Cartoonist Charles Schultz brilliantly depicted adult speech in his animated ‘Peanuts’ cartoons as unintelligible honking.
As a child I certainly understood what Schultz was aiming at. As an adult I recall the different ways that adults talked to me when I was young and how I heard them:
Yelling, Hollering, Shouting
Sometimes (and only sometimes) it’s an adult’s job to raise their voice and get attention. Use this tone too often and you are likely to be avoided or ignored. It was also frightening, disorienting and kind of paralyzing.
Certain phrases functioned like the switch on a hearing aid. Conditioned by the hours confined to a school desk when a lecture began I was always able to drift off into a daydream. It’s a valuable skill I use to this day.
There’s a particular insincerity that some adults use when they speak to children. Their speech is stilted and awkward as if they are preforming a role in a bad play. It was embarrassing if an adult tried to ‘get down to my level’ by using kid slang or references from kid culture that they plainly did not understand. I remember some of it was pretty comical, some of it was offensive and it never, ever worked.
What I really wanted was honest, genuine engagement in conversation with adults. I did not want adults to shout, lecture or patronize I just wanted them to talk to me like they did anyone else. I did not want them to offer me unsolicited advice.
I clearly remember the few adults who made this happen. They were teachers and family friends would ask legitimate questions and actually listen to the answers. I looked forward to talking to them. I enjoyed listening to their stories because they were, more often than not, just stories and not intended to make some sort of point or illustrate a lesson.
These adults did not clutter their conversation with constant advice or their opinion. This showed that they respected me, that they thought I could probably figure things out for myself. Because they showed me this kind of respect I would ask them for advice every so often.
When it’s time to talk to my Scouts I try to remember these things. I try to be the kind of adult I was looking for at that age; respectful, genuine and not a patronizing lecturer. Sometimes I don’t end up having much to say because I kind of talk myself out of saying it.