Listen Up

Sometimes we dads aren’t too good at listening. It requires us to stop talking. We have to:  (A) put on hold the brilliant comment we were about to make; (B) stop thinking about a clever response; (C) stop thinking of ourselves, and (D) give up control or at least the appearance of being in charge.

Easier to talk

Sometimes we’re the worst teachers of the art of listening. We delight in having all faces turned toward us as our coworkers, family members and friends, thirsty for knowledge, drink in our wisdom. The reason why we dads talk more than we listen is because real listening takes work, concentration.  It’s easier to talk.

Imagine how much we would learn about the world around us and our kids, especially, if we focused on what they said as intently as we zero in on the 4th-down-and-a-yard-to-go drama on our 75-inch TV. What might we learn about our teenager if we pretended that he or she were sitting atop a golf tee and we really wanted to connect! What if we turned off our minds and stopped thinking about tomorrow’s task, the weekend trip or the neighbor’s new Lexus and gave our complete attention to what was being said to us at that moment?

Listening is good for you

Wilson Mizner, an American dramatist, once said, “A good listener is not only popular everywhere, but after a while he knows something.”

Dad, your work is cut out for you. We’re not sure it can be done but sometimes you need to keep quiet. Listen to your teenager and teach him or her, by example, how to be a good listener. We all want to be listened to. But how often are we? How many times do you look your kid in the eye and demand, “Now you listen to me!” How is your offspring supposed to tune in when you yourself haven’t been the best role model of good listening? Teens don’t listen effectively when they’re being shouted at. No-one does. Think of a boss you’ve had sometime in your life who was shouting at you. It was hard to listen wasn’t it?

OK, just because we write this column doesn’t mean we’re experts on this subject. After all, we’re guys. We like to be in control. We hold the TV remote close to our hearts. We insist on driving to anywhere.  We prefer to screw up whatever it is—and then decide what repairman to call. We’d rather get lost than ask for directions. We admit it. It’s worse than a disease. It’s genetic.

Yet, the only hope for teaching our teenagers to listen and learn is to dig deep and practice what we preach. So here’s a tip from a couple of non-experts: Don’t wait for your teenager to have nothing to say to you because he or she is grown and gone. Treat each day that you’re with your teen as a privilege. Listen. You may hear something new.

By dads2dads

The Power of Nice

Be A Carrier of Kindness

A father recently wrote: “Dear Dads, I was in the grocery store and asked a ‘sales associate’ where I could find something and all I got was a shrug. I went to check out. The person at the register carried on a conversation with the bagger the whole time about how she had to work a double shift, got stood-up at the ballgame and couldn’t wait to get off work. These two ‘public servants’ hardly knew I was there. I was tempted to say something nasty, but my teenage son was with me. Which would have been the better example to set for my son— share a piece of my mind or to keep quiet?”

Standing Up vs. Standing Down

We dads have tender egos. Our self-image gets pricked when we aren’t treated well. In this case, Dad was not receiving the service he thought he deserved. He felt ignored, unimportant and unappreciated. Sometimes we blow things way out of proportion. When confronted with a similar incident, we need to step back, remove our personal feelings from the mix and make sure our response is appropriate.

In this case, Dad doesn’t want to endorse bad behavior and feels slighted at how he was treated. At the same time, he wants to be reasonable and model mature behavior for his son. Dad could ignore the bad behavior, complain to the manager, or scream at everyone. We all carry around a bucket full of slights, difficulties and hardships. Sometimes our reaction depends on how good we feel about ourselves or how full our bucket is.

The Power of Nice

Often it is more important to teach our children a good lesson about behavior than it is to make a point because we feel ill-treated. We want to interact with individuals who treat us well and often we can serve as the best example by taking the kindest route.

Two books come to mind that outline the importance of kindness in the workplace: The Power of Niceby Thaler & Koval and The Kindness Revolutionby Horrell. As Thaler & Koval say in their book:

“It is often the small kindnesses—the smiles, gestures, compliments, favors—that make our day and can even change our lives. Whether you are leading your own company, running for president of the PTA, or just trying to conduct a civil conversation with your teenage daughter, the power of nice will help you break through the misconceptions that keep you from achieving your goals. The power of nice will help you to open doors, improve your relationships at work and at home, and let you sleep a whole lot better. Nice not only finishes first; those who use its nurturing power wind up happier, to boot!”


By dads2dads

Driving Me Mad

According to a recent survey by Liberty Mutual Insurance and Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD), 68% of teens have had a near crash and more than half of those surveyed have experienced more than one close call.

Starting Off

Bill remembers when his youngest son took the wheel for the first time. They made it through some local streets and drove back into their driveway. Bill went to get his wife who recalls seeing their son at the wheel of their family sedan and thinking it was like a scene from outer space. She knew their son would need to drive at some point but she had a hard time adjusting to the vision of her youngest son sitting at the wheel of an automobile. It just didn’t compute.

Tom recalls vividly the jolting experience that made him realize he and his wife had entered the “auto zone” with their daughters. Both had accidents … one week apart. Both rear-ended someone else … one week apart. Tom had anxiety attacks … one week apart and beyond. Yet, how fortunate they were that there were no injuries in either incident (except Dad’s internal trauma).

The driving experience

Driving is dangerous. Teens are four times more likely to get into accidents than older drivers. Nearly a quarter of the time, distracted driving is the cause.

In 2009, 3,000 teens died in car accidents and 350,000 were injured, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Not only does your teen have to master the rules of the road and coordinate the view with the operation of the vehicle and those rules, but he or she must watch for all the other crazy drivers on the road and anticipate what they might do, not to mention pedestrians.

Preparing your teen

What can we do to prepare our kids for the risks of the road?

Explain the operation of the vehicle.

Review, talk about and test the rules of the road with your teen.

There will be peer pressure to drive. Wait until your teen is ready. Don’t rush.

Give your teen experience driving in a variety of settings. Experience builds confidence.

Praise specific good driving habits and correct poor ones.

Stay calm.

You can instruct your teen on safe driving, but ultimately it is up to your son or daughter to obey the laws of the road and your rules. You provide the instruction and the experience, but they are on their own (although there are now mobile apps that monitor the driving experience of your teen and where the vehicle is traveling).  Teach your teen the necessary skills. Require lots of practice. And don’t release your teen until you are comfortable with the skills and ability to use good judgment. It’s a matter of life and death.

What model do you drive? Dad, your answer needs to be … a good one.

By dads2dads

Teens Need Structure

If your teen is challenging your authority, rebelling against the classroom teacher, pushing the limits of your curfew, or talking back, s/he may be craving structure.

Huh? Come again?

While it may seem counterintuitive, teens who work against the structure of their world (and most do) — the rules at home, the policies at school, the status quo – are actually longing for structure. We’ve seen enough examples of teens who have little structure and the chaos that ensues that we can say this with some authority, as crazy as it may sound.

Chaos – the opposite of structure

Many parents are tempted to use force or loosen the limits when they have struggles with their teen. They may raise their voice or raise their hand. Or they may cut out curfew, dis the dinner hour, or give up on grades as requirements for teen behavior.

Neither of these approaches is effective. We have talked before about giving teens more responsibility as they earn it. Neither clamping down nor dropping expectations works in the long run. In fact these responses often result in more resistance, acting out, and general difficulty.

Teens will normally rebel. It’s in their nature. The existence of a clear structure allows them to do this in a safe and secure way.

How to establish structure

Teens live in a world of structure. It is essential for smooth operations. Their school, sports team, club, etc., all have rules they must obey. What makes the home situation special is that you can develop some of the structure with them and they can have a say when they feel something needs to be changed.

Structure consists of expectations that are fairly developed, clearly communicated, and consistently applied. This is not done by force. Rather it is accomplished in a calm manner so that teens know what the expectations are, why they have been developed, and what consequences will befall them if they don’t comply. A key ingredient in developing successful structure is to be clear in explaining expectations and reasonable in responding to questions or concerns raised by your teen.

Moving forward

As we said, teens will rebel against structure. It is part of the growing process. We need to give them something to rebel against. At the same time teens need to have the opportunity to make their case. If the request to change an expectation seems reasonable, we need to be responsive to that request. In this way your teen can see that a reasonable argument, delivered in a calm manner, will receive a considered review and that, in this way, your teen can affect the structure by which s/he is judged.

Teens are learning how to operate in the adult world. Creating a reasonable structure for them, one that moderates as they mature and one that is responsive to their needs & requests, helps them to move into successful adulthood.

By dads2dads

Second Fiddle

A famous conductor once commented that playing second violin is the most difficult instrument to play. Everyone wants to be first violin—no one wants to be “second fiddle.”

That’s probably true for all of us. But let’s face it. Being a teenager is tough enough. The exterior often exudes confidence, while the interior is a circuit box of uncertainty and insecurity. It’s a fact of life, but still not a pleasant reality, that your teenager, no matter how hard he or she tries, will hear “almost,” “not quite,” “try again” or “sorry, not good enough.”

Thick skin

Mom, Dad, you’ve been there. You’ve experienced occasional disappointment after investing a lot of years in striving for success. Because you’ve developed a thick skin from the wear and tear of life experiences, you bounce back and keep on keeping on. Your teenager, however, is just starting that long journey of discovery. Rejection is hard to take, especially for teenagers who have a hard time separating one aspect of themselves from their whole selves. Often when teenagers fail at something, their entire personal software temporarily logs out.

Screen door on a submarine

That’s when you need to step forward and share a time in your own life when you played the role of second banana or fifth wheel—or felt about as useful as a screen door on a submarine. Tell your teenager the story of when you auditioned for the musical or tried out for the team and didn’t make it—and ended up an understudy or bench warmer. Point out that you survived to audition another day. Life didn’t end. In fact, it’s possible that when a door shut in your face, another door opened that introduced you to a smorgasbord of new opportunities.

The best second fiddle of all

Share those temporary setbacks with your teenagers. And follow them up with stories of perseverance, survival and triumph. As parents, we can’t audition for our kids. We can’t save them from falling on their faces. We can’t and shouldn’t fight their every fight. However, we can teach them that (1) someone has to play second violin; (2) every instrument is an integral part of the orchestra; and (3) second chair violin can lead to first chair violin with hard work and determination. For you Thespians, you’ve heard the adage, “There are no small parts, just small actors.” (That’s still tough to swallow.)

Has there ever been a doctor who wasn’t first an intern? A teacher who wasn’t first a student? An executive who didn’t start out as an errand runner? In today’s world where a premium is placed on superlatives—most, best, highest, greatest, fastest—it is important that we parents teach our children the value of being the best second fiddle they can be on their way to first chair violin.

James Barrie, the Scottish novelist, once said, “We are all of us failures—at least, the best of us are.”


By dads2dads