A parent skill that is very powerful with teenagers is Listening. I know…this can seem like a very basic and obvious skill, however, this is not necessarily the case and this can be a tricky skill with teens sometimes. The reason for this is because it can be scary for teenagers to think about how much they need you and rely on you, as their parent or guardian. Think about how much energy they spend on pushing you away in an effort to prove how much they DON’T need you (which FYI they are trying to prove to themselves more than to anyone else). Because of this, it is important for parents to take advantage of the opportunities when their teenagers WANT to talk to them and to be able to really listen fully when these opportunities arise. When teens feel heard…they will be more likely to talk more.
Below are some tips and things to think about when listening to you teen:
- Pay attention and be aware of when they want to talk – it is not always so obvious and they may not say, “do you have a minute to talk”. They may be doing something else in an effort to get your attention, they may even be yelling or they may just make a point to be near you. In such situations, you can simply say, “if there is anything you want to talk about I am here to listen”. Keep is simple and don’t press them for information.
- Be undistracted when they start talking – ignore the phone, TV or any other distractions around you as much as possible so that they feel they have your undivided attention and that what they are saying is important to you.
- Make sure your body language gives the message you are listening – regardless of what they are saying, try to be relaxed, attentive and non-threatening while they are talking (if they are sitting, sit with them and don’t stand over them, etc).
- Make conversations feel less threatening – sometimes sitting face to face is too much for teenagers. Maybe talk while doing dishes, shooting a basketball, riding in the car, or doing some other activity. This may take the pressure off them and make it easier for them to say what they really want to say.
- Stay calm. Being judgmental or having a strong emotional reaction will shut them down. If they feel like you are judging them or that they really upset you they will likely shut down and not come to you in the future. This can be difficult to do since your teen may be talking about something that you disapprove of, something that scares you or even something that shocks you. Trying to keep your emotions in control will allow the conversation to continue so that you can get all the information and let your teenager know that they can come to you, even in difficult situations.
- Remember there is power in silence – sometimes just listening and hearing what they are saying without judging them is more effective than trying to offer advice. If they feel they can really tell you what they want to say, they will be more likely to come to you again.
- Respond in a way that keeps them talking – if you do respond to them, ask a non-threatening question or ask for clarification rather than just giving them your opinion or telling them what you think they should do. Say something like, “that sounds difficult, what you do think you might want to do to make it better?” You are not lecturing, advising or judging – you are being curious and letting them know you are interested in their thoughts.
I want to be clear that if your teenager has done something really wrong or if they are unsafe that you should not just sit and listen to them – in those situations you will need to step in with consequences or an intervention that is in the best interest of your child. I am talking about all the other situations that arise where your teenager is working on being independent, trying to figure things out on their own and dealing with the difficult things that come up in the life of a teenager. If they know you will listen – they will come to you and often times it matters less what you say and more that you are just there as a support to listen to them.
Go to www.HowToParentATeen to get more FREE parenting tips, to check out our parenting coaching programs and to sign up to get tips like this FREE every single week.