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Most people hear, but few listen
The problem is that most people hear, but few people listen. Listening is a vanishing skill, a victim of the high-tech world we live in, and that is scary. Without good listening skills, we lose many important attitudes and values including empathy and discipline.
Listening skills are the foundation for learning at every age. It’s difficult to comprehend how children can learn rules or interact with family, friends and teachers if they can’t listen. It’s difficult to think of successful marriages, happy families or true friendships for those who can’t listen, yet no one seems to listen anymore.
Just two generations ago, listening was vitally important. If you didn’t pay close attention to what a parent or teacher said, you were likely to get licks. I’m not advocating licks, but the lesson was clear: listening is important. I’m saying this once, and not again. If you don’t listen, there will be consequences.
We knew that listening was a sign of respect at home and at school. To talk out of turn was an embarrassment. Not listening to a classmate’s or friends’ opinions meant you were uncaring and uncaring people became ostracised from the group. We knew it was important to listen to instructions because we’d have to do homework over if we didn’t do the right thing. We didn’t want to look like fools, and students who didn’t listen took the risk of looking like fools.
Even our entertainment required superb listening skills. There was no “wheel” turning in the middle of a song for a DJ to replay an entire song for an audience to hear. You got to hear the song once, and then you had to wait for the next cycle for a radio announcer to play it again. Songs had well-developed lyrics, and if you didn’t listen carefully, you felt like you missed something. There wasn’t a hook line repeated ad nauseam in a song.
Children today cannot imagine how important listening to a movie once was. Those were the days before online streaming and NetFlix or even before VCRs or cable. A movie or a television series didn’t show over and over again like it does on cable.
You were lucky to catch a few episodes of a series in summer re-runs. You listened carefully because you didn’t want to miss anything. Today’s children take even their entertainment for granted because they believe they’ll catch it another time. Reading was more important in my generation, and this helped us all to be better listeners.
We listened to books being read to us when we were children, and in the process of reading books ourselves, we listened to the thoughts in our own heads. You can’t get that listening experience when you’re flipping through fleeting images of fast-paced movies or TV series. Listening skills are vanishing partly because everyone is too distracted to listen.
Text messages, e-mails, cell phone calls— all the distractions of the push-button culture—rob people of their attention. Even if they’re trying to listen to someone talking, they’re likely to be interrupted by some gadget. This results in a shortened attention span. It’s easy to lament over what we’ve lost, but it is more important to think of ways to recapture the experience of listening. Here are my suggestions:
1. Create a quiet free zone that is conducive to listening. Dedicate gadget-free time for children when they come home at night. Insist that cell phones, computers and televisions are switched off every evening while children do homework and read. Decide on a given time after all homework, reading and activities are done when children can check in with their technology. In other words, make it a privilege, not a right.
2. Read to children. Even children up to 12 benefit from having someone read to them. It hones listening skills. Because children can listen to stories beyond their reading level, reading aloud to children also helps to develop comprehension skills as well.
3. Have a dedicated family reading period that lasts half an hour every evening. You might need to start with 15 minutes, which seems like an eternity to children who don’t read. Everyone in the family— including mothers and fathers—should be reading at this time.
4. Eat together as a family. Turn off everything and eat meals together at a table. This is an opportunity to talk about the day, and develop listening skills.
5. Demonstrate good listening skills. It’s easy to dismiss young people’s ideas or insist on rules without having any discussion. Parents who listen to their children’s concerns demonstrate the importance of listening.
6. Find good examples of listening skills: movies that show how important it is to listen; movies that show successful people who got ahead in life by listening to others so that young people can see the importance of listening.
7. Subscribe to online audio books so that children— even your teenagers can hear books being read to them. Audio.com is a great web site to explore.
We really can’t afford to lose our listening skills. Listening is what connects us to others. It’s what makes us caring individuals.
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