How to Listen to Your Teenager

How to Listen to your Teenager

In the present society, it is so easy for teenagers to tune out the world around them and immerse themselves into their world. 

A lot of times for us parents, this can look us feeling like we have to scream at the top of our lungs to try and get them to listen. 

Still, no matter how loud we get, we watch those headphones go into the ears as they saunter away from us, shaking their head while we feel frustrated and defeated. 

If you have ever had this experience, chances are you are feeling disconnected from your teen. 

So, how can we foster a connection with them? 

How can we reconnect like those times when they were little and wanted to be around us 24/7?

Well, maybe we DON'T want to hear about youtube gamers and TikToks 24/7, but we do miss that connection; and that connection starts with listening. 

So, let's begin by breaking down how we can proactively listen to our teens and show them that we do care about what they are saying, how they are saying it, and support them through whatever process they are expressing to us. 


Practice Being Fully and Mindfully Present

As an adolescent and adult therapist, one of the most common merry-go-rounds of communication that I see are parents complaining,...

"My teen is so defiant, does what they want, and absolutely will not listen to me."

On the other side, teenagers are most commonly saying,...

"I wish my parent took the time to listen to me and understand what I am going through. They would know why I have trouble getting homework done or slamming doors when I am mad."

Let's start with the parents. 

A lot of times parents are distracted by LIFE when their teens are trying to talk to them, whether it be checking messages on their phones, making soccer practice on time, having a healthy meal, cleaning up a broken dish, breaking up an argument, you name it. 

This can feel dismissive to our teens and lead them to retreat inside themselves, having more of a reluctance for opening up to us parents. 

So, let's remove all distractions, including the phone, and be FULLY present. 

We can show our presence by having body language of facing forward, eye contact, nodding our head to show engagement, and genuinely feeling like we are listening and showing support to our teens. 

Body language is generally the most telling of how invested we are in what they are saying. 


Show Them We Care

So your kid wants to talk to you about this Youtuber for the tenth time. 

While a lot of us Millennial and Gen X parents cannot relate to this youtube obsession, our kids are super into it for their own reasons. 

Maybe it is a virtual reality that helps them escape bullying, maybe they are learning a lot about how to create, who knows. However, the most important thing is that it is THEIR interest. 

Let's show them we are interested in what they are talking about. As a therapist, I have learned that while these conversations may seem pointless and mundane, there is always a deeper meaning to the endless chatter about Minecraft, a Youtuber, or a person on TikTok. 

If we care enough to listen deeply, we might find out more than we thought we would. Perhaps the Tiktok person is talking about a new wave or style of cyberbullying, something we had no idea about that is affecting our teens. 

Maybe the reason your teen keeps talking about building a farm in Minecraft is that they miss living on a farm after the big move to the city. 

Whatever it is, show interest and be mindful of the deeper meanings. Or, there is a new trend for deviant behavior. 

One I recently learned about was kids and teens stealing soap and hand sanitizer dispensers. While something like this may leave us with our heads scratching, it's possible there is more to it. 

Maybe our child got caught up in the behavior as an attempt to fit in, showing deeper insecurities and perhaps lower self-esteem. All in all, let's show we care! 

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Wait Your Turn to Speak

This goes without saying, don't interrupt.

We can practice active listening by listening to hear, not to respond.

A lot of us instinctually have our responses brewing in our heads waiting for the best opportunity to jump in with a piece of advice, education, etc. 

I can tell you that as a therapist, 99% of the time teens don't want to be educated or want advice. In fact, most people, in general, do not want this and would rather feel like the other person is hearing, listening, and offering emotional support versus 'what to do.' 

Teens just want to feel heard. 

So, we can listen to hear and offer validating responses when it is our turn to speak, by seeing if the teen has taken the time to pause or take a break from speaking. 

Examples of validating responses include: 

  • "That girl at school does sound really mean. It must have really hurt when she bullied you about your weight." 
  • "Yeah, Algebra 2 can be really challenging and confusing. It sounds like you are doing your best."  

Ask questions

This also goes without saying, by asking questions we are showing interest. 

However, we want to make sure the questions are fostering the connection between what our teen is telling us and what they are looking for in terms of support. 

If they are telling us about a game, someone, on Youtube records videos playing, maybe we ask about the gamer or the game and what their favorite parts are. 

If they are discussing a TikTok trend among teens, maybe we ask them how they feel about their peers at school.


Conclusion

Ultimately though, sit down, practice mindful awareness of thoughts, feelings, and the environment while remaining fully present for your teen. 

We want them to feel safe to express whatever it is that is on their mind. 

We also want to be mindful of our own reactions to these thoughts and feelings and stay grounded as best as possible. 

By following the steps listed above, You will begin to know more and more about their lives and feel a deeper connection with your teen(s). 


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December 8th, 2022

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