Ask Melinda: The Teenage Attention Span

Question: How can I get my teenagers to pay attention to me when I talk to them?

Here’s how I see it: If it really is imperative that your teenagers listen to you, (if, for example, you are explaining the family evacuation plan) what you have to do to get their attention is to focus on a topic they find interesting. It’s a lot like dangling a string in front of a cat. Once you capture the attention of the little beasts, you employ a classic bait-and-switch maneuver. You might say, for example, “Do you need money for concessions at the movie?” An offer of no-strings cash instantly registers on the radar of any teenager with a pulse. Quickly, quickly, while you still have eye contact, slide your real question into the conversation: “How did you do on your Spanish test today?” It’s worth a shot. You might get something more than the typical teenage monosyllabic and indecipherable grunt in response. You have to be clever to parent teenagers.

Bottom line: Never assume that your priorities are the same as those of your teenagers. That is so rarely the case. It is possible that if you are both attempting to deploy reluctant parachutes in the middle of a sky-diving adventure, you could assume that you and your teenager want the same thing—to make the parachute open—but it would not surprise me one bit if a teenage girl in just such a free fall situation griped about the state of her windblown hair all the way to the ground. In my experience, parents and teens generally have markedly different priorities, and no matter how many times you point out the perils of life-and-death choices, teenagers believe, deep down, that they are immortal.

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6 Comments

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6 responses to “Ask Melinda: The Teenage Attention Span

  1. So true! Enjoyed your post.

  2. Love this! I started the book last night. Was exhausted and thought it was a mistake the begin when I was so tired. Nope, I laughed out loud and started folding over the corners of pages with “lines” I wanted to remember. (I actually debated with myself about getting out if bed to retrieve a highlighter) Needless to say, I’m hooked, as I knew I would be. I’ve enjoyed each of your books but this one strikes a cord of familiarity, as if we are part of a club and the teenages years are the final initiation. Your humor helps my perspective. Too funny!

  3. Misery does, indeed, love company. Love that it strikes a cord in your life. We are all in this together, you know. That’s what keeps me from putting both feet on the ledge!

  4. The funny thing about parenting teens is that just as you feel you are getting the hang of it, just when you think, “I can do this, I’ve got this”—they leave home!

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