I have a big mouth. By that I mean I speak my mind. Thought enters brain, brain checkmarks thought and sends it straight to tongue, which delivers it to the ears of those standing near.
The result? Some of my friends love me for my candor, while other not-friends think I should mind my own bloody business. I’m OK with that balance. Partly because I’m an adult and finally no longer need everyone to like me, and partly because I get that my perspective is only one angle of many.
So, given the size of my mouth, shutting up is not easy for me.
A short while back, the title of Anthony E. Wolf’s column in the Globe & Mail newspaper, Shut Your Mouth and Listen to Your Teens, did the impossible. It momentarily silenced me. (Of course, that was before I tweeted and posted the story all over the place.)
The action kicks off with a teen starting to confide in a parent about a problem whereupon the parent (aka ME) jumps in with unasked-for advice in hopes of fixing said problem, thereby silencing teen – who feels judged and sorry for opening up in the first place.
At this point, I actually checked the rooms of my house to see if Mr. Wolf was hiding somewhere.
Now, after working hard to put Mr. Wolf’s unasked-for advice into practice at home (and having succeeded on a few occasions, yay!), I realize that I owe someone some appreciation. So here goes.
Dear Mr. Wolf:
Thank you for the following words, which are so wise that I am now sharing the love:
Our comments, worries, warnings, lessons, corrections – they seem crucial. We want to guide our kids down the best possible path…But often the only thing our advice accomplishes is to kill the conversation.
When [teens] talk freely, it is like a tiny flame that we should try to keep alive, fanning it gently to keep it going… [W]ith adolescence, they develop an allergy to parents that makes them hypersensitive to any comments, especially when they are allowing themselves to open up.
The solution seems so simple. All you have to do is shut up. Stick to innocuous comments like, “You think so?” Or “Really?” Or repeat a brief version of what they just said: “Sounds like Serena’s not sure what to do.” But abstain from advising and correcting. It doesn’t always have to be a teachable moment.
You are brilliant.
Big Mouth Mama
PS: Within hours, Miss 13 read your story (which I posted to my Facebook profile) and in what is probably inherited big mouth fashion, she couldn’t help but point out that it must have been written just for me. Oh, and that I may want to stick it on the fridge and read it over a few more times.
A teachable moment indeed.