In order to effectively communicate with your teenager, you must be willing to listen to them. Listening is more than hearing their words (and sometimes we don’t even know what those words mean). It is the process of trying to understand.
You have likely been in a conversation with someone that you knew was not hearing you. You probably left feeling as though the entire exchange was a waste of time. You may have even gotten angry about the way that you were treated. Your teenager is no different.
Active listening techniques, when properly used, allow you to fine tune your listening skills. This will allow your teen to feel as though they were heard. When you listen to your teen, listen to understand, rather than to judge the opinions or feelings that your teen is sharing.
When using active listening, you need to remember three points–stop, look and listen
When you are listening, you cannot be otherwise engaged. You need to fully focus on the task at hand – listening for understanding. Put aside other tasks and focus your energy on your teen. They need to feel that you are giving them 100 percent of your focus.
Make eye contact with your teen. Check their body language for signs of underlying stress. Check your own body language as well.
Are your arms crossed or folded across your chest? A person with their arms folded or crossed is more likely in a closed frame of mind and is not listening to the other person.
Are your hands on your hips? This posture sends the message that you are there to judge, lecture or otherwise convince the other person that you are right.
Obviously, this is the big part.
Ask open ended questions for clarification.
Restate what you heard in your own words.
Express empathy for the other person’s feelings. Remember that expressing empathy does not mean agreeing with the other person.
This process takes a lot of patient practice and self control to master, but will greatly benefit the communication that you have with your teen.
To understand how this process looks, let’s imagine that Josh has been late to dinner several nights in a row, breaking a family rule.
Dad: “Josh, we need to talk about what has been happening with dinner. I have some time now, let’s go sit down and talk about this.”
Dad: “We have a rule about coming home in time for dinner, and lately you have not been around. Can you help me see what is going on?”
Josh: “I’ve been helping Matt work on his car and we lose track of time.”
Dad: “You are enjoying the time that you are spending with Matt?”
Josh: “Yeah. It just doesn’t seem that dinner is that important.”
Dad: “Sure, I see. Spending time working on the car and hanging out with Matt is important to you. I can see how you feel.”
Josh: “I never have anything I want to say at dinner. All you do is talk about Julia’s day.”
Dad: “So, you are also feeling left out of the conversations at dinner. I am sorry that you feel that way. Having dinner as a family is important to us. Can we work on this so that you feel more valued during dinner?”
Dad: “Will you come to dinner every night and we will work on it, OK?”
You can foster open communication with your teen by using active listening techniques. Remember with teens and with train wrecks, damage can be minimized if you take the time to stop, look and listen.
A. Lynn Scoresby, founder and president of My Family Track , First Answers , and Achievement Synchrony , and has been a marriage and family psychologist for more than 35 years. He has published more than 20 books and training programs.