My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.
- James (1:19)
What a great verse for all of us who parent or work with teenagers. A difficult verse-but great!
Why is it difficult?
Because, like the adults who came before us, I believe I have something to say that is filled with wisdom and needs to be heard. I no longer need to listen. I need to engage.
Did you catch it? The word "I" was used 4 times in the last few sentences! A moment of transparency-isn't this what gets most of us parents and adults into communication trouble with teenagers? It is more about assuring that our words are heard than listening to theirs. Pause and consider that last sentence again.
I am not advocating a release of parental/adult authority. I am suggesting that more listening actually enforces and/or regains authority and lowers the anger level (it is what the Bible says). Here are a few better listening and talking (lecturing) suggestions:
- Ask Questions. Let me start by saying this step may lead to a high frustration level rather quickly (when a student answers a question with "I don't know" or "Whatever"-you may need to read the ONE of My Parenting Flaws post again). Still, ask leading questions of students. Questions that invite them to express their opinions, thoughts, perspective or defense first. Questions like...
- Why would I have received an email from your teacher?
- What happened that your were late coming home last night?
- Did you know(name of friend)'s mom called me yesterday?
- (After emotions settle) What got you so upset this morning?
- Let students finish their answer before you respond. Responses naturally lead to follow up questions and need for further clarification. Before you make a follow up move, be sure you let the student finish their answer. I know, easier said than done. Students often spin a response and/or lie to protect themselves or friends. Still, before the logical follow up moves, listen to their entire response. Again, when you know the answer to the question before you ask, patience and calm is key and very difficult.
- Set the table. If you know the conversation you are about to have with a student is going to be difficult, say so at the beginning. Statements like...
...can really lower stress levels and set positive expectations for the conversation and outcomes.
- Use a "cheat sheet." Before having a difficult conversation with your student and to assure you have your questions and information you wish to share prepared, write it down. Often, when the listening stops and the powerful "I" begins to surface, it is because our emotions take us off script. When this happens, the logical next step for parents/adults is to take an authoritative stance and take control.