Our first guest post is from Bob Ditter.  Bob is the most widely recognized consultant to the camping community and is renowned for his expertise in the field of child and adolescent development. As a former director of a day camp for emotionally disturbed children, he knows that camp directors are continuously challenged to deal with psychological issues that affect their campers, parents and staff.  You can find more information about Bob at http://bobditter.com.

One of the most common mistakes adults make with children is we talk too much. Not only do we not listen to children very well, when we do have something of importance to say to a child, most of us go on far too long, jeopardizing our message in the process. Let me explain.

Can you ever remember a time when you had done something wrong as a child and an adult lectured you for thirty minutes even though you got the “message” after the first two? I think everyone has a story like that! There are three key points to be made about being brief in our communication with children, especially today. They are as follows:

  1. Once children “get” what we are trying to say, if we continue to talk we are actually impeding or interrupting them from assimilating the insight or line of reasoning we have just shared with them. The human brain cannot consciously attend to more than one thing at a time. By making children listen to us go on and on, we are preventing them from mulling over or internalizing what we have just said. It’s one or the other—they can’t do both at the same time!
  2. Once we have made our point plain, belaboring our message may make us feel better, but it then becomes a way of humiliating and belittling the child. Creating such feelings in a child may do a great job of making them feel resentful (and possibly less compliant) but it probably actually works against any hope of them actually taking in what we are saying. We have to make a decision: Is our intention to make a child feel bad or change their behavior?
  3. Because of the popularity of texting, instant messaging, Twitter®, e-mail and other virtual and electronic forms of communication, children are used to picking up critical bits of information in very short bits. They may actually be better at teasing out the essential part of what we are saying than we are in saying it! “Brief” is the hallmark of modern communication!

Being brief does not mean we can’t be thorough. It simply means getting to the point quickly and then ending for maximum impact.

So that’s the case for talking less. What about talking more? Children today are exposed to a tremendous amount of stimulating information—far more than anything most of us adults ever had to contend with. Whether it’s from television, Youtube, TiVo, their “smart” phones or a myriad of other sources that didn’t exist until a few years ago, much of that information is increasingly violent or sexual or overwhelming in nature. And it isn’t going to get much less in the near future. An innocent search on the Internet can lead to some provocative or disturbing sites. This is why I say that parents and other care-taking adults need to talk more often with children about these experiences. Asking them what they thought of something they’ve seen on the Internet or heard about online can help restore a sense of what is appropriate and can help children sort through what may otherwise be disturbing information. Technology isn’t going to go away, which means children will continue to be exposed to stimulating material they could use some adult help sorting through. As a colleague of mine once said, we would never give a fourteen year-old the keys to the family car and say, “Hey! Have fun!” Yet, that is exactly what most parents do with computers and the Internet and other sources of news and information. The increase in technology needs to be accompanied by an increase in dialogue with caring adults about what that technology brings to our attention.

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