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How to Avoid Lecturing & Nagging Your Teen

by Mark Gregston

No doubt, people are spending a lot more time at home. Parents and kids are definitely spending more time together because of social distancing and not having sports and school and everything else. You know you just run out of things to talk about and run out of things to say. James 1:19 says this, my dear brothers and sisters, everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry. If you’ve been keeping up with me for any amount of time, you know that I have a tendency to tell it like it is. I’m warning you up front. This devotion may step on some toes and while I want to say, yeah, I really don’t want to do that. I want to. I want to jump up and down on your toes. So as kids say today, I’m going to say, “sorry, not sorry”.  

It’s important to talk about certain communication styles that many parents employ. I’m focusing on two styles in particular, nagging and lecturing. Stop it. I mean, quit doing it. If you keep these bad communication habits, when your kids become teens, I predict that you will destroy your relationship. I’m going to make a few assumptions here. In most families, mothers do more of the nagging, while fathers have a propensity to lecture. Let me set the background for my theories.  

Moms love teaching their kids, watching little ones grow, develop, and begin. Verbal engagement is absolutely wonderful. Moms get in the habit of teaching and kids go through the age of 12 being taught it’s the right model. Teaching involves repetition, constant questions, continuous urging, and helping with the appearance and behavior. Moms do a wonderful job at this. They desire the very best in the lives of their little children. I venture to say moms get more involved in the lives of their kids during the first 12 years of their kids’ lives than dads do. Am I getting myself into trouble here? Okay. Dads love to transfer thoughts, opinions and lessons they’ve learned to their kids. When children are young, dads pretty much stay in the let’s play mode. When those little kids turn 12 or 13, dads spring into action and suddenly these kids need to take more responsibility, start growing up, learn some lessons and hear about the duties in life. 

So many dads believe they will miss their window of opportunity if they do not gather their message together and start lecturing. Their lectures are well meaning however lectures or talks or speeches are given to teach. They work well in groups of adults. They can be disasters when focused on an audience of one, a lecture is for teaching, not training. 

A discussion is by far the better route, where the focus of the conversation is not what dad has to share, but more on what the child has to learn. One daughter I know described her dad as a know it all who never wanted to listen to anyone. She told me that he might as well go in the bathroom, look in the mirror and have a conversation with himself. He needed no one else to talk to. That should not be a dad’s reputation with kids. Of course, I am sure mom’s lecture at times as well so both can take note here. I want you to listen to this, a Google search using the Oxford dictionary says the verb nag is to annoy or to irritate with persistent fault-finding or a continuous urging. Merriam Webster says this nagging is to annoy someone by often complaining about his or her behavior, appearance, etc. to annoy with repeated questions, request or order, or to cause someone to feel annoyed or worried for a long period of time.  

Most parents tend to communicate through repetition, which is needed before adolescence, but it must be transitioned away from when kids hit their teen years. What was once an effort to help them through multiple reminders, now irritates them in a sentence. Some parents tell you what they are going to tell you, then they tell you what they told you. If that does not work to get someone’s attention or change their behavior or thoughts, they will say it again. I think you get the point… A nagging wife or parent is like the dripping of a leaky roof and a rainstorm. Stopping her or him is like trying to stop the rain. 

 The nag may sound something like this… Hey, do you remember what I told you? Do you remember today is so-and-so’s birthday? Did you clean up after yourself? Do I need to repeat myself? Are you listening to me? Did you buy a Christmas gift for your brother? Did you take care of the dog? Why isn’t that done yet? The nag never stops. The crazy thing about this is that they then wonder why they get responses from their child like… Okay. Okay. I get it. Or, Hey, stop. I understood you the first time or I heard you, you know. I did not hear you. I just wanted to hear you repeat it again. There is a little sarcasm there, or when you have a child that says you don’t need to tell me again. I’ll get on it when I have time.  

If your child is responding to you in that way, they are frustrated. You know that all of those responses are spoken out of a great sense of frustration. If they don’t snap back at you, your child may instead shut down and shut you out. This is how teens think when someone continually reminds them of what to do, what to remember or how to behave. 

Your daughter thinks you believe her to be incompetent and irresponsible. Your son thinks you’re telling him he can’t be trusted to complete a project. Your children will get the message that you think they’re inadequate or immature or ignorant. Are you trying to communicate that they’re not capable of handling what’s in front of them? 

That is the message you send when you nag, because that is what they hear. You know what? Your kids may be incompetent. They may be irresponsible. They may be untrustworthy. They may be inadequate, and they may be ignorant. But they’re still learning. They are still kids, but bigger kids want and need to do more figuring out on their own. Sometimes they fail. Sometimes they do not correctly handle the request that you put before them. However, I can tell you that nagging eliminates influence. Nagging at teens inspires rebellion. It makes teens vow not to do whatever it is that you’re nagging about. Just to spite you and they will eventually write you off. Teens who feel inadequate when nagged will try to get away from their hurtful experiences by cutting you out of all future conversations. You’ll miss out on your call to connect with your children and they’ll miss out on all your wisdom because they’ve already turned you off.  

I remember one young man described his mom as one who always felt the need to focus on the negative. She always demeaned her kids. She wanted to do a good thing by pointing out areas where her kids could improve, but her presentation came out all wrong. Teens need parents to focus on them, but not only on the parts that need improvement. I always encourage people to put your emphasis on the interest of your children. Extend grace, not condemnation. When you nag it focuses on what they are not doing. Instead, focus on the good things. Have I nagged about this nagging stuff long enough? I don’t want to step on your toes, but I hope I do, in some way, because it may just save the relationship that you have with your child. 

Truth be told your kids probably hate your lectures. They love your stories, but they can’t stand your lectures. Lectures are ineffective and bore your kids to death. Conversations and discussions are two-way streets. No one’s eyes should glaze over. You need to aim for dialogues, not monologues with your children. Remember to unpack your wisdom over time and throughout many conversations. Do not feel like you have to dump on them all at once, like you have to spill everything all in one sitting. Some topics may come up for years and some may be addressed only once. You do not have to play the whole deck in one talk, as if you’ll never have your child’s attention again. If one of you are on your death bed, then I would understand this technique, if not, go easy. I know you want to transfer your sage advice to your children’s world and hope that your child would get better. That’s a great goal, but it needs to be met over time.  

Make sure you move from lectures to discussions. What I wanted to share with you in this more than anything else is to try something different. Try not to nag and repeat. Quit trying to lecture all the time. Try something different. You know, I prefer, a half dozen, 10-minute conversations than I do one hour-long conversation. I don’t know why, maybe it keeps a kid’s attention, but it keeps them coming back to me. Take advantage of these times. When your child approaches you, do just something different. What you’re doing is not wrong, but if it’s pushing your child away and not drawing them to you, then it’s not working. You’ve got to ask yourself the question, why is it not working? It comes down to engaging with them differently.  

It is learning to say, let’s do something different. What may be different is open-ended questions which lead to open-ended discussions. You don’t have to fix everything all the time. It may be that you answer your kids and say something like, you know, I need to think about that before I answer or, you know, I’m not sure, but I’ll find out and circle back with you or, you know, I don’t know. Can we talk about this later? Wow. Hey, that’s a tough question. I’m not sure. What do you think? Or maybe you might say this. Hey. I’m interested in your comments about this. Can we come back to that later? Or you may go back to them later and say, Hey, I was thinking about what you said a couple of days ago. Can we talk about that again? Or it may be like this, Hey man, that’s a great question. I need some time to come up with a great answer for you. Those strings of conversation over a period of time give you the opportunity to think through things and keep bringing wisdom to the table rather than always dumping it at one time. So many times, when you dump everything, you come back and go, man, I wish I would have said this, I wish I would’ve said that. If you would have changed the way in which you have your conversations and set them up in smaller ones, you have time to think in-between those times that you engage. 

Here’s another thing I do. Remind your child once and leave it alone. Of course, everybody says, well what do I do if they don’t do what I ask them to do? Then let there be a consequence. Why do you want there to be a consequence? Because you want them to start taking on responsibility for the responsibilities that they’ve been given. To him whom much is given much is required. So, if they don’t listen, they get something taken away. They don’t listen and then they will learn to listen. When you keep repeating yourself, you’re nagging again, stop the nagging, it provokes a child. Quit interrupting. Your interrupting will ruin a conversation. What you’ll find is it’ll ruin a relationship. The greatest barrier to effective conversation is interrupting. It’s rude. It comes across as arrogant and the message is sent that your thoughts are much more important than what your child has to say. 

James 1:19 says, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” Here’s another proverb that you’re going to love. Proverbs 18:13 says, “Let people finish speaking before you try to answer them that way you will not embarrass yourself and look foolish.” Let them speak. Sure, they’ll stumble over their words and repeat themselves. They’ll say stupid things. Nine times out of ten, you can guess what their next words will be. You might even feel bored. You need to pay attention, focus on listening to what they’re truly searching for behind what they’re trying to ask or say. Soon they’ll learn that mom and dad understand them. More and more of your conversations will flourish because they know the discussions will be on their terms about their agendas and not only yours. Above all you want your children to feel honored and respected because you give them the full attention. When you listen…  listen, discuss, repeat… that’s the model that builds close relationships and a lifetime of trust.

Author: Mark Gregston

Mark Gregston began working with teens more than 40 years ago as a youth minister and Young Life director. He has authored nearly two dozen books, has written hundreds of articles, and is host of the nationally-acclaimed Parenting Today’s Teens podcast and radio broadcast.