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Teen talks: tune in or tune out?

Updated: May 18, 2023

Do you find your (tw)teen mostly tunes into your voice or tunes out?

Do you find they "seem to be" tuning in (listening) but then they don`t do what you've asked them to do?

Or they've misunderstood you and say "mum, you didn't say that."

When you sit down and talk to them, you feel like your "teen talks" are going nowhere.

Your message is not getting through....

They don't seem to hear you...

Or even care about what you're saying ..... (apathy is a coping strategy when they feel unsafe emotionally to share with you)

Or they hear the "wrong" message.....

And then you get that "glassy look"- that triggers you into a reaction of repeated yelling and negative angry cycles.

You think "Why can`t my teen just do what they're suppose to do, so I don`t have to do it AGAIN!"

You are tired of picking up their wet towel (again), emptying the dishwasher to make room for the piled up dirty dishes they were suppose to clear, or running outside in your PJ`s to catch the trash truck because your teen forgot to take the trash out the night before.

Do you hear yourself saying this:

"How many times do I have to tell you?!"

"I`ve told you a million times to ......... !"

"If your room is not clean by 5pm today, then your phone is gone!"

Behavior is a symptom of something else beneath the surface. In the story of the Titanic, it wasn’t what was above the surface that sunk the ship, it was the thing below the surface.

We want to fix the behavior, and find a solution without understanding the WHY behind the behavior (unmet needs).

Repetitive unhealthy behavior continues because we are looking for a surface solution to a deeper problem. This may work in the short term but in the long term, it creates more emotional disconnection.

As a result, consequences don`t work, and we struggle with our teen relationships.

The "problem" isn’t THE problem. The "problem" is a symptom of the real problem. Look deeper.

Unmet needs can surface into unhealthy, unhelpful or disrespectful behavior. When a teen feels disrespect, their actions reflect this.

What makes you get angry or yell or react out of frustration?

How does it make you feel when your teen is not listening to you?

What do you need?

The need to feel respect and that you are a good parent.

The chances are you and your teen are reacting out of feelings of disrespect.

Perhaps you`ve been using your voice too much and your teen has tuned out?

Three of the biggest things I hear from my students are:

  • My parents don`t listen to me.

  • They don't understand me.

  • Only when I`m doing what I should be doing, then they are happy with me

Teens do not always feel heard and seen. They sense their parents` expectations to perform and conditional love for being "good enough." They feel their value and worth are centered in their actions instead of who they are. They often feel much pressure to behave, perform, and be perfect without messing up.

Parents don`t mean to give this impression but THIS is their child`s perspective. Their perspective is their truth. It`s their narrative. Therefore it`s important for parents to get curious and find ways to empathize, and understand their internal struggles.

If you were constantly moaned at for NOT doing something, how motivated would you be to do better next time?

"You will only perform at a level that matches your internal value of yourself." Ali Pain

The more you voice your disapproval, the worse they feel about themselves and less likely they will change. They need to also feel safe when they fail (again) and share their emotions without parents "reacting."

NOTE: They are hyper sensitive to responses as their brains are still developing. Sometimes parents may not have reacted but your child`s perspective sees a different picture.

Their participation is connected to their perspective

Therefore, open up the conversation to HEAR them and understand their perspective. Then find constructive solutions together - ones that you and your teen co-create, so there is more buy in and motivation to cooperate.

Listening ideas for more teen tune in:

NOTE: This conversation is not done in the heat of the moment. Ask your teen when it would be a good time to talk about these events. Then sit down and plan your questions and make sure you are calm before your "teen talk."

1. Drop your agenda:

Listening is NOT about you. It`s about hearing your teen.

Let go of your agenda to solve the problem of the wet towel, uncleared dishes and trash truck episode! Yes, I know you want the problem solved but trust me on this one....

Solving it TOGETHER AFTER you've heard them will be the SHIFT you need to make to find a better way!

2. Invite them to MUCH as possible:

Use words like:

"Tell me more.."

"Ok....what else?

"Interesting .... I hadn't thought about it that way."

"How else ....did that make you feel?"

"I`m so sorry you felt that way........ that must have been hard for you ....." (empathize)

"Keep going..... I`m listening."

"Anything else?"

Encourage them to get it off their chest and feel safe sharing.

Your role at this point is to listen without getting defensive. Be aware of your facial expressions and tone.

When you feel like jumping in, ask another "tell me more" question! This part helps you stay calm so you listen deeply to hear their perspective.

3. Stop and pause:

Don`t talk yet, breath, count to 5, be calm. Now you can talk when you feel more rational. One cannot think or act in healthy ways when in a hyper-emotional state, just like your teen. "When our emotions are high, our intelligence is low." Unknown

In this phase, you are being the parent you want to be (listener), and not the parent you don`t want to be (lecturer).

4. Ask permission:

The next step is important. Ask your teen if they would like to hear your experience of the unfolding events. This is to make certain you will have them tuned in and ready to listen to you. The chances of them not wanting to hear you is very slim if you have spent time hearing their perspective!

However, if they are used to hearing the "lecturer parent," you need to reassure them. Say, "Ok, I know I`m normally lecturing you, so I won`t do that anymore. I`m trying a new way so please let me know if I sound like I`m lecturing and I will stop."

Then do what you say you will do.

5. KISS:


We know how we can go on and on and on! 5-10 minutes may be enough for your teen.You don`t need to COVER EVERYTHING! You could even divide the conversation into two "talks" if there is more than 10 minutes to share. Less is MORE!

Pay attention to your teens body language and cues that perhaps you are saying too much.

6. Problem solve together:

Ask questions to invite their ideas.

"What suggestions do you have?"

"How about we brain storm some ideas together?"

"We could either do this .. or that? What do you think?"

"What will happen if we/you don`t do .......?" (think up consequences together)

"How will we support each other?" (be mutually supportive and accountable)

What else do you need from me?

NOTE: Consequences do not have to be tangible - they can also be "then our relationship will struggle, or I will nag you or I will feel bad I let you down" etc. Consequences can be parent directed, mutually agreed upon or natural consequences. You are bringing self awareness into the conversation so they realize possible unintentional consequences.

7. End off on a good note:

Make sure you are good and your solutions are clear so check in before you end off.

Get your teen to verbalize or sum up the agreements so they hear THEMSELVES commit to it. There`s more of a chance they will do what THEY SAID and you can hold them accountable to what they decided: "You said you were going to .........?" as apposed to you telling them what they should do!

Quieten down your voice, so they hear their voice. This is way more powerful!

Finally say:

Is there anything else bothering you or are we done?

Then hug and make up or whatever works for you. Connect in a way that is meaningful to your teen.

Say something authentic " I`m proud of you for ......."

"We can do this together.....we will not always get it right but we will keep trying."

"I love you."

How do you get your teen to tune in?

Shift your parenting from lecturer to listener so they hear their voice.

Coaching students in healthier mindsets towards resilient confidence and responsible independence and partnering with parents to create harmony at home and good family communication.

Would you like support in these areas?

I would love to partner with you!

Coaching "draws out" potential and deep listening. "Counsel in the heart of man is like deep water; but a man of understanding will draw it out." Proverbs 20:5

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Thank you Mandi, this was an interesting read and sound advice. I'm trying this more often now and love chatting with our teenage son but its easiest for both us if we're in the kitchen being busy with simple jobs or something similar, it's less intense for him, if we're not face to face.

Mandi Frost
Mandi Frost
May 07, 2023
Replying to

Thank you Diane. Yes I find with teen boys “side by side” doing things together is more organic and less threatening. These can be special times where you get the chance to “drop a few nuggets.” Take care!

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