Dispensing advice is another common operational mode for parents, another commonly used communication roadblock. Of course parents expect to advise their children, as their parents did before them. But advice is not always constructive, and it’s so easy and tempting to fall into the advice-giving trap. It can be really hard as parents to give up giving unsolicited advice, especially when your beloved child tells you that she wants to talk over a problem with you.
“Why don’t you go find something productive to do with yourself?”
“Don’t just lay around watching TV all day. That’s not very useful.”
“Whatever happened certainly wasn’t worth ruining a perfectly good day over.”
Now I can hear you thinking ‘But my advice is soooo good – born of hard won experience! – surely you’re not suggesting that I abandon advising my own child? I just want to spare him the pain of going through the hard lessons in life.’ Yes, of course you feel this way, and when your advice is actually asked for, by all means deliver it with enthusiasm. The advising that you should avoid is when you think you know the best course of action your adolescent should take and you foist that unsolicited advice upon her.
Advising is often an insult to the other person’s intelligence and their problem-solving ability. It implies a lack of confidence in the capacity of the teen to understanding and their ability to cope with their own difficulties. It doesn’t allow them the chance to figure out how to problem-solve on their own and find a viable solution. Instead it says, “the answer is obvious and you’re too stupid/young/inexperienced to see it”.
While it may be true that they are young, inexperienced, and immature still they need the opportunity to learn and to make their own mistakes, as long as the situation is not life-threatening. Your gentle guidance towards a solution may be called for, but giving direct advice misses a valuable learning and developmental opportunity.
Teen: I don’t know what to do in this situation with my teacher; he’s being so unfair!
What should I do?
Parent: “Well, what are some options that you can think of?
Let’s write down all the possibilities then discuss each one, OK?”
Another problem with advising children is that the parents seldom understand the complexities, feelings, and hidden factors underneath the surface that the adolescent is experiencing around the situation.
You charge in with wonderful advice but you are viewing the situation from your own point of view, how you would feel in the situation, without fully knowing, understanding or sharing the concerns that the child is feeling.
These feelings may be hard for the child to articulate, but they are very real nonetheless, no matter how foolish they may seem to the parent who has long forgotten how it feels to be and think like an adolescent.
By pushing your valuable advice, usually unsolicited, you rob the child of the opportunity to develop problem solving skills that will be needed later in life. It can be very hard to hold back, since of course, your solution is much better than anything the ill-equipped adolescent could ever dream up herself. Yet he is the one that has all the information, all the risk, and must implement the solution, therefore he is the one who is best suited to solve his own problem.
And when she does, her independence grows, along with her confidence and feelings of self-responsibility in creating her own future.