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The Parent Alarm

by Mary Mazzoni on July 29, 2011

At a recent transition conference, teens told 800 of us what they want most. I’ve been thinking a lot about their request.

It seems simple.  Our kids want us to listen to them. And we want to “be there” for our kids. So, what stands in the way of real listening?

Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg says part of the answer lies in what he calls the “parent alarm”. Dr. Ginsburg is a pediatrician specializing in adolescent medicine at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and an Associate Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. What’s more, he spends lots of time listening to teens. This brief video of his really got me thinking.  Take a moment to watch it here.

Rings true

I recognize that alarm! All those times fear kicked in as my daughter told me things I didn’t want to hear. When she shared painful feelings, talked about her struggles, or insisted on taking risks. And I reacted by instinct, trying to “fix” the problem and “protect” her. Without really listening to her.

The result?  My daughter stopped telling me what was really going on inside her heart. A chasm developed between us. I was worried and heartbroken. It took intentional effort, good counseling, and time for me to learn how to be present with her – to truly listen. And, understandably, it took a long while for her to feel free to share her heart with me again. I thank God that we now share a commitment to listening to each other.

But I’m the parent!

“Turning off the parent alarm” doesn’t mean abdicating our responsibility to provide guidance and limits for our child. It doesn’t mean ignoring our instincts or abandoning our common sense.

It does mean opening a space to be present with our child. A safe place where our kids can be who they are and express all their thoughts and feelings. It means a genuine desire to listen to our child, to learn what’s on their mind and in their heart. We love our kids. One of the best ways we can communicate our love is to listen.

Our kids need thoughtful guidance and limits.  They also need an open trusting relationship with us.

What do you think?

Has the “parent alarm” ever prevented you from fully listening to your child?  Do you have insights, struggles or encouragement to share with us?  We’d love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.

More Resources

Click here to find out more about the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Parent’s Guide to Building Resilience in Children and Teens written by Dr. Ginsburg.

Photo credit: Twicepix at Flickr

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Jimnp72 August 14, 2011 at 7:44 am

as a job coach and a parent, I have learned not to ‘hover’, let them know you are there for them, give them the tools to succeed, and dont hover.
let them think and act for themselves, so they learn from experience.


Mary Mazzoni March 7, 2012 at 11:50 am

Thanks for sharing, Jim! As you say, letting kids know we are “there for them” is so important. At different times, this “being there” takes different forms. But it’s always important. And often our kids can help us know what kind of “being there” is most helpful. We parents can learn from experience too, don’t we? Thanks for encouraging me to think about presence and listening today!


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