Learning to Listen to Your Teen

As your teenager storms out of the room, mumbling under her breath, you wonder what just happened. She had come home from school earlier than usual and was very talkative about this new guy in her chemistry class. From what you could gather, he was “totally hot,” fairly smart, and nice. “I’m in love,” sighed your daughter at one point. She also started talking about this party a kid from school was having the next night and how she just had to go or else this new boy would think she was “lame” and never talk to her again. During the conversation you found out that there would be alcohol at this party. The family rules state that no one can go to a party where there will be alcohol. As you reminded your daughter of this and told her she would not be going to this particular party, she went into a rage. “You don’t care about me! You just care about those dumb rules! I’m never going to get any dates because of you! I hate you!” And then she stormed off. “What went wrong?” you wonder.

She is upset, not because she had to follow a certain rule, but because she didn’t feel like you listened to her or tried to understand her point of view. She wanted you to be as excited as she was about this new guy and about her invitation to a party. When you told her she could not go, she was hurt and felt as though you didn’t care about her feelings.

While these conclusions may not be precise, the concepts are. Your teenager wants to be listened to and understood. To avoid damaging the communication lines between you and your teen, you must recognize what you do to sabotage those lines and learn how to listen effectively.

Communication Killers

If your teenager has attempted to share and received an unsatisfactory response, she may stop sharing with you. While falling into a “parental role” will hinder communication, Laurence Steinberg and Ann Levine, authors of You and Your Adolescent, note that criticism and ridicule can also obstruct the process of communication.

Labels, personal attacks, sarcasm, and put downs all fall into this category. Parents sometimes feel that if they do not criticize their child, the child will never learn. But criticism doesn’t make people want to change; it makes them defensive.

Acknowledge your teen’s feelings.

This will give her a chance to talk and unravel her feelings. Avoid saying you know or understand how she feels. This is an immediate turn-off and cannot be completely true. Also hold off with your suggestions to solve the problem. When people are upset, they aren’t ready to hear instant solutions. They just want someone to listen and acknowledge their feelings. 

Take time to listen.

Building a positive relationship takes time. When your teen wants to share, do your best to make the time to listen. If you can’t stop to listen at a particular moment, show that you want to, say why you can’t, and set a definite time to talk.