How to Actively Listen to your Teen
Updated: Dec 19, 2020
Listening is not simply keeping quiet although that is a good place to start. Listening involves empathetic understanding - hearing the unspoken meanings behind the feelings, understanding what the other person is feeling and experiencing. Empathy involves letting go of our own judgement and assumptions, thinking that we already understand but often we are wrong. When we learn how to actively listen to our teens, we show them that we value and appreciate what they have to say.
We have forgotten how to listen well and we need to practice the skill of active listening just as we practice and learn skills like driving, writing, or playing a musical instrument. I believe that parents can create a shift in family dynamics by actively listening! Parents cannot communicate effectively if they don’t listen well.
We are not listening well in this digital age. We are becoming too distracted; we are multitasking; we have a poor attention span and our lives are moving at a faster pace with more consumer convenience in the 21st century. The results show in our relationships: we misunderstand quickly, we speak more freely without careful consideration, we argue more, and we give up on relationships more easily. We don`t always want to take the time to pursue relationships or persevere in relationships. The way people treat one another on social media testifies to this.
When our children or teens do not feel parents are listening to them, they feel disrespected and unappreciated. This creates a cycle of behavior issues due to lack of respect for parents and lack of trust in the relationships. Parents need to build trust with their teens so that teens feel safe to share with their parents.
The number one reason people do not listen well is emotional reactivity. If parents can become less reactive, teens will become less reactive. Regardless of what our teens say to us or how they behave, we are responsible for how we react.
When parents show empathy towards their teens, they learn how to become receptive, non-defensive listeners. Receptive non-defensive listeners give teens permission to get their feelings out so they feel heard. They recognize that what teens say about them or to them is not true but their feelings are. Feelings are fact to the person experiencing them. Non-defensive listeners also know how to handle difficult conversations which empowers parents to remain in control under pressure.
This is the big challenge: Parents need to learn to tolerate a certain amount of anxiety, so that they will develop the courage to engage emotionally intense situations and to resist the fight (attack and defend) or flight (retreat into silence) with teens. Not becoming reactive has a tremendous impact on relationships.
Listening well nurtures trust and respect and communicates value and appreciation which deepens relationships as children and teens feel HEARD
Here are some suggestions that will help parents to listen better:
1. Listen with reflection and rephrasing
Repeat back what you have heard to check clarity and understanding. Sometimes we "think" we have understood but we haven't. Teens & children open up to their parents more willingly if parents take the time to accurately understand for full meaning.
Example: parent to teen: "I really want to understand how you are feeling. Please tell me if I am understanding you correctly. You feel angry when I tell you how to do your chores and you feel that I am never happy with how you do them and it is never good enough." This dialog opens up the conversation about chores as the parent acknowledges how the teen is feeling so that the teen feels heard.
Reflecting offers a wonderful way to build trust as the parent shows appreciation for the teen`s point of view.
2. Listen with your eyes