Your kids are listening

Have you ever tried to talk to your kids and been absolutely, positively sure they weren’t listening to a word you said? Well, you may be mistaken, and I’m going to tell you why.

Let me start by acknowledging that all the research has confirmed what we have suspected for years: people – kids and adults alike – can’t multitask and truly give justice to any one task. Divided attention means partial attention. That means that texting while sitting at the dinner table does not allow teens to talk to their friends and be fully engaged in your conversation. They will definitely miss the finer points of your family discussion and sometimes even the big picture. So no, your kids aren’t always listening when you’re talking.

But I’m talking about a different kind of listening. I’m talking about kids hearing who you are, what you believe in, and what you’re trying to instill in them. I’m talking about the important things. Here are three powerhouse suggestions (“powerhouse” because it only takes these three to turn everything around) for helping your kids hear you when it’s really important:

DON’T LECTURE! Did you appreciate my yelling at you just now? I’m betting you didn’t, and neither will your kids. If you want to get your kids to shut down faster than electricity in a Texas storm, start lecturing. It doesn’t matter how calm you are when you lecture, all kids will hear is you yelling at them. The minute you start, the barriers go up and it really will feel like you’re talking to a brick wall.

Model the behavior you expect. You know the old adage about actions speaking louder than words, and this especially applies to kids. How many times have kids thrown your actions back in your face to remind you that you’re guilty of the very thing you’re warning them about? There you go. They’re absolutely paying attention. Behave the way you want them to behave.

Make respect the cornerstone of your family foundation. When kids see parents speaking to each other with respect, they learn how to do the same. When they are talked to with civility and not name-calling, cursing, and blaming, they learn how to express differences constructively. Our mantra was always to treat family members as well as or even better than you would treat your friends.

Kids are listening more than you think. I can’t count the number of times my kids have responded, sometimes years down the road, to a conversation I thought had fallen on deaf ears. They may fight you to your face, but what you’re saying is still being heard.

teens not listening



When it comes to kids’ clothing, image matters

Fresh from the beach, I still have visions in my head, and sadly, they’re not of waves and sandy feet. They’re of kids, mostly 12-20 years old, wearing clothing that would give my mother a heart attack and that made even this tolerant and mostly moderate mom and teacher do a double take. After 17 years in the high school classroom, it takes a LOT to shake me, but after this weekend, I consider myself well-shaken, and not like a good martini.

I saw my first jaw-dropping T-shirt on a young man (I’m guessing 15 years old) entering a restaurant. His shirt loudly exclaimed, “Harder! Stronger! Longer!” Now, what do you suppose that shirt suggests? To be certain I wasn’t missing some pop culture reference (it is summer, after all, my only time away from teenagers), I Googled that slogan before starting this blog. What followed was page after page of links I never hope to see again. To spare you the time, trouble, and visit to your closest priest, I’ll just cut to the chase – the T-shirt means precisely what you think it does. And this kid had no qualms about wearing it in front of his little sister, his parents, and his grandparents, all of whom, by the way, accompanied him. Did any of them look at the shirt askance? Did any of them say, “No way are you wearing that shirt in public!” Come to think of it, who bought him that shirt in the first place?

He wasn’t alone. Kid after kid wore shirts dripping with sexual innuendo. Girls wore cleavage-baring, skin-tight tops and short shorts that barely covered their tushes; boys wore T-shirts similar to the one I described. And parents looked on, as if it all were just fine, which I’m betting is a bit of a facade, as few parents are okay with their kids projecting that kind of image to the world.

So let me say this clearly: Parents, you have every right to veto your kids’ outfits if they are offensive, inappropriate or send messages you clearly don’t want your children to represent. I devoted an entire chapter of my book Teenagers 101 to clarifying the difference between clothes that express individuality and are relatively harmless and clothes that are dangerous for your kids to wear. That’s how important I view this topic to be. Do not shrug off your kids’ choice of fashion as “a hill I’m not willing to die on,” or say, “I have to choose my battles,” and then allow Trey to walk out of the house with his butt hanging out of his droopy drawers and his T-shirt screaming a misogynistic message. This better be a hill you are willing to die on because it speaks to your children’s character, morals, outlook on life, and yes, parents.

My main point is this: Always remember that how your kids present themselves to the world absolutely predicts how others respond to them. Fair or unfair, the fact remains that first impressions are made in literal seconds. And once that first impression is made, it’s hard to undue the damage.

So ask yourself these questions:

1. Are my kids likely to be hired based on the way they dress for nice venues?

2. If their grandparents saw them going to school, would they shake their heads in disgust or smile with pride?

3. Do my kids know how to dress for various occasions and places? Do they recognize that restaurant attire is different from ballpark attire?

4. Do they have respect for social mores and others’ expectations of them, even if they don’t necessarily agree with them?

Did that kid in the restaurant respect his parents and grandparents and did he demonstrate that by the way he dressed in their presence? Did he serve as a role model for his younger brothers and sisters? Would I have hired him? No way. To all three.


The hidden benefits of checking out colleges now

If you have teenagers, you have likely had conversations with them about college. You may have focused those talks around your own experiences, or you may have wistfully shared with your kids your desire to see them in a particular university. But you may think that it’s too early to take your kids on college visits and I’m here to tell you it’s not. College shopping is always a good idea.

Here’s why:

1. Your kids see, firsthand, the destination at the end of their high school journey. They physically walk around campus and talk to tour guides, all the while envisioning their future life in that place. Being on a college campus is powerful. It gives kids a tangible projection of what their futures might hold. They see more mature versions of themselves and visualize taking care of themselves and living independently. This is way more powerful than hearing you say for the ten-thousandth time that they need to grow up.

2. Having experienced this, kids gain substantially more focus. They’ve seen where they want to be, and they’re more willing to do what it takes to get there. Rather than walking through their high school years with ambiguity and living moment by moment, teens will do something very un-teen-like: they will see beyond this moment, this day, and this week to a future they must work toward, a purpose for their studies.

3. They may hear something, see something, or be exposed to something that acts as an impetus to a major decision down the road. It could be a career path, a hobby, a lifestyle, or just an environment that they had no previous knowledge or understanding of but now realize they really want. This is BIG for teens who are often accused of being apathetic and directionless.

4. They’ll know exactly what they need to do to get into the college of their dreams, pursue a particular program, or earn a scholarship. The earlier they know this, the better, because they can set up their course load and sign up for clubs and organizations that will best prepare them. If they need a certain math class to get into a certain college or program, they’ll know that. They won’t be caught short their senior year and have to take summer classes to qualify.

5. They get a better idea of what they DON’T want, whether it’s a small campus or large, a party atmosphere or a conservative one, or whether it’s even college itself. Determining this ahead of time can save you thousands of dollars and a lot of time and effort transferring kids from one school to another. And it can help them identify who they are becoming and what environment feels the most comfortable.

6. They can get plugged into universities of interest and begin establishing contacts, networks, and relationships. Then they can attend summer program or camps, follow university blogs and other social media, and let their presence be known as highly interested and engaged students. Everyone likes to feel as if they’re the number one choice, and colleges are no exception.

Summer is the perfect time to attend colleges for the first time. Consider summer visits as fact-finding missions. Once you’ve narrowed down the search, be sure to visit when school is in session to get a true feel for the academic and social atmosphere. You won’t regret getting the jump on college decision-making, and I’m betting you’ll enjoy sharing this experience with your kids.


Teaching your kids about honor and respect

If you’re not teaching your kids about patriotism, honor, respect, and love of our country, you need to start now. If you don’t feel especially equipped to do so, there are people out there who can help.

Every time a national holiday rolls around, I think about my good friend, Mac, aka: Major Kelly. Mac is a retired marine, but nothing about his demeanor, code of conduct, or belief system is retired. Mac wears his hair short, has 14% body fat at age 62, and works tirelessly to fulfill his duties. Luckily, one of those duties is leading the Reserves Officer’s Training Corps (ROTC) at a public high school in Georgia.

Mac was the first person I met when I started my teaching job at that school. He went out of his way to introduce himself, ever so politely, and to offer his help with anything I might need. No job was too large or too small for Mac. He was and is a consummate gentleman who feels duty- and honor-bound to represent himself and his country with dignity.

How many people can you name who live like this? And have your kids been exposed to them? The lucky students who go through Mac’s program are held to the highest standards of responsibility for one’s actions, promptness, respect when addressing and dealing with others, physical discipline and overall health, an understanding of our nation’s history, and a knowledge of current events and politics. Where do your kids stand in these areas? Do they possess these attributes? Can they speak intelligently about these topics? Do they have a sense of duty when it comes to their responsibilities and place in the world?

On this 4th of July, ask yourself if you’ve instilled a sense of pride in one’s country in your children. Have you taught them to represent their country and themselves with character and self-respect?

We teach our kids a lot about the minutiae of life so that they can survive and excel in our world. But sometimes, we don’t see the forest for the trees. We concentrate on the day-to-day requirements that make up our lives and forget the overriding themes that should guide us all. Our kids’ characters are what define them, what determines how they will respond to life’s twists and turns, how they will treat others. Their level of self-respect will define how they will allow others to treat them, what they will do when confronted with positive and negative temptations, and what will be their bottom line.

Don’t overlook what can be learned from this holiday and what we, as a nation, need a desperate reminder of: Our kids need character, they need respect, and they need a deep appreciation and love for the country in which they were so blessed to be born. Teach them this, and talk to them about this. And expose them to our nation’s heroes who have fought to preserve our safety and security and who have much to teach about honor and duty.