Helping your kids discern between message and messenger

Teaching your kids effective communication is a critical part of parenting — and one we often don’t think about enough. With everything there is to teach, communication is just naturally a part of it, right? Well, sort of. There are elements of effective communication that need to be specifically addressed. Discerning between the messenger and the message is one of them.


Long before your child discusses it in high school English, he or she needs to learn about the difference between what is said and how it is said — and how one impacts the other. In school, in the community, at home… message and messenger often are intertwined. Learning to think critically about the two early can help increase your child’s ability to communicate successfully and effectively.

At home

Helping your child discern between message and messenger starts (as with everything) at home. There’s more than a little irony: you talk about and demonstrate using nice words and manners to ask for things and interact with people, but there are times when the message is more important than delivery. When a situation is potentially dangerous, for example, “inside voice” is beside the point. Kids understand that when mom uses that voice, just do it… the message supersedes all.

In school

It’s in school where kids may most apply the difference between the message and the messenger. With a different “boss” for each class, your child deals with many different teaching styles and levels of academic expectation communicated in those styles. That algebra class may have a less-than-ideal messenger but your child still needs to try to draw out how to solve that equation. If you can help your teen focus more on the content and less on delivery, he or she may be able to hear and absorb more of the information.

This also reminds your child that clear, effective delivery helps a message to be heard better. When your child is able to communicate clearly what he or she knows, it makes a difference personally — as well as on the report card.

In the community

In the wider community, look at popular culture for examples of message and messenger, though it’s a bit abstract. What is that ad trying to say? What is it selling? How can you see past ad delivery to the real message? What about politics? Do you “hear” a message from one politician better than another? Why? In just about all aspects of media, the discussion of message/messenger can be introduced and discussed — and help both of you build better communication skills.

The issue of message versus messenger may seem abstract, but is more pervasive than we might realize at first. From the youngest of our kids to the oldest, talking about how a message is delivered makes a difference and how to discern message above messenger is critical to raising strong communicators.

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