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Three C's for conversing with kids

POSTED: March 11, 2018 12:19 a.m.
Jerry Johnston/

Parents and teenagers live in different worlds. If men are from Mars and women from Venus, teenagers are from Andromeda. It may be a small world after all, but at times, the distance between people can be measured in light years.

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Parents and teenagers live in different worlds. It has always been so. If men are from Mars and women from Venus, teenagers are from Andromeda. It may be a small world after all, but at times, the distance between people can be measured in light years.

Growing closer takes time and effort. There’s no five-point plan to follow for intimacy, no trick or ploy that provides a shortcut.

There are, however — in my view — a few simple things to keep in mind.

So here are three C's to keep in mind when trying to communicate, connect and commune with kids.

As always, take it all with a sack of salt.


Many years ago, during a rough patch in my life, I visited a psychologist. While I was sharing my woes, he got a phone call.

“Hello?” he said. Then after a pause, “When did he buy the gun? Do you know where it is? Let me call you back in few minutes.”

I felt chagrined.

“Compared to some of your cases my problems must look pretty piddly,” I said.

He waved his hand.

“I don’t compare,” he said. “She has her problems; you have yours. I don’t rate them. I just try to help.”

That seems like a good attitude for adults when talking with kids. Don’t rank their problems as grave or silly. If you do, you’re judging. A righteous tone will creep into your voice, along with that patronizing superior tone that makes young people cringe.

If your daughter gets pink-eye before the prom, just assume that, to her, it’s on a par with Russia attacking Rhode Island.

There is no hierarchy when it comes to suffering.

There are just people in pain.

Keep your empathy constant. Don’t act like a gymnastics judge and rank everything high to low.

Take your kids’ problems as seriously as they do.


I once bought a video made by golfer Ben Crenshaw to help me with my putting. After about 20 minutes of listening to how I should keep my head still, my left wrist firm, my shoulders loose, Crenshaw said, “Of course, in the end, it all comes down to feel.” Then he showed clips of several great putters who broke every mechanical rule but made every putt.

That’s how it works with people.

It all comes down to feel, not technique.

Relating to other people is an affair of the heart.

You need to actually care. If you don’t care, you need to ask yourself why you don't.

But if you do care, then you’ll share.

You’ll share their disappointments, their fears, their concerns. And, if you’re wise, you’ll also share your vulnerabilities. You’ll connect with them by telling of times in your life when you were clueless or shameless. That’s hard for an older person to do around kids. Young people already think we oldsters are dolts because the way we fumble with technology. Confessing other weaknesses would supposedly just take us down a peg.

But it won’t.

Kids will see you as honest, trusting and open.

We need to let others into the messy closets of our lives if we really want to connect with them.

Oldsters who can do that have a head start in bonding heart to heart.


Communing is a spiritual act, but it may be best not to present it as such. Hauling out scripture and testimonies when talking with a teen can feel like a frontal assault to them. Let spirituality show itself in your attitude, not in your words. A spiritual attitude will create a sense that the relationship the two of your share is unique, high-minded. It will give your dealings a noble quality.

Confidentiality is also a must. Don’t use information you learn to manipulate them or as fodder for conversations with others.

Keep the conversations "sacred."

That will not only help elevate the relationship in the eyes of the young person but in your eyes as well.


Now that I’ve dispensed all this wisdom, I should add there’s no guarantee. As a former youth leader, I can count on two fingers the number of troubled kids I was really able to reach. I can count on two hands the kids I couldn’t.

If I were a baseball player, that wouldn’t make for much of a batting average.

Yet, it’s the two kids whose lives I was able to touch that keeps me up at the plate swinging away.

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