One Ear Always Open
Parents know that talking things out is a good solution to disagreements. They often want to simply build more relationship with their young people by talking more. But many parents say, “My kids don’t talk.” Interestingly enough, many young people say, “My parents don’t listen.”
Parents often want tools to build more conversations with teens. But before we go to techniques and tools, let’s examine this problem from a heart-based approach. Listening isn’t only about the ears. It’s mostly about the heart.
Jesus wanted to communicate new ideas about the kingdom to the people of his day. Some were resistant. They didn’t want to hear it. His response in Matthew 11:15 was, “Whoever has ears, let them hear.” He obviously wasn’t talking about physical ears, but was pointing to a willingness to listen.
Listening is not just hearing. It’s an attitude. When one is willing to listen, then their humility opens their hearts to think deeper, broader, or differently than they currently think. Listening requires a teachable attitude and is the basis for learning and discovery.
The Bible teaches that a listening attitude is an essential trait for young people in order for them to thrive. Proverbs 1:8-9 says, “Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching. They are a garland to grace your head and a chain to adorn your neck.” And, the Proverbs 19:27 reveals the danger of not listening when it says, “Stop listening to instruction, my son, and you will stray from the words of knowledge.”
Listening is not optional. It’s required. Cultivating this attitude is important in family life for children of all ages. Here is one idea to encourage a willingness to listen in your home.
The Headphone Dilemma
The modern invention of headphones has advantages and disadvantages. It’s great that a person can listen to music or an audio book without forcing others to do the same. Many parents and their young people appreciate the benefits of ear buds and a lot of conflict is reduced because of this great invention. But headphones also have their downside. They close the ears and often make family members inaccessible to each other.
It’s often helpful to establish a rule or guideline that when you’re in public or in common areas of the home, you can only have one ear bud in. The other ear needs to be open. This one practice communicates accessibility and willingness to interact with others.
Walking around the house or in public with two ears plugged is just like taking your hands and walking around covering your ears as if to say, “I don’t want to hear it.” When a young person says, “But no one is talking,” the answer is, “It’s about accessibility so that you are available if someone wants to talk or if something interesting is being said.” It’s not just a common courtesy, your headphone practices communicate an important message to others.
Taking breaks from electronics during conversations should also be a practice in your home. When you are having a discussion with someone and the phone beeps with a message or a phone call, how a person responds makes a statement of their value of the person they are with.
Strengthening Family Mealtimes by parking cell phones during the meal can encourage dialogue. Setting limits on technology in the car not only makes driving safer for the driver, but it also opens up opportunities to talk more.
One Mom said it this way, “My kids don’t like it when I tell them to turn off their electronics in the car but I require it anyway. I don’t tell them they have to talk instead. But rather, I wait. It usually takes about five minutes for my kids to overcome their disappointment and disengage their emotions from their devices, then conversation starts to happen. Someone makes a comment, then another, then a question, and we’re now off into a discussion that wasn’t planned. It couldn’t happen without me requiring that the electronics be turned off for a while in the car. My kids are learning to accept this rule and, although often challenging, it’s worth the work.”
An attitude of listening is an important success principle for young people. Proverbs is full of exhortations to make listening a priority. Today’s culture, on the other hand, doesn’t promote healthy dialogue. So, helping your child by being firm in this area can teach some valuable lessons.
Listen to Dr. Turansky’s podcast on A strategy for Strengthening Communication with Teens.