Recognize Implicit Messages

Parents often deliver explicit messages unaware of sending implicit ones. “Explicit” refers to the actual words you state. “Implicit” refers to what the receiver of the message is learning by inference. For example, tickets for a movie theater are more expensive for a 13-yearold than for a 12-year-old. In order to save money, the parent tells the 13-year-old daughter to state her age as 12. The explicit message is that saving money is desirable; however, the implicit message is that being dishonest is acceptable.

The teenager tells the parent, “I may be home late tonight.” The parent asks, “Will there be alcohol or drugs where you are going?” The response is, “I don’t know.” The parent responds by saying, “You’re not going!” The explicit message to the offspring is very clear; yet, so is the implicit message: “I don’t trust you.”

An 18-year-old calls her parent and says she drank a little too much at the party she is at and that she wants to be picked up. This is a very responsible thing to do. However, the parent becomes angry with the daughter. On the drive home, the parent relentlessly chastises her daughter, who concludes, “I’m not going to tell my parent next time.” If parents get angry and forbid young people to do certain things, they can put their heads in the sand believing their prohibition is going to be effective. However, in more cases than we would like, young people will do what they want anyway; they just won’t talk about it to their parents. In such situations, the parents have lost the opportunity to influence their children—to tell them how they see the situation, to share what they did when younger, and to share their parental feelings about the situation.

Parents always need to be aware of implicit messages. When parents become upset and yell at children, the implicit message taught is that when upset, yelling is acceptable. The same goes for hitting. The parents, usually without realizing it, are teaching the youngster to deal with upsetting situations by losing control and even striking out.