Without a connection to our children and students, we can’t have influence. We can expend energy and use our spare time (if in fact you have any) lecturing, scolding and speaking wonderfully motivational speeches, but if our children’s ears and hearts aren’t open to what we’re saying, they won’t be affected and we’ll stay frustrated.

As caring adults, we all want our wisdom heard and used by our children to make healthier decisions. We all hope that our kids trust us enough and respect us enough to be affected by what we have to say. We all wish every day that our kids learn from our life experiences and mistakes.  But for teenagers heading towards independence and craving more freedom, resistance to our affection and insight is all too common…  as well as developmentally normal.

Keeping lines of communication open requires more than simply telling our children that “they can come to us any time.” For children to listen to adults attentively and to feel motivated to speak with us honestly about their feelings and their lives, we need to honor our role as role models. We need to be self-aware enough to know when we’re not really listening and just waiting to unleash our authority. We need to be patient enough to hear their words even when their words are loud, emotional and different from what we want them to be saying. And we need to be humble enough to know that while we were once adolescents, times are different now and we don’t entirely know what life is like for them.

While we can never guarantee that our words and wisdom get heard, there most definitely are communication strategies that increase the likelihood. For the most part, louder volumes, more aggressive tones, righteousness, threats and intimidation shut children down and work against our goals of being heard and having influence. If we really want our children to trust us enough to talk with us openly, and if the most important thing is in fact to improve our children’s decision making, than we need to find a way to put aside our ego’s, contain our emotions, and communicate thoughtfully and deliberately. And this isn’t to suggest that you baby your adolescents, I’m merely suggesting that you use your maturity and intelligence to ensure that your authority be heard.

As much as we’d like to be able to tell our children what to do and have them do it without question, it’s often just not that simple. Nor is it a simple task to get them to come to us with their problems on their own. Keeping lines of communication open with our children only happens when we are paying close enough attention to see when they’ve shut us out. And when we see that they’ve shut us out, as the adults, it’s in everybody’s best interest if we can be creative and flexible enough to change our approach. No, I’m not recommending that you back off or stop parenting or teaching, because young people need structure, limits and accountability. All that is being suggested is that if you see that strategy A isn’t working, move on to strategy B, even if strategy B isn’t within your comfort zone.  Keep in mind that your goal is to empower them… not for you to feel more powerful.

So next time your child messes up and is in need of consequences or wisdom… or next time your child is showing signs and behaviors that are causing you concern… listen and observe more attentively, lecture and preach less, and ask more questions that challenge them to think and maintain your connection with them. And if you notice that your words and efforts are appearing to “go in one ear and out the other,” or if they are appearing detached, indifferent or angry at you, be sure you keep trying different approaches until you see their light turn on and give you eye contact. Otherwise, you’ll just add to your own frustration, and your child will continue to remain disconnected from you and in danger of strengthening the unhealthy habits that are causing you the most worry.

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