out with his friend Dylan and another boy.
Will was leaning on Dylan's shoulder, saying silly things in his ear,
apparently oblivious to the fact that his pal was trying to talk to the other
kid. Dylan seemed increasingly irritated, but Will wasn't getting (or was
ignoring) the message. I cringed inwardly — was that Annoying Boy really my
sweet kid? — and vowed to talk to him about it. But later, when Will and I were
alone in the car, I hesitated. The last time I'd tried to offer him advice on
interacting with his peers, he'd blown a fuse and accused me of being overly
critical. How could I broach the subject so he'd get the message — or should I
just stay out of it and let him learn the subtleties of social interaction on
Giving advice is never easy, but when the recipient is a child of a certain
age — basically, anywhere from about 9 to 17 — it can be downright treacherous.
These are the same kids, after all, who don't want to be seen within 10 feet of
you in public, or who roll their eyes every time you open your mouth (or, God
forbid, hum along to Dave Matthews) in front of their friends. "Independence is
the be-all and end-all of adolescents' existence, so you can imagine how much
they hate getting advice from their parents," says Laurence Steinberg, Ph.D.,
author of The 10 Basic Principles of Good Parenting. If you've been on
the receiving end of impatient sighs, sneers, tears, and door-slamming, you're
not alone. "That just goes with the territory," says Steinberg.
But while there may be no group less receptive to parental input, there's no
age when kids are more in need of it. "Adolescents face new challenges almost
every day. They're learning to make decisions about everything from how to
manage their time to which clique to hang out with, and they need parents'
guidance," says Steinberg. So how do you break through their resistance and
give them advice they'll actually hear — and try? Consider these strategies
from the experts and other parents in the trenches.
Silence Your Inner Critic
Case history: When Deanne Scott Edwards's 15-year-old son, Brady, was
looking for his first summer job last spring, she heard him on the telephone.
"Talking in a monotone, he said, 'I'm wondering if you have any jobs at your
pool,'" the Des Moines, IA, mom recalls. "I was appalled. He sounded so
listless. But I knew better than to criticize him, so I said calmly, 'Hey,
Brady, it's great that you're taking the initiative to try to get a job, but
it's a good idea to think about what you sound like from an employer's
perspective. You might want to write down what you want to say and practice it
a bit before you call your next prospect.'" His response: "I know how to do
this, Mom." Edwards was doubtful, but Brady's next phone call came as a
pleasant surprise. "He introduced himself; his voice had energy and was much
more personable," she recalls. "He had apparently internalized what I'd said,
even though I'd thought he'd ignored my advice."
The lesson to be learned: Much as you may be tempted to put on your
"Mom" hat and offer up a critique of what your teen is doing wrong, hold your
tongue. The most effective way to get your point across is to keep your
comments clear, concise, and positive, says Adele Faber, coauthor of How to
Talk So Teens Will Listen & Listen So Teens Will Talk. "Teenagers tune
out long lectures, and they often react to criticism by defending their
behavior," she says. So brief, nonjudgmental comments (especially ones that
emphasize the positive action that's desired) have the best chance of making an
impact. For instance, instead of saying, "You're so mean to your sister. You're
always picking on her," Faber suggests respinning that sentiment into a comment
like, "If there's something you want your sister to know that you think would
help her, please make sure that you tell her in a way that won't hurt her