Dear Lauren,

I’m not a teenager, but I have a teenaged son, so I wanted to ask your advice. My son tells me I talk too much. How do I know if he’s right or not?

Lauren Roth's Answer

Yes, dear readers, this was an actual question, asked to me by an actual teenager’s mother. She gave me permission to share her question with all of you, so that you can be privy to the important answer.

The tension between deciding what to think for ourselves and when to listen to others comprises the beautiful cognitive process of “Being a Human Being.” What I mean is this: we are fully and completely human and alive by virtue of the fact that we are constantly engaged in this process of balancing our own thoughts, opinions, beliefs, and preferences with the thoughts, opinions, beliefs, and preferences of other people.

If someone tells us, “You’re being mean,” “You’re being insensitive,” “You’re too assertive,” “You’re not assertive enough,” “You’re too lazy,” “You’re too driven,” “You’re rude,” or “You talk too much,” a delicate balance ensues, if we are living life properly. The delicate balance is between (a) having the self-confidence to decide what I think about the topic; and, (b) having the self-confidence to honestly consider, as a real, viable option, what the other person has said about me.

If every time someone tells me something about myself, I shut myself off from them with walls of denial, saying or thinking things like “Nuh UH! I do NOT do THAT,” I will never learn from my mistakes and I will never improve.

We show the people around us that we care about them when we respectfully listen to and care about their opinions. We show self-respect when we intelligently consider our own opinion on the matter, as well. It’s a delicate balance between self-respect and respect for others.

“The Right Thing” and “The Truth” are often not set in stone. We may have actually done nothing wrong, but if our words or actions hurt a friend or loved one, we have to accept that our words or actions actually hurt them. I cannot respond, “But I’m RIGHT,” when I have hurt someone. As a good human being, my response to “You hurt me” has to be: “I feel so bad that I hurt you! Please tell me how I hurt you, so that I can not do it any more.” Right and wrong in the absolute sense do not matter when my friend’s, my husband’s, my son’s, my daughter’s reality is that I have hurt them.

In your situation, I have a few points to make. (1) You can think about whether or not you agree that you talk too much. Now that your son has pointed this out to you, perhaps pay attention to your speech patterns, and notice whether other people seem to be fed up with your loquaciousness. You might decide your son’s assessment is not correct. You might find out that his perception is shared by others. You can decide how to proceed with improving yourself or staying just as you are by noticing the characteristic he has told you about, and pondering the veracity of his statement.

(2) It’s important to respect others’ opinions and thoughts, as I have written extensively above; it’s also important to be respectful when you are pointing out that someone has hurt you, and it’s especially important when you’re telling this to a parent, a teacher, or an elder. I hope that when your son told you his opinion, he was deferential, respectful, and honored his mother as a son should. The only way to respectfully, deferentially, and honorably tell a parent something like this is to say, “Mom, can I talk to you?” And wait for her to acquiesce. Then you can proceed, and say, “I feel so bad saying this, and it may not be my place, but there is something that you do which hurts my feelings. May I tell you?” And wait for your mother to acquiesce before you proceed. If she gives you permission, then you can continue: “I sometimes get a little frustrated that you talk a lot, and I don’t get to voice my own opinions.”

It’s everyone’s job to be respectful of everyone else, even when you’re telling them how they have hurt you.

And if we are to improve our character (which, I would posit, is the reason for our being here, alive, in this world), we have to listen respectfully and with an open mind when people tell us about the imperfections they perceive in us.

Personally, I have learned so much from my husband and my children. How? Because whenever I hurt them, they tell me. And I try my hardest to avoid denial and to listen, with an open mind, to what they are telling me. I usually say something like: “Hmmm. I didn’t realize that. Thank you for telling me how you feel. Let me think about it and notice what I’m doing. I love you, and I thank you!” And there are good feelings all around. I feel like I got a free lesson in self-improvement, and my children or husband feel respected and heard.

There’s a great note from my 6-year-old daughter that I keep on my fridge. It says, “Dear Mommy, Please, can you not be stressed? I like you better the other way.”

Our friends and loved ones are often our greatest teachers about how we can improve, IF we are willing to respectfully listen to what they have to say and to thoughtfully consider the ideas they have presented.