Keep Talking, They’re Listening.  But What Do the Youngest Understand?

We all know the phrases:  …like talkin’ to a brick wall; they see me movin’ my lips and nod just to humor me;  does anybody even understand a word that I say?  Talking to teens can be an immensely frustrating exercise as their egos and hormone-addled brains seemingly overwhelm the message of what you’re trying to get across.  Ask them several minutes later what you were saying and you’re liable to get a cocked-head impersonation of Laddie, the wonder Spaniel.  But there are moments when you realize that someone really is listening and it’s not always the teens, but the younger ones who hear what’s being said and then process it in interesting and occasionally sad manners.

This was the case with Youngest, who’s still in elementary school and hears the conversations with Eldest, who’s progressing on the college search.  In the course of conversations, he’s learned about 529 plans, scholarships and such a thing as a SAGE account.  He understands and God love him, has taken the academic discipline to heart as he faithfully keeps up with the homework without prodding and little complaint.  But I was surprised by a recent conversation with him about this distant, post-high school event on the horizon.  Youngest knows that a young neighbor recently left for the Air Force and was suddenly talking about plans to enlist when he turned 18; many boys talk about joining the army or marines as though it’s a grand continuation of their childhood soldier games, but Youngest spoke with a considerably different bent.  This was laying out a plan to spend several years in uniform and then a return to civilian life to pursue studies under the college benefits plans.  While this is certainly a possibility, it’s generally bandied about by much older teens and when I reminded him that we were saving for him as well, he responded to the effect that we also had his older siblings to cover and besides, we would then be approaching the years when people are starting to actively consider retirement.  What would be available to him would likely be minimal as the well would be dry (my words, not his).

I would have been less surprised to hear him uttering obscenities that he might have picked up on the Howard Stern Show. 

It could be considered an isolated situation save for another conversation with a very close friend, who related that her youngest son had spent considerable time and thought on the same issue.  The folks are talking with my sister about how to handle college and how she’s really going to have to work to help with scholarships and grants since there isn’t enough saved.  Geez, Dad’s getting old and when I get there, he and Mom are gonna be way more tired.  The education is really necessary and how am I gonna handle this?  It then sank in that someone really was listening to what was being said to his older siblings.  Unfortunately, he didn’t have the base of knowledge or experience to be able to process it properly and was quietly going about his way to handle it as best as he might be able.  In that moment, my eyes teared and I almost wept.

The upshot is this.  Keep talking, even when you think that you’re absolutely beating your bloody head to a pulp and the kids are making jokes about it.  The politicians call it staying on message and while they all are skewered by Leno, Letterman and Stewart, the truly successful politicians do exactly that.  The message gets across and the lessons are – in most cases – driven home to the listeners.  But as you repeat the message again and again, take a moment to consider what I didn’t, that there are younger ears listening and taking what’s being said to heart.  When you have the opportunity, pull that youngster aside and ask what he thinks that he’s heard and if there’s a discrepancy, take that moment to reassure him that he’s neither alone nor left as the leftover child forced to fend for himself after the older kids have sucked the nest dry and moved onwards.

And even when the teens give you the Spaniel treatment, understand that they are listening, too.  Keep talking.


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