Q: My Two Sons Claim They Don’t Hear My Directions …
A reader says their family dynamics get “tough” over this:
I have two sons who tend “not to hear” my direction/instruction. I often wonder if I’m the voice of one calling out in an empty desert. *sigh* Any ideas on how to direct/instruct and remain calm when I’m trying to get down to only saying it once?
We share your concern that kids sometimes seem intent on disregarding our directions. It’s dangerous to them, it is an inconvenience and frustration to us, and if it’s a matter of disobedience, it’s sin. Children are specifically commanded by God to obey their parents, and willful disobedience is a very serious matter in the eyes of the Lord (Ephesians 6:1-3).
We’d caution you, though, not to buy in too strongly to the “first-time obedience” ideal. For most parents, that is a shining goal of only speaking one time and then watching our children jump to comply with every request, like well-trained soldiers. One problem with that is simply that communication has two people involved – one speaking, and one hearing, and there are several reasons that speaking one time might not get the message across.
Maybe They Really Don’t Hear You
Boys honestly don’t hear the same way girls do. They honestly do not hear the tones of the human voice as well as girls. You should expect to have to speak more loudly, distinctly, clearly, for them to catch the message at all. That doesn’t mean you have to scream, and you shouldn’t, but a quiet word like you find effective with your daughters won’t even penetrate the mental noise for most boys. Speak up, Mom!
Often we live in an environment where sound doesn’t carry. Our house was built by a contractor for his newly-married son. One of his gifts to the young couple was extensive sound-proofing in the walls. We find that even when someone yells, it’s difficult to hear from upstairs to downstairs, or more than a room or two away on the same floor. Carpet, bookcases, and closed doors only compound the problem. Couple this with the tendency for us to have our earbuds in, and the sound may simply be lost.
Maybe They Hear But They Aren’t Paying Attention
Guys become skilled at screening out noise. In adults we call it the gift of “focus,” but it means that your words (even yells) might be bouncing off their mental shields. I have to consciously look away from my computer or put down my book when someone talks to me, or 80% of what they say only reaches my eardrum – not my brain.
Be sure you get their attention first. You probably do best to call their names for any instruction or direction. “Jamie, I need you to take out the trash,” is more likely to catch their ear than simply saying “Son, blah blah blah.” Sometimes it’s necessary to call them, “Michael!” then when you have eye contact, follow up with your instruction.
But Maybe They Are Ignoring You
The British naval hero Horatio Lord Nelson was blind in one eye. At the Battle of Copenhagen, he was pressing his attack forward in a crucial battle when his commander-in-chief ran up the signal flags to break off the assault. When Nelson’s officers pointed out the flags to him, Nelson carefully put his spyglass to the sightless eye and announced, “I really don’t see any signal.”
Our sons can play the same trick, whether they intentionally do it, or just don’t hear you clearly and choose to think you were calling somebody else.
To be fair and just to them, we have to rule out the cases above – can’t hear, or aren’t paying attention – but when we’re reasonably sure we’re being ignored, then we have to respond. And yes, that will mean we need to interrupt what we’re doing and go find them where they are. You’ll need to explain to him the seriousness of disobedience, both in the eyes of God and you parents, as well as the danger involved to the child, and then take whatever steps are appropriate for correction (we have some suggestions for encouraging repentance, seeking and granting forgiveness, and restoring the relationship in our book, Raising Real Men).
Then you can apply some creative reinforcement. It may be they should have an extra chore in addition to the one you were calling them for (Lesson = If you come when I call, you might not get extra work). You might make a point later to call the children for a treat, and whoever doesn’t come on the first (or second) call, doesn’t get the ice cream. (Lesson = Ignoring a call may mean you miss an opportunity). We’d encourage you to try and fit the correction to the offense, rather than taking an unrelated action (like, “You didn’t take out the trash when I told you, so I’m taking away your cell phone.” Trash=Cell phone? )
Luke 2:51 tells us that even though He was eager to be out and about His heavenly Father’s business, the young Jesus continued in obedience to His earthly parents, submitting Himself to their direction and placing Himself in submission to them. There is nothing wrong with your child being in submission to your parenting — in fact, it’s not only commanded, but demonstrated by Jesus Himself. Part of that will be learning to listen for his parent’s instructions, so press on with the challenge at hand!
Lord, please help us to discern whether our sons aren’t getting the message or whether they are ignoring us on purpose. When we’ve figured that out, give us wisdom and grace to discipline them and point them to You for forgiveness. Please help us to control our tempers in the midst of it. In Christ’s name…
Our book, Raising Real Men: Surviving, Teaching and Appreciating Boys, discusses all things things and much more from the perspective of parents who’ve raised six sons and whose three who are already adults are serving God. You can get the Mom & Dad Special (a book for Mom to read in the bathroom and an audiobook for Dad to listen to on the commute) to get you both on the same page! Find out more here.
Hal & Melanie Young