It’s easy to assume that adults communicate better than teens; however, having lived with one now for the past several years, I’ve learned that it is not exactly true. Even though, every day, my line of work requires all the skills mentioned below, it’s amazing how quickly I can forget when my own child is standing in front of me, emotions bared and needs upfront.
In my work, when I’ve asked teens what gets in the way of them talking to their parents about the things that are important to them or about any worries they have, this is what often comes up:
“they jump in and try to problem solve like I’m a kid. I usually have the solution, but just need to talk it through and come to it myself. Honestly, I don’t care what they would do, I’m trying to do me. I just need someone to listen who isn’t my own age.”
“my mom gets so emotional when I am worried about things and then I just feel worse – like, if she thinks it’s hard and big deal, then how am I going to handle it all?”
“I feel guilty when I have a bad day or am just in a bad mood – my parents want me to be happy and they work so hard, so I have a good life – but sometimes, things are just crap and I need to be able to feel that.”
“they always tell me a story about what it was like to be my age [frustrated sigh], ugh, they have no idea what it’s like to live now. I’m me, not them and the things that are affecting me are my things, not theirs. I know they mean well, but, really, their stories aren’t relevant when I’m trying to figure out my own life.”
Here are some ways parents can be better listeners from a teenager's point of view:
Be present: One of the most important things parents can do to be better listeners is to be present when their children are speaking to them. This means putting away distractions such as phones, laptops, and TV and giving their full attention to the conversation. This shows teenagers that their parents care about what they have to say and that they value their opinions.
Listen actively: Active listening is another important skill parents should practice. This means giving feedback to the teenager to show that they are paying attention, such as nodding or saying "I see" or "I understand." It also involves asking open-ended questions to encourage teenagers to share more about their thoughts and feelings.
Validate feelings: Parents need to understand that teenagers are going through a lot of changes, and it's not always easy. When teenagers share their feelings, it's important for parents to validate them, even if they don't necessarily agree. This means acknowledging their emotions and showing empathy.
Avoid judgment: Parents should try to avoid being judgmental when their teenagers share their thoughts or feelings. Teenagers may not always make the best decisions, but it's important for parents to approach the conversation with an open mind and avoid criticizing or lecturing.
Be patient & don’t jump in: Sometimes, teenagers may not be able to express themselves clearly or may take longer to share their thoughts. Parents need to be patient and give their teenagers enough time to speak. Interrupting or rushing the conversation can make teenagers feel unheard and unvalued. Also, it’s easy to overreact to initial information so listening to the whole story and gathering more info is imperative.
Don't dismiss concerns: Teenagers may have concerns that seem trivial or insignificant to parents, but it's important not to dismiss them. Parents should take the time to listen and understand their teenagers' worries, even if they seem insignificant in the grand scheme of things.
This is parenting homework – it takes practice. Another thing can go a long way with your teenager is apologizing when you commit the normal mistakes (judging, problem-solving, etc.). Apologizing can take the tension away when you come to an impasse, or when you’re trying to help but it’s taken a drastic turn in the other direction.
If conflict does arise, don’t be afraid to step back, ask them for a moment (or more) to collect yourself, and then return to the conversation with a request to rewind or move forward. You’ll be surprised how forgiving your teen can be when you approach them with humility and respect.