One of the most powerful shifts parents can make when talking to their teen is to LISTEN. While it sounds easy, there’s an art to it. Good listening requires letting go of the need to interrupt or reply too quickly with advice. Parents need to make space for their teen to be heard.
To be listened to is to be validated for who they are. Sometimes the only thing a teen needs is one person to truly hear what they say. They don’t need someone to problem solve for them—just to listen as they explore and develop their own decision-making process. Your teen may be telling you about a disagreement with friends, or even a sibling. And while you might want to step in—wouldn’t you rather help them resolve it themselves? A healthier form of communication—where you don’t provide all the answers—can reduce conflict (and who doesn’t want that!) and strengthen your relationship with your teen.
Actively listen. What do you think would happen if instead of responding with a solution, you offered a sympathetic ear and validated their feelings? Rather than focusing on how you are going to respond, you are actively listening to understand the feelings behind their words. For instance, when your child complains about a grade on a test, instead of offering advice or pointing to what they did wrong and how they could improve, you could say, “That is frustrating. I’m sorry that happened.”
Show you care. Acknowledging a teen’s feelings can go a long way. You can show your concern and empathy by maintaining eye contact, nodding your head, and just being present. Sometimes the best parenting is not saying anything at all.
Remove distractions. Isn’t it the worst when you’re talking to someone and they keep looking at their phone or watching TV? You may not notice how often you do it yourself. Set aside a time when you can give your teen your undivided attention. While they may not show it, they truly value this time together.
Control your emotions. Let’s say your teen comes to you and tells you that they did something they know you don’t condone. They likely shared this because they felt guilty and need guidance. You may feel a mixture of emotions such as anger, sadness, disappointment, and maybe even guilt.
You may be tempted to shout, “What were you thinking?” Before you respond like this, tell your child you need to take a few minutes. Take a deep breath, pause, and think about how you are feeling, what your teen most needs from you right now, and then respond in a way you won’t later regret.
Look for the positive. Keeping lines of communication open can be a challenging as teens tend to confide in their friends rather than their parents. During your conversations, listen for moments worth praising. For instance, in the example above, let your teen know you are proud of them for coming to you and being honest. Similarly, if a teen expresses frustration over failing a test or being cut from a team, after hearing them and validating their frustration, you can say, “I know you tried your best and you should be proud of yourself for that.” Trying to find the good in a bad situation can be helpful for your teen, and they will feel more comfortable confiding in you in the future.
Create opportunities for listening. Set aside time for daily (or weekly) conversations. Here are a few suggestions for bonding with your teen.
- Have family meals. Conversation is a huge benefit of having meals together as a family. If your family schedule doesn’t allow for meals together, find another time that works.
- Cook dinner together. Sometimes asking for company while doing a chore, such as cooking dinner, is the perfect way to grab a few minutes to chat with one child at a time.
- Go for a walk. This is a peaceful way to talk about the events of the day.
- Drive somewhere. Being in a car with your teen allows uninterrupted time together. If the conversation is going well, take a longer route.
Continue to keep your heart and mind open to your teen’s feelings. The habits we build now for open communication will set the stage for how our kids talk to us in their teenage years and beyond. Actively listening in a nonjudgmental and respectful way will earn your teen’s trust, build their confidence, and empower them to make their own decisions. Knowing they have your love and support—that you have their back—makes all the difference in raising a healthy teen.