Note from Mark Timm, CEO Ziglar Family: This week Jen Truitt, one of our Ziglar Family Coaches, is guest posting again, sharing some wisdom and insight about the importance of learning one particular “foreign” language: teen! As a former middle school teacher and mom to two teenaged daughters, she has some personal perspective to share.
It was 1984, my sophomore year in high school, and my first day of Chemistry with Mr. Collins.
We weren’t even ten minutes into class when the man essentially dug his own grave with a room full of 15-year-olds by saying something like, “And if you’re wasting your brain cells by watching that stupid MTV, you’re going to fail my class.”
Now, if you are anywhere near my 40-something age, you know that pretty much every single teenager in 1980s America with access to cable television was watching MTV! With those few poorly-chosen words, Mr. Collins instantly tagged himself as an out-of-touch adult who probably didn’t have anything else to say that was worth paying attention to.
Contrast that with Mrs. Fusco, my English teacher, who not only didn’t bad-mouth what we loved, she even used lyrics from our favorite popular music to teach literary elements! (“She’s Like the Wind” is a simile, in case you were wondering!)
Years later, as I taught pre-teens and teens, and raised my own daughters, it occurred to me that I actually learned a valuable lesson from both of those teachers:
The best way to effectively relate to teens is to learn to speak their language.
Let me be clear: notice I didn’t say you need to act like a teenager, or try to be best buddies with a teenager. Please don’t! That never turns out well.
But when you can demonstrate to your teens that you’re interested enough to at least attempt an understanding of what’s cool or hot, in or out, or even “on fleek” (yes, that’s a term), you’re going to gain a sort of respect that leads to them being more willing to consider you as something more than just another (eye roll) clueless adult.
I’m sure you’ve been told that when you travel to a foreign country, the locals really appreciate when you attempt to speak to them in their language or about their culture. It’s the same with teens!
As a matter of fact, some of the newer words and phrases teens use are kind of handy! For example, I recently heard my daughter use the word “triggered” to describe how she was feeling angry or irritated about something that had happened — and I think that’s kind of a fun word to use back with her: If you don’t pick up your room before you go to bed, I’m going to be pretty triggered. She laughs, but gets the point! (And sometimes the room even gets picked up!)
Now, a word of caution: be sure you know exactly what a phrase means before you use it. I’ve been embarrassed on more than one occasion by using what I thought was an innocent phrase only to find out from my daughters’ horrified reaction that, nope, it’s not innocent! (Hint: Netflix and Chill does not mean watch a show on Netflix and relax. Just sayin’.)
Beyond new vocabulary, it’s good to have a sense of what your teens are reading and watching, too. Whenever my students would seem to be really excited about a particular book, for example, I’d be sure to read it so I could talk about it with them — and sometimes sneak in a teachable moment without their even realizing what had happened.
Television, Netflix, YouTube — our teens are watching so much more than we can even hope to keep up with thanks to their smartphones, iPads, and laptops. Again, listen to what they’re talking about with their friends, and look into it yourself.
If you don’t like a certain program or movie, I’d suggest asking your teens about why they do, and being open to their response.
Of course, you’re still the parent, and if you choose to set some limits, you absolutely should — but you’ll be better received if you come at it from a place of, “I’ve seen this (or read about this), and here’s why I know this isn’t something you need to be watching...”
Maybe you’re a little uncomfortable with the idea of learning a new language, and if so, you’re not alone. There are actually some really great resources out there to help you stay on top of what’s trending as “hot topics” with teens.
One of my favorites is an organization called Axis.org. They offer a really cool free weekly newsletter called The Culture Translator, which focuses on keeping parents on top of teen trends. (I’m sure my girls were surprised when I brought up the topic of Taylor Swift’s new music video with them — totally thanks to what I read from Axis!)
As I’m writing this post, Axis is right in the middle of an awesome Parenting Teens Summit, which is an online gathering of some incredible experts who are sharing their wisdom and equipping you to start conversations with your kids about faith, technology, media, and sexuality. You can check that out here, if you’re interested!
So here’s my challenge for you: if you’ve got a teenager in your life, try to find one way to connect with your teen this week using his or her language. You might mess up, pronouncing the word wrong or misunderstanding the meaning, but I am willing to bet that even as they giggle at your attempt, they’ll appreciate that you’re giving it a try!
Let me know how it goes by leaving a comment here — I can’t wait to read them!