STOP talking and your kids might listen

Have you ever thought about what it would be like to go back in time and relive your life in middle school or high school but with all the knowledge of life and relationships that you have acquired through great pain and effort over the years? Hollywood is with you! IMDb actually has a category for this, "To Be Young/Old Again: Age-Changing Films". There are 12 titles on the list, here are just a few of them:

  • Freaky Friday (1976)
  • Peggy Sue Got Married (1986)
  • Like Father Like Son (1987)
  • Vice Versa (1988)
  • 18 Again! (1988)
  • Chances Are (1989)
  • The Kid (2000)
  • Freaky Friday (2003)
  • 17 Again (2009) Netflix

The appeal is obvious. We can all look back at times when we made mistakes, said something stupid, or realized far too late that we should have done something differently. These movies tend to focus on relationships and experiences more than anything else but the same theme could be applied (maybe not as profitably for the cinema) to careers. Knowing what we know now about how the world works, about how resumes are evaluated, how interviewers make decisions... imagine what changes we could make to put ourselves ahead the 2nd time around. 

When we have kids, this feeling of "what if" is brought to the fore again as we watch with frustration while they go about making all the same mistakes (and a few new ones) that we made. While it is a cliche, when it comes to experience and guiding our kids, we really do "know better" most of the time. It certainly isn't because we are smarter. My two kids can run circles around me when it comes to brainpower but they have not sat through a job interview on both sides of the table. They don't get what it is like to be a teacher and feel that your students are not respecting you. When we say that sometimes getting good grades requires more than just test-taking they ignore us as out of date and ignorant.

Keeping with the job focused narrative, here are just a few of the areas where we can help our kids with the benefit of our many years of life. I would go so far as to say that it doesn't matter if we got it right the first time around either. Even if you got all Cs in high school, you can still help your kids to make better choices.

  • Study habits
  • College choice
    • Major choice
  • Interview tips for job or school
  • Dealing with teachers
  • Job experiences (what different jobs involve)
    • Job/career choice
  • Dating advice ;-)
Where am I going with all of this? Bear with me, I am getting to it. This article came together based on my own questioning of how to get my kids to listen to what I have to share about life. I have not been shy about telling them what I think they should do. The problem is getting through to them so that they make fewer mistakes. Why don't they just listen?!

I have compiled two lists for you from my research as well as my own anecdotal experiences. Let's start with what doesn't work:

What doesn't work
  1. Lecturing your kids
Yep, that's it, just the one. Don't do it, you are wasting your time and theirs and you both end up tired and frustrated at the end. For those of you who doubt me, I have references for you here and here. Can any of you remember the content of a lecture you received from your parents when you were growing up? I can't think of even one. Most likely because I tuned them out almost immediately at the time of the lecture. What I do remember though is my Dad changing the oil in our car in order to save a bit of money. That has had a much bigger and more lasting impact on my thinking about fiscal responsibility than any lecture on the benefits of saving.

What works (sometimes)
  1. Getting other people to talk to your kids.
    1. No always a timely option but if you want to make an impression on your daughter about the importance of study and how it can affect their future, she will more likely listen to another adult than to you. I have often seen my son listening attentively to one of the other Dads as they talked about the EXACT SAME STUFF I have been saying for years. Other parents will be glad to help. Just let them know what you want to be passed on.
  2. Actions speak louder than words.
    1. Like my example of watching my Dad change the oil. Kids see everything.
  3. Being available AND quiet.
    1. This is trickier than it used to be. Just being in the same room with your kids does not mean they will talk about anything. More likely they are glued to their phones. If you can find a situation where the phones are put away and it is just the two of you it might surprise you how quickly they open up if you keep your mouth shut.
  4. Talking about your own experiences but in a group, so it does not sound like you are lecturing them directly. The family dinner table is good for this.
    1. This is from a book titled "How to talk so kids will listen"
  5. Asking non-threatening questions.
    1. Often kids can come up with their own right answers if given the chance to think things through. 

I am finding that I can apply this new knowledge not only to my parenting but also to my work as a recruiter, manager, and teacher. Both my jobs as a professor and as a manager for a recruiting team involve teaching. Finding ways to make my lectures... not be lectures... is my new goal for the next few months.