6 tips for listening to teens

In their search for independence, teenagers may seem like they want nothing to do with you. However, they really want and need a listening ear. Here are some ideas that help you become a good listener.

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  • Ah, teenagers. Have you figured them out yet? In their search for independence, they push you away and make you feel like they want nothing to do with you. However, nothing could be further from the truth. Your teenager still wants your love, attention and guidance. He just doesn't always know how to ask. It is up to you to make sure those lines of communication stay open. Here are some ideas on how to be there for your teen.

  • 1. Be available

  • Teenagers can be moody things. Sometimes they feel like talking, and sometimes they don't. The challenge is learning to recognize when they want to talk. Then, making yourself available.

  • I learned this the hard way. From the time she was in kindergarten, my daughter has never been a big talker right after school. She needed her decompression time. However, when she was in high school, driving her home from school each day was a convenient time for me to check in with her. Each afternoon, I'd ask, “How was your day?”

  • One day, she snapped at me, “You don't really care.”

  • I was taken aback. Of course, I cared. However, she was right. I wasn't really showing it when I tried to force her to talk when she wasn't ready.

  • The time your teen chooses to talk might not be convenient. He may linger around your computer while you're trying to meet a deadline, hang around the kitchen while you're cooking dinner, or show up in your room right as you're getting ready for bed. It is tempting to put it off until later, but don't. He might give up trying. Later might be too late.

  • 2. Make eye contact

  • When your teenager wants to talk, give her your full attention. Put down the book you are reading, turn off the TV, or turn away from the computer, and look her in the eye. You will be amazed at how much love and support you can convey through eye contact.

  • 3. Paraphrase or reflect back what your teen is saying

  • Texas Women's University teaches how to be an active listener. They suggest reflecting back what your teen has said to you; showing you have heard and understood what he is trying to communicate. You might use phrases such as,

    • "So what you're saying is..."

    • "Basically, how you felt was..."

    • "In other words..."

    • "What happened was..."

    • "Sounds like you're feeling..."

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  • Paraphrasing also allows your teenager to correct any misunderstandings that might arise.

  • 4. Ask questions

  • if something is unclear to you or you want to move the conversation along. This lets your teen know that you have been listening and care enough to understand what she is trying to say. Use open-ended questions like “How did you feel about that?” or “Can you give me an example?” instead of closed questions that require just a "yes" or "no."

  • 5. Don't judge

  • Our children live in challenging times. They are doing their best to navigate difficult waters. When your teen comes to you with his problems, resist the impulse to judge and correct. Offer advice only when asked. If you berate him or punish him for being honest, he might stop coming to you when he needs help.

  • My son recently told me that he had set a goal not to tell any off-color jokes for a week. It would have been easy for me to lecture him on why telling inappropriate jokes was wrong. Instead, I told him I thought that was great. I offered him encouragement and told him I knew he could do it. Later, he told me he thought it was so great that he could talk to me about things like that. It strengthened his trust in me and reinforced our relationship.

  • 6. Touch

  • Physical touch is another way to communicate and feel connected. I like to reach out and casually hold my daughter's hand while we're chatting. A pat on the arm or back can be reassuring. When you are done talking, give your teenager a hug. It is important for her to know that you love her no matter what she has just shared with you.

  • The teenage years can be challenging. However, they don't have to be. Giving your teen the love, attention and guidance that she's looking for can help you understand her better and bring more peace into your home.

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Shelli Howells is a creative fiction writer, and a mother of six.

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