During a recent flight from one city to another in the United States, I sat next to J, a lovely fellow parent. J is an engineering type, divorced, in a relationship with a creative type, and has two children, G, a 21-year-old daughter in college, and B, a 16-year-old son in high school.
J gushed with pride about G’s academic success and her dedication and commitment to excellence.
B was an entirely different story. Though J described him as very smart and a good boy, like many teens, B was not certain of his interests, educational or professional. School bored him, and no particular occupation caught his eye.
Over the years, my travel companion had created opportunities and encouraged activities to hone any talents or inclinations B had shown. B seemed to appreciate the efforts, and though initially met with enthusiasm, eventually, the teen lost interest in each. The net result: loads of video time.
Again, like many teens, B also kept vampire hours – up late at night and sleeping during the day.
J wanted to guide and help him find a passion he would stick with but was having trouble communicating with B. J turned to me and asked: “How to get through to him?”
If you have a teen, does any of this sound familiar? Are you struggling with the same communication challenge?
Let’s now look at this through a public relations lens. Whenever we want to share a message or sell a concept, we first ask ourselves, who is the target market? Then we ask: what are the habits of the defined target market? And based on this, when is the best time to approach them? Where is the best location to approach them? And how to approach them in order to achieve the intended goal?
I asked my travel companion, “Do you and your son talk?” J replied, “Yes.”
But there was a caveat – J’s attempted heart-to-hearts were mostly when J was ready to talk, not so much when B was.
B wanted to debrief when he came home from school, but J was too busy then with work and only allotted a few minutes of time to listen. J preferred to talk after work when the teen was already glued to some version of a screen. Dead end.
J was clearly a loving parent who truly only wanted to do good by B. If the goals (aka the whys) were to improve communication, be invited to share advice that would be accepted (or at the very least seriously considered), and inspire action, then it was time to take a step back and reconsider the target market (J’s son) and J’s answers to the aforementioned six Qs ——- who, what, where, when, why and how?
J’s son was open to sharing just after school in J’s office, in the kitchen, and in the wee hours of the night while he was chilling out in his room. Perhaps, as inconvenient as it may be, this wonderful parent would have to accommodate the habits of their target market to achieve the goals.
That meant stopping whatever J was doing when B came home from school, carving out an hour or so, maybe less, and debriefing and walking through that open window to offer suggestions. And, if J happened to be up very late at night for one reason or another —- to stop by B’s room for a spontaneous late-night chat, listen to B, and again, if invited, brainstorm the possibilities of the future together.
Tune Into Cues
This scenario applies to kids at any age, not just teens, and it helps to be tuned in to their particular verbal or otherwise cues. Maybe they sit next to you at home. Maybe they start doing something slightly noisy to break your concentration. Or maybe they reference something during a car ride when it’s just you and then. Try to identify these signs and be available when the opportunity presents itself.
For example, when my kids approach me with, “Hi, mom, how are you?” Or “What did you do today?” I understand that they want to talk.
I understand this to be an invitation to glimpse into their world, to learn what’s on their mind and about their experiences, and hopefully be invited to offer guidance. I have found the best way to respond initially is rhetorical. “All good. How are you? What did you do today?” And then get ready to be a good listener.
I hope looking at this common challenge through a public relations lens has helped J and that it works for you too. Give it a try, and let me know.
The Power of PR Parenting
Marjie Hadad is the author of The Power of PR Parenting: How to raise confident, resilient, and successful children using public relations strategies, now available on Amazon. For more information, please visit www.prfor.life.
Note: Marjie Hadad is neither a psychologist nor a parenting expert. She is a public relations expert. She used her professional practices to raise her three now-grown kids. It worked for her. She hopes that the same practices will be useful for you in some way, shape, or form.