Getting Through to Your
by Joe A. Martin Jr., Ed.D.
Have you ever watched your teenager make a mistake (that you’ve
made yourself) after you’ve warned them at least a thousand times? Is there
anything more frustrating as a parent?
Well, this is somewhat typical in most
“normal” households across America. We (parents) screw up, tell our children
about it, and what do they do? They go out and repeat the same mistake. It makes you
question your own gene pool.
In actuality, the problem isn’t with the
teenager (at least not all of it), the problem is in our approach to teaching our
teenager the lesson we want them to learn. In a sense, we act just as crazy sometimes;
we teach them using the same strategies that didn’t work a month or year ago. We
should be asking ourselves, when will we learn from our past mistakes?
Here’s a better approach that I’ve
experimented with few times with my own students. It’s a modified version of the
Socratic method. You simply lead your teenager to a predetermined answer that they come
up with on their own. That’s it. I know it sounds easy, but it takes quite a bit
of practice. Allow me to demonstrate.
A parent of one of my students confided
in me that her son was hanging around a dangerous group of boys in the neighborhood. She
believed his friends were possibly into drugs, gang violence, and other criminal
activity. With no father figure in the home, she thought maybe I could “get
through” to him.
I asked her, “What have you said to him?”
She replied, “I’ve told him at least a hundred times that his friends are up
to no good, and they’re going to eventually get him into trouble and jeopardize
his future.” She continued, as she cried, “I told him that I made the same
mistake when I was his age, and he didn’t want to go through the pain I did. I
just can’t get him to listen.”
A lot of us can relate to this
mother’s frustration. We want so much for our children to avoid the mistakes we
made. We can’t understand why they can’t understand our concern, and we
become frustrated and sometimes even angry.
Well, I agreed to meet with her
son after class. But I decided to use a different approach. I figured the old approach
wasn’t working, so what did I have to lose? After a little small talk, I simply
asked a couple of simple questions, “Who are your three closest friends?”
After he gave their names (all part of the group his mom disliked), I asked him a second
question, “If you died tonight, and you had children, would you want any of those
friends raising your son or daughter?”
After an extremely long pause, I
let him off the hook by saying, “You don’t have to give me the answer, but I
do want you to ask yourself another question. If you wouldn’t let them raise your
children in the future, then why are spending most of your time with them today?”
That was the end of our discussion.
This little episode may or may not have
put him on the right track, but it did one thing his mother was unable to do – get
through to him. He now had to make his own decision based on his own reality, not his
mother or his teacher – and then accept responsibility for the consequences of
And that’s all you can really do for teenagers…get
them to think for themselves. If you did a good job teaching your children in the early
years, the growing process (including the mistakes) is a lot easier to accept.
The key to getting through to your teenager is to say less, and ask more in order
to get them to do more thinking. The more you say, the less they’ll think. And the
less they think, the more mistakes they’re inclined to make. So, take your own
advice, learn from your past mistakes by adopting a new approach.
Joe Martin is an award-winning national speaker, author,
professor, and educational consultant. His mission is to help students,
teachers, and administrators learn, lead, and live with purpose and passion. To
find out more visit his web site at https://www.NewTeacherUniversity.com.
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