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Maybe It’s Time to Shut-Up

There is nothing so demeaning as assuming your child can’t think for himself. There is nothing so disrespectful as throwing your child’s mistakes back in his face and condemning him. Keep in mind that I am referring to teenagers here, not your 2-year-old.

So, here is my advice… until you have a better understanding of how to handle it – JUST SHUT UP!  I say that with a smile on my face but with the intent of getting across a message that is rolling around in your teen’s head when the discussion stops and the lecture begins.

Growing up, I was told I was never to say, “Shut Up” all the while hearing that I needed to “shut your pie hole” and “put a sock in it.”  I understand this method of asking someone to “tone it down” may be a little brash, but I don’t want anyone to mistake the intent of the message.  Sometimes its very difficult for parents to learn to “nip it” and “stop!”, but all so necessary if you want to maintain a great relationship with your teen who is now in more need of someone who will listen, than someone just to throw more information his or her way.

“Even a fool when he keeps silent is considered wise.” Proverbs 17:28

If you invited your teenager to come hear your lecture about his life’s mistakes, how do you think he would respond?  Do you think he’d show up?  If he did show up, would he feel great about it when you’re finished?

“Sure Mom, I’d love to hear you drone on and on… I like being lectured, warned, and criticized about absolutely everything.”


Yet, that is exactly what your child may be feeling about the way you communicate with him or her.

So, I encourage you to take the “Shut-up Challenge”…

I’m not trying to be rude in saying “shut up” (it is a no-no in some households) but I am dead-serious. Just shut up for 24 hours and see if it makes a difference in your home! In case I haven’t made myself clear enough, that means, be quiet, stay silent, zip it, don’t speak.

Try it for a day, and watch what happens. When your teenager drops a “jewel” on you and says something you feel needs “correcting,” just be quiet. Don’t flip out, argue, or try make it right. Just let it go. Stop lecturing, start listening.

You may be surprised to find that:

  1. You can’t do it! You just can’t keep quiet. You are not a good listener, and that listening to your child is an area you need to grow in.
  2. Your child has a mind of his own, and is fully able to use it without constantly pointing him in the direction you think he needs to go.
  3. Your child wants to talk to you more when you don’t verbally beat him down every opportunity you get.
  4. Your child has ideas of his own that are different from yours, perhaps he doesn’t want what you want, and you need to change your mind about some things.
  5. Your child may learn the important lessons in one teachable moment, and you don’t need all that other verbal garbage to make your point.

“But Mark,” you say, “I can’t teach my child what he needs to know by being quiet!”

Yes you can – you can, and most of the time you should, because most of the time, your teen isn’t saying anything earth-shattering or profound… he is just processing what’s happening in his world.  Not every teachable moment needs to be one.  Because of the way that kids receive information today, and by the mere numbers of sources of their information, they are told when they’re wrong, how they’re wrong, why they’re wrong, how they can do it better, and ways to get from getting it wrong in the future. So when they come home and are corrected, told how to do something better, or encouraged to do something different, they shut Mom and Dad down.

Now I’m not saying that you shouldn’t correct your child.  I am asking that you become aware of what too much correction does to you child.  It pushes him away.  It causes your daughter to “shut down”.  So be wise and quick to listen, and slow to speak.

For those times you need to address an “issue” I recommend trying a different approach. Instead of making your point, try asking a question. Not a rhetorical question either – that’s just back-alley lecturing. Asking the right question may help him arrive at the right answer in a way that engages his thinking process and system of beliefs. You may be surprised to find he comes to the right conclusion all on his own.

For example:

I never thought of it that way, what makes you think so?

What do you think will happen if…?

Success in the “Shut-up Challenge” means you create a space in your relationship with your child by taking a verbal step backwards. This will allow your child to move toward you. Give your child room to ask some questions of his own and come to his own conclusions.

Instead of always pushing to lead the discussion, or to turn it into a one-way lecture, you might just be invited by your teen to participate in the best two-way discussion you’ve ever had.

Try it out.  I’d love to hear how your teen responds.


Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a residential counseling center for struggling teens located in Longview, Texas.  He has been married to his wife, Jan, for 40 years, has two kids, and four grandkids.  He lives in Longview, Texas, with the Heartlight staff, 60 high school kids, 25 horses, his dog, Stitch, two llamas, and a prized donkey named Toy.

His past involvement as a youth pastor, Young Life area director, and living with more than 2,800 teens has prepared Mark to share his insights and wisdom about parenting pre-teens and adolescents. You can find out more about Heartlight at HeartlightMinistries.orgYou can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.

Mark is also the host of the radio program Parenting Today’s Teen; heard on over 1,600 radio outlets nationwide. Visit where you’ll find more parenting resources and find a station near you that carries the daily 60-second features or the 30-minute weekend program. Download the Parenting Today’s Teens App for Apple or Android, it’s a great way to listen on your schedule.


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.