13 April 2009 03:08 PM

Giving Advice to Someone Who Isn't Looking for Advice

by Dr. Rick

Many parents ask the best way to give advice to “advice allergic” kids – middle and high schoolers especially – in ways that could be effective.  Does anything work?  Is there a good time?  Place?  Approach?


Kids, especially teens, don’t typically wait anxiously for us adults to bless them with the wisdom of our advice.  So it’s important that we’re one step ahead of them, that we’re thinking ahead, that we keep up constant, daily conversation with them about school, their lives, and their interests.  That way, we won’t have to endure quite so many of those difficult episodes we adults see as “conversations” and our teens see as “sermons.”  We need to “show” rather than “tell.”  Show that we’re interested.  Show that we can support.  Show that we can give advice occasionally when it’s appropriate.


So, what to do?  Here are some ideas that could help nip those difficult conversations in the bud.

  1. Routine is every bit as important for teens as it is for young children.  Kids thrive when they know what’s expected of them, what they can and cannot get away with, what the limits are.  When adults help teens set up routines for homework, part-time jobs, recreation, study, and home responsibilities, everyone benefits.  As kids get older, it’s important for these routines to have increasing flexibility – teens’ lives get complicated – but adults’ expectations should remain strong.  They should know ahead of time that if their grades suffer, you’re going to tighten up your control.  The choice is theirs.

  2. Communication is key.  Adults and teens should set goals together – improved grades, a helpful part-time job after school or on weekends, the lead in the school play, a position on a sports team – and, together, continuously work to reach those goals.  That means plenty of informal, routine, after school “how’s-it-going?” talks.  The more adults and teens converse, the less necessary are the “advice” conversations that can sound scolding and be awkward and unwelcome.  Reward good results and progress.  Conversely, there should be consequences – less flexibility in their schedules, for example – when the results are not what you agreed on.

  3. Know important dates and events.  Know when your teen’s semester tests are administered.  Book reports for English.  Term papers for social studies.  Projects for science.  Try-outs for sports, drama, and music.  College entrance tests and preparations.  Help your teen keep organized and on track.  Nag if you must.  By keeping them on track, you won’t need those painful, awkward advice moments.

  4. Live your values.  No one smells hypocrisy like teens.  Be good role models for your teens.  When you tell your teen to work hard in school, show how you work hard, too.  They watch what we do more than we realize.

  5. Stay positive.  Teens will make some bad decisions, they’ll screw up occasionally, and they’ll take advice from some knuckleheaded friend rather than from you.  It will happen.  It’s in their DNA to try for independence from you while at the same time needing you more than ever.  (They’ll never admit this, but it’s true.)   Be firm but forgiving.  When it seems like a good time, tell them of some of your good, bad, and lucky decisions when you were their age.  If you don’t play this card too often the anecdotes will have power.  Humor and perspective are never out of date.

It’s all about communication, after all.  Start early, long before they’re teens, and stay with it.  Remember, conversations are better than scoldings and sermons.  Let them know you’re involved in their lives and schooling.  By the time they’re teens, you’ve become a fixture in their lives – one they can’t live without.


I’ve written in more detail on each of these suggestions – routine, communication, organization, values, and living positively – in previous blogs.  If you want to read more, click on “Archive” to read more.




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