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Susan Borison and Stephanie Silverman, best friends and co-founders of Your Teen Media, are bringing their magazine to life. From interviews with the experts and authors to discussions of trending topics and personal stories, Your Teen with Sue and Steph is an essential guide to raising teens today.
It’s More Than What We Say, It’s How We Say It
Are you ever mid-conversation with your teen when they suddenly ask you to stop yelling at them? Since when is what you're considered doing yelling? It's more complicated than you think. Wendy Mogel, author of "Voice Lessons for Parents," explains.
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Steph: This episode of your teen with Sue and Steph is sponsored by Automatic, the connected car assistant that gives you more knowledge about your car and the confidence to worry less on the road. Visit Automatic.com and enter the code TEENDRIVER, one word all in caps, for a ten dollar discount.
Sue: So welcome to Your Teen with Sue and Steph. Today, what are we talking about Steph?
Steph: We are talking about tone.
Sue: Oh yeah. That is what it is.
Steph: I mean we’re talking about tone.
Sue: Oh and actually ironically I have like some version of laryngitis. So my tone is different.
Steph: Yeah yeah yeah. As is mine. I had what you have yesterday or two days ago I can’t remember now.
Sue: I don’t know but you gave it to me clearly didn’t–
Steph: I know I haven’t even seen you in like five days.
Sue: I know but you also gave me conjunctivitis once and we hadn’t seen each other. It’s amazing.
Steph: Still didn’t.
Sue: Totally amazing what a relationship.
Steph: Oh boy the gift that keeps on giving, Your Teen Media.
Sue: It is! It is! So I tell this story a lot because I think it’s the funniest thing how our kids hear us differently than actually what we say. The one that happens all the time in my family is I try to be very measured in my tone of voice. And Stephanie you’ve heard me right when like it’s…
Steph: You are extremely measured.
Sue: It’s like a little monotone actually in the reaction so I’m not exacerbating what’s already like going on.
Sue: And I’ve I’ve gotten over the years like I would say kind of good at it.
Steph: Well I would say in a word gifted.
Sue: Oh thank you. Thank you so much.
Steph: You are gifted at this.
Sue: But one of the things that I have seen with my kids over and over again which always makes me laugh is, they’ll tell me to stop yelling and I don’t yell I really don’t yell. But I realized over the years that when I was saying something that they didn’t like that they heard it in a… You know do they think that my decibel level went up? I’m not 100 percent sure. But what they mean is, “Stop talking to me like that. Like I don’t I don’t like that.” You know?
Steph: That is so smart because, I mean I say this to friends all the time, that the kids they’ll look at me one of them in particular and say, “Why are you yelling at me?” And I always say I think I need to send you to a house that has yelling.
Sue: Of course! Right? Like see what yelling… You think I’m yelling!?
Steph: But Sue, you’re right I never thought about that. It’s not that you’re yelling, so insightful. It’s just that they don’t like it. I never made that jump.
Sue: OK. We’re done.
Steph: I have everything I need I don’t know about the listeners but I’m really good here.
Sue: Yeah. Well so the other thing that I think is hysterical which I kind of think is along the same lines maybe, that I think it’s body language, this one.
Sue: We were having a family dinner, my in-laws lived down the street they were over for dinner, and my mother in law was responding to one of my kid’s kind of snarky reactions to something. And in a very delicate nice way she said sometimes people hear things differently than you might have intended which of course she meant it. And we all heard it that way but it was like a nice little way to temper it. And that kid turned toward me and said, “Stop saying that Mom.”
Steph: [Laughter] You’re like, “I’m not even in this story!”
Sue: I know! I was not! I wasn’t talking. And again I like really reflected on it for a long time. Well we all cracked up because it was so hysterically funny but I think it’s a similar thing like that kid knew that that was my thought also.
Steph: Oh my God. OK so here’s my question about that. So my kids all the time, and pick any of them, they will say something like, so this is one of a billion examples. They’ll go to the refrigerator, they’ll open the refrigerator and I’m sitting at the kitchen table probably working, as usual, and they’ll say, “Yeah yeah I know. Don’t eat too much because dinner is soon.” And I’m thinking, again my lips didn’t move. OK. I’m not a ventriloquist so it’s not that. I’m like, “Ok have I said it so many times that that has become their inner voice?” Have I not said it and that’s just their own. Like I cannot figure out. But it is and again pick anything right.
Sue: I know. But the good news for you if you were successful at that in the front of the refrigerator hopefully, I mean one of the things we talk about all the time is like having this inner conscience this inner voice coming through that’s ours like we say things to them and we don’t know if they heard it.
Sue: So hopefully when it comes to like being in a risky situation they’re also hearing this unspoken voice because you’ve said it to them other times. So yay you Steph!
Steph: Yay yay me! But I but I would say like if you were to say to me, I’d be like, “Have I said that?” Like I’m really not sure but it would seem kind of weird. I’m sure I have said it a billion times.
Sue: Mm hmm. Interesting.
Steph: I don’t know. I don’t know.
Sue: Well anyway that the question is, is that a bad thing? I would say not. I actually think it’s a great thing that first of all we’re giving them ample things to talk about in therapy so that’s very lovely.
Steph: Hundred percent.
Sue: But in a good way and a really good parenting way they’re listening to you. So they’ve internalized what you’re saying.
Steph: Let’s go with that. I like it.
Steph: I like it.
Sue: So we are so excited to have Wendy Vogel with us. She wrote a whole book about tone, body language, tone, all of those things. It’s called Voice Lessons for Parents. In it she does a lot of this when she sees parents and she asked them to kind of say to her… Well tell me how you said it. You know because in the reporting we all sanitize things so nicely.
Steph: Yes. Well that’s a good word, yes. Yes.
Sue: Like you know. I mean really. How could we honestly say how we said it. I was in a shrill pitch. Holding my hand so I wouldn’t hit them, right? Like you can’t really say that but when she says to them that very lovely thing you just told me. Can you repeat it to me the way you said it to your child? She notices like their body language and their tone.
Steph: Or do we have to say like, “Well do you want the version where my head was spinning around or not spinning around?” Right? No it’s so true though. I mean there’s so much in that and I think that they are so perceptive of those. I often wonder how well, it’s kind of like when there are those studies where like what people report and what they don’t report, I wonder how I would– I don’t want to do this but it would be interesting to be able to go back and be like, “Oh yeah there was a slight shift in my tone.” Because we can’t– I don’t know if it’s ego or what’s wrapped up in it but the kids certainly notice it.
Sue: Oh I think I know it too. I just think I’m fooling them. I think I’m like a poker face.
Steph: Yeah. Same. Same or my kids other one is, “Don’t be mad at me–” Wait. “Don’t take it out on me when you’re mad at him.”
Sue: Oh that’s a good one. That’s a good one.
Steph: All the time. One particular child says to me and in that moment I can’t admit it. I’m like, “That’s ridiculous!” And later I come back like you were totally right.
Sue: So you remember being a teenager and someone accusing of you having your period. That’s what it’s like.
Steph: [Laughter] Oh my God that is such a good topic. Oh my God.
Sue: OK. That’s its own topic. We’ll do that another time everyone. Don’t think you’re missing out. Can’t wait right?
Steph: Again the gift that keeps on giving. [Laughter] All right. So back to Wendy Mogul.
Sue: Now we are so excited to have her and she is actually a guest that we have had dinner and meals with. And we are so excited for you to be able to take some lessons and voice lessons from her. So enjoy.
Steph: OK Sue, so you’ve taught five kids how to drive. What worried you the most?
Sue: What worried me the most was that the day before they had their license I was a wreck driving with them and then the next day they have their license and they literally look at me and say, “Mom I got it!” And what they mean by that is that the state has proclaimed me a safe driver but I don’t have that feeling at all. So they get in their car and they drive off. And my primitive mom reaction says to them, “Call me when you get there.” And so like, what does that mean and why does it protect them? But I need it.
Steph: So let me guess. One of them forgets to text.
Sue: Of course.
Steph: OK. So what do you do then you go to our sponsor Automatic which offers a connected assistant, which I love. The whole setup was so easy. You download the app, plug this really small device into your kid’s car, and you’re up and running. So I can check for that kid that of course forgot to text me and make sure they actually arrived where they said they were going.
Sue: It’s amazing you don’t have to nag your kid. You can totally control it on your own. You can just look at your app and see that they arrive where they said they were going. But for me the thing I love most about Automatic is that you get roadside assistance. That’s always been a huge worry of mine.
Steph: It’s such a no brainer. And you too can have this peace of mind. visit automatic.com and order yours today. The connected car system that gives you more knowledge about your car and the confidence to worry less on the road. Visit automatic.com and enter the code TEENDRIVER. One word, all in caps, for a ten dollar discount.
Steph: Last week I was talking to a friend of mine who was telling me what a struggle it was to get her daughter in to see a therapist. And I remember thinking, “Wow it’s so important.” But the struggle is real as we like to say. And thanks to our sponsor teencounseling.com, there’s another solution that’s a great way to connect with counselors online and find the right counselor for your kid. And I know as a mom how important it is. What I love about their service is that as the mom I got to go through and select what’s ailing my teen. Is it anxiety? Is it depression? Is it ADHD? Is it suicidal thoughts? And I got to be a part of that story. And then once I was able to connect with the right counselor and quickly I get to step out of the story and let my kid enter in a way that feels comfortable for them and that doesn’t mean sitting in a waiting room where they’re worried they might run into a friend. I want her or him to get the help that they need in a way that they can and feels comfortable. There’s no better way for our teens to connect than through their phone to start the conversation which I absolutely love. Our partner teencounseling.com is a fantastic resource. I encourage you to check them out, find the right help for your kid in a way that feels authentic and let them take charge of their own mental health. And in fact Your Teen with Sue and Steph podcast listeners get 10 percent off their first month at teen counseling.com/ytm. Go check them out.
Sue: Our guest today is Wendy Mogul, author of The Blessing of a B Minus, Blessings of a Skinned Knee, and Voice Lessons for Parents. We couldn’t be more excited because we are huge fans of Wendy Mogul. We actually years and years and years ago like early in doing Your Teen, got to go out to dinner with Wendy Mogul. And we… I don’t know, we were beside ourselves. Like the sheer ability to be people who could go out to dinner with Wendy Mogul like wow we were so–
Steph: I think we went out to dinner with Wendy Mogul twice.
Sue: We did, we did yeah.
Steph: At one of our favorite restaurants in Cleveland too.
Sue: Yeah. Well OK.
Steph: It’s true.
Sue: OK. So let me tell you a little bit about Wendy. She’s a clinical psychologist, a New York Times best selling author, and international public speaker. Her mission, and listen to this, is the protection and promotion of self-reliance, accountability, and exuberance in children. It doesn’t get better than that. So Wendy thanks so much for being here with us. We’re going to spend some time talking about your most recent book but I have this question that’s lingered for a long time and I wanted to ask you which is, in my life you started the conversation about Blessings of a B Minus and Blessings of a Skinned Knee, this idea that we had to let our kids stumble and that turned into, what I hear a lot of now, is letting our kids fail. Did you… When you wrote those books, were you at failure or were you at a skinned knee? And are those two things different?
Wendy Mogel: They are different. And we sort of have reduced everything to success or failure. So when I talk to teenagers they say to me that they feel that every moment of every day they’re either ahead or behind. And every day is opening night because teenagers often have nuanced and wise sage like quality and they’re also kind of simple minded because their prefrontal cortex has not finished developing yet and everything’s not all hooked up with the amygdala the hippocampus. So the memory and the emotion center and the lizard brain and then the mature prefrontal cortex then they’re flooded with hormones. So their decisions sometimes are not so nuanced. What I was talking about in relation to skinned knees and B minuses is some mumbling without parental interference or parental lawyering up against the teacher or the school. So that the child, or the teenager, has the chance to learn from reality. We deprive them of reality. I was never talking about failure.
Sue: Yeah I think that’s such an important–
Wendy Mogel: It’s a false dichotomy.
Sue: Yeah. And it’s a really important distinction to make because I think for some parents the charge to let your kids fail can go down a really bad path.
Wendy Mogel: Say more. For example.
Sue: You know if you have a kid who is repeatedly struggling with getting homework in and it’s not that once in a while thing you might have a bigger problem that you’re ignoring because you’re hearing the words let your kids fail like an in reaction to this helicoptering you’re trying not to do that. And there are times where we have to step in, right?
Wendy Mogel: Absolutely. To step in to support them in a world that is changing so quickly that even figuring out the little bit of tech we needed to use to do this podcast today caused me to forget everything I ever knew about tech. So everybody is struggling to catch up and so are the teenagers even though they act like know it alls and they have to do that to protect their pride. So the parents that talk about a consequence for not handing in homework or how privileges are based on accountability and the teenager just makes a snarky comment or rolls their eyes but they’re hearing you and they need guidance. But this model of let them fail is a dangerous one taken to an extreme when parent’s primary relationship is with their devices and not the human beings and their families. And that’s what we’re moving towards and thats worrisome to me.
Steph: You hit on a great point obviously with devices and technology and everything that’s going on around these kids. And you said something about the kids coming into your office that it’s you know it’s so binary I guess right. Or they’re always on stage or are always you know ready for that performance like a pass or fail and so they’re obviously stressed because their parents are more stressed. So how do we as parents dial that down when everything in society is telling us otherwise.
Wendy Mogel: So here’s an example. A high school student’s teacher might send an email to the students CC’d to both parents about homework that hasn’t been handed out. And the entire family feels so urgent about it that the emails fly back and forth throughout that day including maybe one parent thinking the other parent’s tone in their email to the teacher was not quite spot on that parent then revising it and adding some humor and warmth and apology instead of reflecting on it, taking a breath, waiting until the end of the day, and saying to this student, “Here’s the e-mail we got. Looks like you got it as well. Talk to us about this.”
Wendy Mogel: And that means having a conversation instead of the urgent fix. Which is what we’re triggered to do, it’s now become a reflex. For everybody!
Sue: So that was a great segway to your most recent book, Voice Lessons for Parents. There’s so many communication problems going on right now. How did you decide you were going to write this book?
Wendy Mogel: The reason I wrote it is that I noticed– So I’ve been in practice for 35 years.
Sue: That’s a long time.
Wendy Mogel: Yeah. And I’ve seen a lot of changes and one is, and the parents I’m talking about are parents who chose to come see me. So these are parents who are good intentioned loving devoted parents who wish not to overprotective and overindulge and over schedule their children, who really wish to see them as individuals. And what I started to hear is that in recounting a frustrating or upsetting action their child took, like you know having friends over and drinking a lot of beer and vaping and lying about it. As we talked about the details, I would notice the parent’s voice going up and getting tense. Their shoulders going up to their ears and they would start pointing their fingers and we started to rehearse it. Like I would say, “OK I need a different line reading of that.” Because I’m in L.A. and everybody here works in show business so they know that phrase. And we would keep going over it until they could speak more slowly and respectfully to their child and maintain their authority. Because they were switching roles as the parents became more frantic felt more helpless became more indignant and shaming unintentionally shaming their children. It gave their children a kind of awful power that their parents were needier than they were and they needed to take care of them but also they could do whatever they wanted. Does that make sense?
Sue: Yeah yeah.
Wendy Mogel: The metabolism of the relationship would shift. So we started doing voice lessons in sessions and it was as much the lyrics as much the tone of the lyrics.
Steph: It’s interesting I’m listening to you and I’m thinking about that escalation of voice and thinking about when, you know Sue and I worked with experts over the years obviously during the life of Your Teen. And I have thought about the many conversations I’ve had with friends where I am the irate parent and I’m practicing before the kid gets home or they are the irate parent.
Wendy Mogel: Oh that’s so great.
Steph: Which is so funny and we’ll say, I’ll be like, OK because you know my friend will say to me like, “OK what the bleep bleep were you thinking.” I’m like ok so that’s probably not the greatest line to start with, let’s try it again and we’ll parrot it back to each other. But I love what you just said about the tone of it. So how do parents… How do parents respond to that? Tell us more about what happens in your office.
Wendy Mogel: One thing I warn them about is not getting too frank like because kids detect phoniness in two seconds. I want them to take the opportunity to– there’s a great phrase which is… Let’s see if I can find it. And I wanted to attribute it to the person I first heard said it and then it turns out that everybody says this phrase. It’s taking your sale out of their wind that you can say to a child, a child or a teenager, I need some time to think about that. I don’t know how I want to answer you right now or I don’t know how I want to respond right now and you say to them I’m going to get back to you on this. And then you bring it up again. You get back to them which is a phenomenal skill for middle schoolers to have. To have heard someone say that I need some time to think it over I don’t have my decision yet. Because kids are impulsive and things are alluring and things are dangerous and they could die. So we want them to slow down the decision making process. And the other part is to really cherish dopey stuff because I have a lot of parents who get concerned that their child’s interests are shallow or are not going to lead to a high paying job with great benefits and the ability to pay rent in New York or San Francisco, to be captivatable and enchanted. And it starts when they’re small and like they’re the 5 year old girls right now are so thrilled by those sequins that you can push them one direction and they’re one color and push it the other way and they’re another color. Their little sweaters and purses and and then mothers will come to me and say I thought I was going to raise a feminist. She’s only interested in pink and purple sequins. And I say to them I promise you, I promise you, come back to me in four years. She is only going to be wearing olive green and black and wanting to pierce every single part of her body. And if she isn’t I will give you your money back for the session because they mistake a snapshot of their child with the epic movie of their life. And we don’t know what skills they’re going to need in the 21st century. You know is it going to be robotics or foraging. We’re not sure yet. And everybody’s so anxious that each moment is seen as predictive of the child’s whole future. So Fortnite, for example, I was either in the Dallas or Houston Airport I can’t remember which one I had never played Fortnite. They had a whole video gaming console area while you’re waiting for your plane. And I got to play Fortnite. It is beautiful. I was astonished by the visuals. At one point my avatar was a really great strong African-American man doing the floss and standing under a tree where all the leaves were hydrangea flower blossoms, which don’t grow on trees. And I thought how many Fortnite terrified and contemptuous parents have ever looked at this game. So to be curious about what your child is telling you about without jumping in with judgment. And Susan that’s what you were talking about before, that this insta judgment because it’s so easy to do and because we’re so busy and because we have continuous partial attention. Which is the term that a tech theorist Linda Stone came up with to describe technoference, which is: half the time we are listening to our children at the same– No almost all the time, we are listening to our children at the same time we’re thinking about our device calling to us or what it might need. And the kids say, and then I will stop this very long rant, the kids say that they feel the greatest sibling rivalry with their parents devices and not with their brothers or sisters.
Sue: Wow that’s really that. First of all Mia Culpa like I don’t have my phone on but I’m thinking about something else and my kids call me on it all the time. Okay. So I just want to ask you this question in terms of you talked before about language to use but then you wrote a book about voice lessons. So how… is there something to tell us about our intonation. How do we modulate it? No we shouldn’t be too frank but we shouldn’t be too alarmist in our voice or judgment. It’s hard to know, when there are the don’ts. What are the dos? So is there any way to tell our audience how to modulate their voice in a way that feels authentic. You know it’s almost paralyzing.
Wendy Mogel: I was hesitant about writing another book that gave parents something else to worry about and feel self-conscious about. “Oh no now I have to worry about my tone of voice, and what I say” Just slow down to say less. There’s a twelve steps slogan, WAIT: why am I talking?
Steph: Oh that’s fantastic.
Wendy Mogel: Because we talk at these kids so much. I wrote an article for The New York Times I think it came out last April called Who’s a Good Boy. About how we speak so much more or nicely to our dogs than to our young sons. And I ask parents all the time I say what percentage of the time are you nagging your son reminding him about something, criticizing him about a judgment he made, or talking to him in an irritated way in a world of #MeToo. With the phrase “toxic masculinity” floating around. So how does a young boy maintain his dignity, pride, and passion and sense of purpose, in a family where a lot of the boys feel like everybody else makes a contribution that’s more important than his. So to speak to boys with grace, to speak to them with respect, exactly the way we speak to our dogs. Oh look at the beautiful little [uninteligible]. We just, we cherish these dogs in such a pure unaffected way.
Sue: They don’t talk back. I mean you do have to admit that they don’t talk back.
Steph: And we actually know their futures. Cause tomorrow, guess what? They’re going to get pet and fed again and the next day and the next day.
Wendy Mogel: And they’re all always going to be happy to see you.
Steph: It’s so true.
Wendy Mogel: That’s the huge difference.
Sue: So I’m going to give you an example of things that we hear all the time, what’s the right answer to this. So typically in middle school it’s your daughter and she comes home and she’s the only, at least her perception, we don’t know the reality, but her perception is that she’s the only kid not invited to the party. What’s the healthy response to that.
Wendy Mogel: First of all she needs to complain. Middle school is hell and they behave. Most of them behave beautifully through the whole day. They are respectful to the teachers. We hope they have their best buddy and that they’re both not in the popular crowd cause it’s kinda narrow up there and very tense. They speak in class. They get there on time. When they come home. Home is the soft landing and what they’re really interested in doing is venting. So one thing you can do is listen and the next thing you can ask her is what her opinion is about why she may not have been invited to the party. This is a tremendous problem with social media and Instagram because everybody’s posting a branded view of their lives. So it looks like everyone’s on vacation in beautiful places tremendously happy with their beautiful children every single minute except you. There’s so much comparison going on. You don’t have to make her feel better beyond being a compassionate ear.
Sue: So I’m so sorry to hear that those kind of things?
Wendy Mogel: Yes! Lisa Moore has a wonderful phrase she uses, it’s definitely not “That sucks.” but it’s something sort of close to that, “That stinks.”
Sue: “That stinks.” That’s our line.
Wendy Mogel: I think what she says to her patients. There’s some version of that that fits every family. Often with with the kids I see, I just say “Ouch.”
Steph: Well that’s a good one. I like “Ouch.”
Sue: Well I think you know it’s interesting so we had interviewed Julie Lythcott-Haims too and you both have said the same thing in terms of taking a breath and I think that is such a lovely thought. And one of the things we do, and I learned it from Lisa whom you just mentioned, with some deep breathing with one of my children and I should do it with all of my children. I should do it with everyone I know. We do have an inability as parents to take that breath because it feels like there is no air around us
Wendy Mogel: Two things. There’s no time, there’s no air, and we have an urgency to fix it. And this is again because of the friction-less interface we’ve gotten used to on the Internet. Like with auto play of videos, it’s just, you don’t even have a choice. You’re watching one then another one pops right up. So we’re so used to everything being in instant time and this is where parents can take a time out and say to the child, “I need a minute.” There’s some really nice phrase about that. A modern phrase that people use like, “Take a minute.” Or, “In a minute.” It’s just it’s a very charming little set of words. What we want to do is because of our mirror neurons our child’s pain causes us pain. Very often the mother is suffering more than the middle school girl. So the mother will, for example, call the teacher, call the other mother. The girl is over it already and you’re waking up at 3:00 a.m. and ruminating till 4:00.
Sue: Who would do that. [Laughter] Oh OK. So I want to just end with one of my favorite lines you had in your book. “Teenagers are the only being with the power to nearly kill you, yet also leave you humbled, more self-aware, and possessing of some authentic wisdom.” Best line. Thank you so much Wendy Mogul. We love you.
Steph: Thanks Wendy.
Wendy Mogel: OK, you’re welcome. Bye bye.
Steph: Thanks for joining us. If you have any topics that you want us to talk about, let us know on our Facebook page or email [email protected] teenmag.com. Your Teen with Sue and Steph is a production of Evergreen Podcasts. Special thanks to executive producer Michael DeAloia plus producer Hannah Leach and audio engineer Eric Koltnow. You can find more from us at yourteenmag.com, at evergreenpodcasts.com, or anywhere you listen to podcasts. And don’t forget, if you liked today’s podcast, please leave us a great iTunes review. Help other parents find our podcast.
Sue: We’ll see you next time.