COMMENTARY: Getting Through to Kids

A listener wrote to say she was selecting some of her favorite commentaries to put into a notebook for her 12-year-old son. She said she was going to underline portions she thought were particularly pertinent.

I love it whenever someone wants to share my thoughts, especially with children, but I’ve come to realize how difficult it can be to successfully pass on what we think is great wisdom, especially to our own children.

I hope you’ll post a comment here with your ideas. Drawing from lots of unsuccessful efforts with my own children, here are my thoughts.

1. While it’s a parent’s job to positively influence attitudes and behaviors of their children, any form of preaching with a “you should” message or tone is generally ineffective. It invites an attack-the-messenger response: “You don’t live your life perfectly — what makes you qualified to tell me how to live mine?”

2. Most young people get very defensive very quickly when they think advice is simply disguised criticism. And when they get defensive, they don’t process advice in a constructive manner.

3. Though it’s easier said than done, the most effective and rewarding method is convey or elicit information and insight in the setting of a discussion. Ask an open ended question as to what the child thinks, knows or has observed about issues raised in a news event, movie or a comment. Be sure the question is not just another masked way of conveying a criticism.

4. Don’t try to convey the encyclopedia of wisdom in one sitting. Break up your “lesson plans” into small pieces and be very selective as to the time and place you begin the discussion.

5. If you want real progress, tell the child about your own shortcomings and challenges both past and present. Moral humility invites reflection.

This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.

Comments 4

  1. I really appreciated this commentary as a father of two teenage girls. Your 4th point took me back to the wisdom of my grandfather who took approximately 7 years to teach me a lesson he knew I’d never forget. When I was about 10, he came to my house and challenged me, “do you want to have a race?” Of course I said yes, but he simply replied with “not today”. over the next 7 years this same scene replayed itself at least 2 or 3 times every year. So finally, when I was almost 18, he came over one day and said “today’s the day for the race”. Wow, I thought this day would never come. He took me out front to a large tree in our yard and stood next to it with the tree on his left. He told me to stand to his right then quickly said, “once around the tree, ready go”. With the inside position around the tree, even at 75 years old, he won the long anticipated race. After which, he looked me in the eye and said “never play the other man’s game”. He went inside, grabbed his jacket and left without saying another word. To this day, I have never forgotten either the lesson or the wisdom in how he taught me that lesson. It wouldn’t have been the same in the form of a lecture or letter. But he helped me to live it. Thanks for letting me share his story. Thanks for your perspective you share every day.

  2. I think my may be beyond my reach, He is 16 and is actually my grandson who I have adopted. He is so defiant and destructive if he is told no, or anything similar. My prayers keep telling me just keep loving him. He destroys even his own things if he cant have his way. He tells me to shut up and that I am not his boss. I know I dont always say things just right but I work really hard at being respectful to him and others. I am at the point of putting him in for a 24 hr psych eval.

  3. Guilty as charged! For the holidays we had our 22 year old son visit for three weeks. He has been living on his own since he was 18, because he got his secondary education overseas and now works there.
    While his visit was wonderful on the whole, we also had some fierce arguments. I was trying to “do my job as a mother” and tried to positively influence his attitudes and behaviors. That just made him defensive. Maybe it’s time I “retire”. After all he is an adult, has a job, and manages his life fine on his own.
    However, to my defense, he needs to also then stop acting like a kid when he comes home and treat us and our house with respect.

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