Ask Melinda: Teenagers and Selective Hearing

Question: Why can’t my teenager hear me when I’m talking to him?

I have to say upfront that I wasn’t sure this reader’s question was real. I may have actually snorted out loud when I read her message to me on Facebook. Really? She’s actually worried about her teenager’s hearing? No way! Then I remembered something. When my middle child was three weeks old, I took him to our pediatrician and said, “I don’t think this baby can hear.” To demonstrate, I dropped a huge book, Black’s Law Dictionary, on the floor of the exam room. He didn’t startle at all.

“You’re probably right,” she said. “We need to check that out.”

Turns out, his hearing was perfectly fine—THEN. (He is sixteen now. Like his siblings, he only hears what he wants to hear now in order to maintain plausible deniability later.) After we got the good news, the specialist asked:

“Do you have any other children, Mrs. Thompson?”

“Yes, a son, he’s almost two,” I responded, with a what’s-this-got-to-do-with-anything look on my face.

“My guess is he makes a lot of noise, right?” he asked.

“Well . . . I think he makes about as much noise as any other two-year-old,” I answered, a little affronted.

“I think your baby is just accustomed to a high noise level,” he suggested, tentatively.

Yes, indeed. My older son was so loud that his brother got accustomed to the noise pollution while still in utero. Today I decided to answer this reader’s question, straight up, without rolling my eyes or scoffing. Even though the answer seems obvious to me, it might not be to her. I really am a nice person.

Here’s how I see it:

First of all, your teenager CAN hear you. He simply CHOOSES not to acknowledge your question/request/demand/harangue/comment/advice/dire warning/sarcastic remark . . . whatever. Teenagers have selective hearing. This is a well-known phenomenon. I am sorry if you missed the memo. I thought everyone knew. Let me reassure you that you are not alone—ALL teenagers have selective deafness. It’s a subtle ailment. Most teenagers cannot hear: requests to clean their rooms, put away laundry, hang up their wet towels, do their homework, or get out of bed for school. They can, however, hear and immediately identify the sound of a cookie sheet being pulled from the oven, their cell phones ringing or vibrating at any hour, day or night, or the distant whirr of an ATM cash machine spitting out money two blocks away IF it is allowance day.

Bottom line:

Today’s question seemed like a gimme to me. I almost didn’t answer.  I reconsidered because I realized that although I am old and mean, there are still some young, sweet mamas out there who might actually be worried that they are the only family experiencing problems with selective deafness. Here’s the scoop: selective deafness is as common in teenagers as diaper rash in the baby set. Welcome to the show, sweet mama. I hope you’re ready to play in the big league. It’s a whole new ballgame.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Ask Melinda: Teenagers and Selective Hearing

  1. John Wettermark

    They learn to listen when they start dating, get better at it when they are first married, then quickly revert back to not being able to listen.

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