What, Mom? (With headphones on, leaning back, still focused on his screen.)
What has your son heard you say and is still hearing? Your voice, muffled. You, speaking muffledly. Then more muffledly, only louder. Keep it up, and he’ll hear you most muffledly and likely most loudly! That’s not a good start to whatever you were hoping to communicate–and respect is on the line.
Respectful parent-teen communication begins with setting the stage for real listening. But the stage in this case needs the props removed—computer screen, mobile phone, headphones—so you can start a dialogue in a way that encourages real listening. And as a result, you will teach your teen conversational skills that respect you and others.
The alternative is likely misunderstanding. Or, because you’re not feeling heard and he’s feeling aggravated about losing his flow, an argument could easily erupt. But not the classical kind of argument in which there’s an exchange of ideas and support for those ideas. Rather, the whiny kind, the negative kind, or the angry kind.
There are ways to interrupt your child on technology that don’t cause him to feel his work or even play is disrespected. (After all, he may have worked hard for that online ‘play’ time.) A word fitly spoken is an essential bridge moving a dialogue toward persuasiveness and understanding.
In managing online time, teach your child to listen well to you. You are also teaching them to respect you. And then patiently respect your child in return. The communication methods and respect you model within the home is what your child will likely apply outside of it. We are to bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord and to teach them to obey us as parents. Meanwhile, we remember that if we’re showing the fruit of the Spirit, we will be showing them patient and kind instruction out of love for them.
Parent-Teen Communication Without a Screen in Between
So, don’t compete with a screen in between you. Or with headphones that are meant to eliminate ambient noise–you, in this case. Take the lead to avoid this interference, because your teen probably won’t–and will more likely see you as the interference. Help your teen learn how to listen and to make more effective arguments by teaching them to first disengage from technology. Tap his shoulder (if he can’t hear you through his headphones). Say “Let’s talk a minute” or “I need you now.” After you’ve made clear the need to talk, offer him a few seconds to break away from the technical task in front of him. Proverbs 15 reminds us “a patient man calms a quarrel.”
Help Your Teen Listen
Most online activities involve a process. If you allow him to be online, it’s not fair to interrupt that at your every inclination. He can’t abruptly stop this process without error, aggravation, insult to an online team member, loss of one’s train of thought, or data loss. You can respect your teen by forewarning him of your need to discuss something and then allowing him a moment to ‘get into position.’
Now disengaged from technology, he can better listen to what you have to say. And he’ll be able to reply without distraction. Instead of appearing to deign to give you his time, he may be more fully attentive, a sign of respect. You are teaching him to love through actions, not just words.
Both of you now fully present, a polite, clear and logical “argument” can commence. You have helped him listen under authority–a useful habit for his long-term good. And quality, respectful parent-teen communication may prevent unintentional disobedience resulting from misunderstanding.
So, take control of your relationship through better communication methods. Insist your teen first be free from distraction. Only then can a full discussion–or argument–be most productive.
And when your teen questions why he should have to take out the garbage today, you can look deeply into his eyes and give your most cogent argument: Because I said so.