(Dr. Clayton Lawrence, founder and CEO, shares his thoughts in a weekly column focused on community wellness and inspiring others.)
Ever feel like your words fall on deaf ears when communicating with the youth in your life? It may be the way in which you open a conversation, or respond to a comment or request for advice. Any way you look at it, raising a young person may be one of the toughest jobs a person can be faced with. Whether serving as a parent, caregiver or mentee, there are several factors that may be inadvertently having a negative impact on your good intentions.
It may be helpful to imagine the young person not as younger, less knowledgeable and difficult, but as a human being who, like you, is learning the ropes at a delicate phase in his or her life. Keep that in mind as you consider some of the following:
Sometimes when communicating with young people, it can be easy, as an adult who has “been there and done that,” to be critical of poor choices or judgmental when a teen makes a choice that might be different than the one you would have chosen. Don’t forget, the youth is coming to you for direction, not harsh criticism, negative comments or to receive an “I told you so.” While it is important to be consistent in disciplinary measures for poor choices, every opportunity is a learning experience. Use your own words to help figure out what went wrong in this instance, how his or her choice affected the outcome and how the situation offers valuable information when it comes to the future.
When someone is speaking to you, do you give your full attention or continue scrolling through your phone, offering a quick response at the appropriate times? Do you prepare a healthy lunch and dinner or is mealtime a quick and easy stop for pizza or fast food? How about your commitment to your health? Do you make (and keep) your medical and dental appointments and make time for much-needed mental health days? The young person in your life is watching. Though your words (see above) can be an effective tool when communicating, your actions truly speak much louder. Set a positive example and be the person you want your youth to look up to.
Are you showing up? It’s natural for work to sometimes get in the way of a busy home life and, in reality, we can’t make it everywhere we want or need to be – in today’s busy world, that just isn’t feasible. But when you do make it to a sporting event or help study for a test or sit down to dinner, are you fully present? And when you say you’ll be somewhere, are you there? Another way consistency serves as a critical factor in developing trust and respect is through accountability. Say what you mean and do what you say or you’ll never gain trust and respect and without either, the relationship remains unbalanced.