"I can't do this assignment! I can't do it! I hate that teacher. I'm quitting school. This just isn't fair. I'm not doing this. I don't care if I fail. I'm not doing it!"

If this is your teenage son, you probably want to tell him to calm down and get a grip. You want to tell him that he has to do his work and he should stop being so melodramatic. You want to tell him that he's wasting his time getting all upset and that he'd do a lot better if he'd just concentrate on the problem at hand and, anyway, he's grating on your nerves.

Of course, if you do tell him all this, he'll thank you by turning his wrath in your direction. "You don't understand. You don't care. It's no wonder I don't tell you my problems. You're never on my side…" Even if he doesn't say all that, he'll likely think it and he's certainly not likely to say, "Thanks, Mom/Dad, for the great tips. You're so right. I should really calm down."

Since the "shoot from the hip" approach isn't likely to work, why do so many parents take it? Why do so many parents walk right up to their kids and just tell them what to do, what to think, and how to feel? "You don't need more shoes in your closet. You've already got two pairs. You should be satisfied with that." "You don't have to have the same hat as everyone else. You don't need to impress anybody. Either they like you or they don't. Your hat from last year is just fine and it still fits." "You need to make some effort to call friends. You can't wait for them to call you. Even if you're not in the mood, get on that phone and make something happen. You don't want to be left alone while everyone else is out having fun."

We have so many words of wisdom to offer! And saying those words directly is the easiest approach. Why beat around the bush? And it is, after all, our job as parents to educate, guide and direct our youngsters. So shouldn't we be telling them stuff all day? Okay, they sort of indicate that they're not so interested by covering their ears with their hands sometimes. But that's just kids, isn't it? How can we not tell them how we feel about important issues? And everything is important. And, anyway, how else are they going to learn?

There are many reasons not to directly lecture kids. One is that they do, indeed, metaphorically or physically, put their hands over their ears. They learn to tune us out, to not listen. They're going to do things their own way no matter what we tell them. Their need to learn for themselves, to be independent and grown up even if this means learning everything the hard way. Unfortunately, the more we talk, the less they listen. Therefore, the more we talk, the more we lose parenting power. The Torah endorses the wisdom of using few words: "Press your lips together; do not be in a hurry to answer," (Avodah Zarah 35a), "A fool's voice is known by a multitude of words," (Ecclesiastes 5:2) and, of particular relevance, "People detest the one who talks too much," (Ecclesiastes 20:8).

Parents might also try to recall just how much they hated the lectures and mini-lectures that their own parents delivered. Although we certainly can't transverse twenty years of parenting without telling our kids some things, there are a couple of guidelines that can help minimize the amount and the damage of speaking/teaching/preaching:

  • If you absolutely must make a point, try to do it in one sentence.
  • Choose silence instead of commenting/teaching whenever possible.
  • Offer sympathy and empathy instead of advice.

In short, the less said, the better. Really.