You know that you give great advice, you have reams of experience backing it, and what you are offering just makes so much sense – well, at least it does to you. C’mon! – don’t be an idiot! – do as I tell you and you won’t be sorry! You are really trying to help here and save the listener so much grief, with the benefit of your hard-won experience. So why then is your damn good advice being ignored, set aside, and downright disregarded? How infuriating to not be listened to!
Teenagers, with their one monosyllable answers, have the process of turning out advice, monologues, and lectures down to a science. While you go on and on, their minds are clearly somewhere else. “Did you even hear a single word that I said?” “What?” “I said…” you repeat to deaf ears. Yada, yada, yada.
Giving advice to teenagers doesn’t work for several reasons. One is that the advice is often unsolicited. When a teen hears what sounds like a long lecture coming, they run for the hills mentally. Who can blame them as few people want to endure a long one-sided torrent of critical words peppered with, “you should this” and “you should that”. (Should is derived from “to scold”, which is resented by everyone, yourself included, so bite your tongue and stop scolding all ready!)
Another problem with giving unsolicited advice is that it makes the receiver – the adolescent or anyone else – feel mentally inferior, as if they can’t think for themselves. Your fabulous advice, dispensed from on high, and not asked for, falls on deaf ears. Who wants to be made to feel like an idiot? “If you had any sense at all you would know to do blah-blah”… “If I were you, I would absolutely do blah-blah” – “Well, thankfully I’m not you, now am I?”
An unfortunate side effect of giving unsolicited advice to adolescents is that it doesn’t allow them the chance to problem solve for themselves, which is important to do at this stage of their brain development. As the brain is busily firing and wiring during this explosive growth stage, it needs the opportunity to think things through and develop the rational thinking that problem solving supports. When a solution is always immediately provided whenever a problem is presented, there is no need to tax the brain to consider all the angles and think through a good solution themselves. This deprives teens from fully developing the skills they will need in later life.
COMMUNICATION TAKEAWAY: Although it is surely tempting to rush in with help as soon as you see your adolescent struggling with any issue, large or small, you would serve their best interests by refraining from jumping in with your opinion unasked. And even when asked for your advice, the best route is to answer the question, “What should I do?” with another question, “What do you think you should do? What are some options to consider?” Gently guiding their thinking with questions to help them explore all the angles is immensely helpful in developing their future critical thinking resources that they will need in adulthood.