Want Your Teen to Listen? Be Concise

Like most parents, I have wisdom to share with my kids.

Wisdom that can really help them, based on my experiences and mistakes.

With my teenagers, however, I have realized that attention spans are limited. Particularly with “life lessons,” too much at once makes them tune out. Gone are the days where they will listen at length. At this stage I’m lucky to get 30 seconds of a life lesson in.

Apparently this is common. While talking with another mom about the need to abbreviate our speech, she admitted how her oldest daughter told her, “When I need advice, I like going to dad because he’s more concise.”

Ouch. (Did I mention how a sense of humor is a must while raising teens?) Reflecting on her daughter’s words, I realized how I do the same. Many of my friends do, too. We call our dads for counsel because they cut to the chase. They deliver 1 quotable remark – 1 statement to hang our hat on – and then move on in the conversation.

Consequently, I know grown women and men who can quote their fathers’ zingers from 20 or 30 years ago. A wise nugget with perfect timing stays forever etched in the brain.

I’m not saying that moms aren’t quotable and concise, because many are. I know ladies who can drop truth bombs like the queens in Steel Magnolias. Oftentimes, however, we get too chatty. We unload too much at once, and the gems get lost in the shuffle. I’m certainly prone to this, and that is why I’m working on it. Instead of life dissertations, I aim to be concise.

I also aim to ask fewer (yet better) questions. Another mom I know says that her daughter shuts down if she probes too deeply on a subject. Their running joke is, “That’s three questions, Mom. You’ve hit your limit.” Nothing will shut a teenager down like the Spanish Inquisition, and since our time with them is often limited, it’s important to use that time wisely. Talking in shorter spurts ensures that we get heard and gives our teenagers the space to share their personal views. 

Teen counselor Sissy Goff explains this well in Intentional Parenting: “She hears you. He hears you. But he probably stops listening after the first paragraph. So, make your words count. Engage him in the conversation. Ask him what he thinks. Ask her how she feels about a situation. And trust that you have impact, even if it doesn’t register on his or her teenage face.”

Good communicators are clear and concise. They’re also quick to listen. As my girls grow up, I try to take this to heart. I find that when I do listen, my thoughts begin to focus. I can zone in on thoughts that are relevant to the conversation – and not just what I want to say.

Shorter talks that go well open the door to longer talks. They build credibility and trust. While every family is different, and every parent has different strengths, I encourage moms like me – who like to process life out loud – to notice when their teenagers’ eyes glaze over and save the processing for adult friends. When a teenager stops listening, there is usually a reason. Their already taxed brains may be completely tapped out. It may be time for a new approach, one that reduces their mental clutter and gets straight to the point.

Does brevity guarantee that we will become our teenager’s go-to counsel? Of course not. Even if we nail the one-liners, we may not be first in line. The goal, however, is dialogue. Short or long, in passing or at length, a shared language is the intent. Being concise encourages and builds dialogue. It lets our teenagers get a word in edgewise so that the wisdom can flow both ways.

And who knows – in the process of building a shared language, we may deliver a zinger or two. We may hold our own in making memorable, quotable remarks. Timed correctly, it may be a remark that our teenagers always remember, one they can hang their hat on and continue to quote even decades down the road.


Thanks for reading this message. Please share it on social media, or click over to the Girl Mom podcast to listen to it audibly.

My new book Love Her Well: 10 Ways to Find Joy and Connection with Your Teenage Daughter is now available, and it’s getting a fantastic response as moms read it and tell their friends to get it too. You can find it everywhere books are sold, including Amazon and Audible. What a privilege it’s been to narrate my first book for moms!   

My two books for teen girls, 10 Ultimate Truths Girls Should Know and Liked, have been used widely across the U.S. for group studies. For more posts, subscribe to this blog or join me on FacebookInstagram and the Girl Mom podcast.



Posted by Kari on October 18, 2020

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