We Want Our Kids to Listen—So Why Don’t We?

We Want Our Kids to Listen—So Why Don’t We? February 13, 2019

A reader sent me an article titled Our Daughter’s Nightly Struggle; in it, the author narrates her effort to curb her teenage daughter’s smartphone usage. Needless to say, it didn’t go well—until she started actually listening to her daughter. When she did, she learned something. Funny how that works.

My daughter is 16 and like all teens deals with social drama and ups and downs.  I want her to have a cell phone for safety, but last year I began to realize that she was using it for much more than that. She was staying up late at night texting and on social media, and the beautiful daughter I know and love was, quite frankly, becoming awful to live with.

After investigating her hours of late night phone use (which for a technology challenged mom like myself was no easy task),  my husband and I decided it was time for us to start putting her device in our room at bedtime. I honestly had no idea how much this decision would impact her. After she blew up in anger, she began sobbing and puddled on the floor. As I held her, I just listened. Listened to all the worries and fears of fitting in and keeping up, but there was something even more alarming keeping her up at night…My daughter had been counseling another teen late at night who was suicidal.  Her huge heart had been on high alert. She HAD to stay up and be available at all times “in case” her friend needed her.

The author explains that after finally listening to her daughter she was able to understand why she was staying up till all hours using her smartphone—and they were able to find solutions together.

We were able to talk, really talk, (well, she talked and I held my breath hoping that it wouldn’t stop).  She shared all her social circle drama, the comments on social media she had to keep up with, the sleep overs and parties she saw that she knew she wasn’t invited to, and most importantly how she was single handedly owning responsibility for her friend’s life.  My teen was relieved when we talked through how to break the silence and get her friend help, real help, and that it wasn’t my daughter’s responsibility to carry that burden, especially not alone.  Together we came up with a plan to involve adults who can support her friend and break the silence over suicidal thoughts.

Feel free to read the rest of her post. It sounds like things ultimately worked out well for both mother and daughter, because they both were willing to listen to each other. Again, funny how that works.

This encounter wasn’t fated to work out as well as it did. In fact, it started out rather badly. Consider where the author began—by confiscating her device at bedtime. It was only after being shocked at how upset this unilateral decision made her daughter that the author actually listened. What if the author had instead started by telling her daughter about her concerns regarding her smartphone usage, and by asking for her daughter’s input in finding a solution?

My kids aren’t yet teens yet, but when something concerns me about their behavior (their amount of screen time, say, or failure to accomplish chores without nagging), I talk to them about it and we brainstorm solutions together. This gets them onboard from the outset, and it gives me space to explain why I’m concerned. In many cases, parents lay down a blanket rule in which their children had no input or buy-in, doing so for reasons their children have never been given the tools or information to understand. “Because I said so,” they say. “I’m the parent.” Is it any wonder kids don’t like this?

Story time! My daughter practices piano without any fuss and with barely any reminder. A few weeks ago, it dawned on me that my daughter’s violin was sitting in her case untouched all week unless I mounted a massive effort to get her to practice. So,  asked her why. Why does she practice piano so readily, but not the violin? She thought about it, and then told me that she didn’t like practicing her violin because it took so long for her to get it out and ready to play.

At her suggestion, I started helping her get her violin out each day, and she duly started practicing. I was pleased—we’d worked this out together as a team. But then we ran into another problem. She would spend all of her practice time trying to adjust her violin, saying that it hurt her neck and chin. By the time she got it semi-okay, she was ready to be done. I could have just told her to buck up and deal, but instead I asked her to show me what was bothering her.

Kids who have medical problems sometimes struggle to get them addressed because the adults around them don’t believe them when they say something hurts or is uncomfortable. I didn’t think this was a medical problem, but I felt I should investigate the possibility that something actually wasn’t right. After listening to my daughter’s explanation, I decided to talk to her violin teacher. Her teacher looked at her rental violin and told me that the chin rest was oddly shaped. She suggested that I take my daughter to the violin rental place and have her try violins with varying chin rests.

My daughter wasn’t imagining her discomfort. Her teacher didn’t poo poo it and tell her to buck up. Her chin rest was actually in fact shaped oddly—and trying different chin rests to find one that is comfortable is normal and okay. I didn’t realize any of this, and I wouldn’t have if I hadn’t actually listened.

There are other ways I could have gone about this. When my daughter wasn’t practicing, I could have informed her that she wasn’t allowed to play or have dinner until after she practiced, and then backed that up, tears or no. When she complained about how her violin felt, I could have told her to quit whining, buck up, and practice already. But where would this have left me? My daughter would have been angry with me; every afternoon would have been a battle; and she might have ended up hating an instrument that genuinely never felt comfortable to play.

Instead, my daughter is learning that I listen to her. Not only that, she’s also learning how to analyze situations where she has weaknesses and brainstorm solutions herself. Kids who have nothing but external controls imposed on them all their lives don’t have the opportunity to learn how to recognize and correct bad work patterns or study habits on their own. Those are skills I want my daughter to learn now. And, hopefully, she’s eventually going to learn how to play the violin.

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