Teenagers Prefer Stories, Not Lectures.

August 6, 2022

‘What I’ve found with my kids is that the times when they don’t really listen to me is when I lecture them and tell them the way they should be. The times when they really listen to me and actually even ask me questions is when I tell a story.’

Cheryl Strayed (Dear Sugar) from the podcast We Can Do Hard Things

When I’m in the house and doing jobs I often listen to a podcast or an audiobook; I like to have something to think about while doing laundry or sorting the kitchen and I think keeping my brain busy (and challenging it) helps me tackle those jobs that I really don’t want to do. It’s a sort of reward that I’ve only recently found that works for me. Yesterday I listened to Cheryl Strayed speak on Glennon Doyle and Abbey Wombach’s podcast We Can Do Hard Things (I highly recommend Glennon’s book Untamed) and when she said, ‘What I’ve found with my kids is that the times when they don’t really listen to me is when I lecture them and tell them the way they should be. The times when they really listen to me and actually even ask me questions is when I tell a story,’ I stopped what I was doing and spent a few moments digesting what I’d heard.

My teens are fabulous human beings but they all go through phases of eye rolling, not listening and showing me that they know just about everything and that my opinion is not needed. While this is normal or typical or the right things that teens should be doing, it isn’t easy to live with. As a parent it’s easy to fall into the top-down parenting approach that Hubbie and I have deliberately chosen not to use with our children because we have been around a little longer and might know what might be a healthy path to be taking.

But we take a step back and we check ourselves and we let our children make real decisions that effect their lives even if we might not agree with their choices.

Do I lecture my children?

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t.

Yes, I tell the one who doesn’t brush his teeth that his teeth will rot and fall out and all of the stages in between this happening. I do often tell anyone who will listen that bedrooms do need to be tidied even when we don’t have people round because we should tidy for ourselves and not other people. I do, ‘go on a bit’ as my teens would tell you and I see the glaze in their eyes of a teenager who’s just switched off.

That’s human nature though. That’s wanting the best for your children and thinking you know it all – which of course I don’t but at that time with those teeth and that breath I really do think I might know a bit more than them.

We were out for dinner last night and after walking into the restaurant to smell fish and chips I knew that’s what I would have. When it was brought out it looked delicious and I was looking foward to tucking in, and then I saw the little pot of green mushy peas.

‘My Nanny made the most fabulous mushy peas. She would put sugar and vinegar and salt and other things I probably don’t even know about and they were the best mushy peas I’ve ever had.’

My daughter loves to hear me talk about my grandparents and family and she said,

‘I never met your Grandma.’

My son said that, of course, she didn’t because my nan died way before she was born. I said,

‘She would have loved you.’

‘I didn’t meet any of my grandparents and the boys met them all.’ She replied sadly.

My daughter has always found it hard that she was born last and that there was a family that existed for many years without her. She finds it incredibly difficult that her grandad died just before she was born and her grandma died just before she was 2. She doesn’t have any memories of them and gets quite upset when the boys talk about the fun they used to have with their grandparents when they went to stay.

‘I never met your mum,’ my daughter said.

And I told her that no-one had met my mum (My husband/her dad said, ‘Even I didn’t meet Mummy’s mum.’) that my mum was someone who found life difficult and she sometimes made poor decisions. I said that when she was older that I sit down and talk to her about my mum (she was an aggressive alcoholic who was in a physically violent relationship) but that I wanted to know that she was ill and that the illness was they thing that made her not very nice. I said that she would have loved my daughter too. I reminded her of the picture of my mum and me on my bedside table and that she could see it anytime.

‘We don’t hide my mum,’ I said, ‘she’s part of our family and we talk about her and include her.’

All this from me seeing a pot of mushy peas.

It’s definitely the stories that my children do listen to. The ones where I tell them about the tiny chair that we have that was Great Grannie’s and that she was a tiny women (less than 5ft tall) and that’s why the legs were cut off on the chair so her feet would touch the ground. I tell them about when I went to music college in London and when I lived on a boat when I went to university. They listen in awe of the people they have never met or in fascination for the mum they can’t imagine. Stories definitely catch their attention and interest like nothing else (apart from special interests -that’s a given in our house) and like no lecture would ever do.

Stories were important when they were little but these were the read stories of the much loved (and worn) books that filled their bookshelves in their rooms. Now it’s the stories of the people in the black and white photographs and places we visit that mean nothing until I tell them why they are important. It’s the connections to many lives lived before to get to this moment where they listen and ask questions, not the lecture on how to use a toothbrush for the thousandth time.

I wholeheartedly agree with Cheryl.

I’ll try to lecture less and story tell more; it’s so important to connect in the way they want to and not just in the way every day life often makes us.

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