How to Listen to your Teens
Amanda Kowal, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Human Development & Family Studies, Human Environmental Sciences, University of Missouri
A great way to learn about what is going on with your teenager is to carefully listen to him or her. Although it sounds easy to just listen, effective listening can be a very active process. When teenagers feel that they are really being listened to, they are more likely to communicate their thoughts and feelings.
One of the hardest things about active listening is stopping yourself from trying to solve your kids’ problems for them. Giving advice, talking about what you did in a similar situation, or sympathizing are all way parents try to help their kids. But when you just listen you’re giving your kids the message that you trust them to solve their own problems.
The purpose of active listening is to let your child know what you heard him or her say. To do this, you repeat back to your child (using different words) your understanding of their thoughts and feelings. The benefits of describing for your child what you think he or she is saying include:
- letting your child know that you are closely listening to him or her
- making sure that you correctly understand what he or she is saying
- helping your child understand his or her emotions and concerns
- opening the door for your child to keep talking
When you use active listening skills you do not offer advice or try to solve your child’s problem for him or her. Rather, you are trying to be a supportive and caring sounding board who listens without judging or criticizing.
Examples of active listening:
- Teen: “I’ll never be cool enough to hang out
with Amy and her crowd.”
Parent: “You think that group of kids won’t like you the way you are.”
Teen: “Right. I wish I was popular and had more friends at school."
- Teen: “I’m too dumb to do algebra – I’ll never
get this stuff.”
Parent: “You are worried that you aren’t smart enough to understand algebra.”
Teen: “Yeah. Sometimes I think I’m the only one who doesn’t get it.”
- Teen: “I don’t hang out with Adam anymore, he’s
Parent: “You don’t like spending time with Adam because you don’t have fun with him?”
Teen: “Well, no, it’s more that he spends all of his time with his girlfriend.”
Importance of Active Listening
- Your children will be more likely to talk to you about their problems and concerns if they feel that you are interested in what they have to say and don’t judge them.
- Openly expressing feelings can make them less powerful. When your kids talk to you about emotions such as fear, anger, and embarrassment, these feelings become easier to deal with.
- Allowing your kids to solve their own problems helps them to be more self confident.
- When your kids feel that you are really care
about what they are saying they feel closer to you –
and you feel closer to them.
Active listening skills don’t always come naturally.
It can take practice to listen carefully and really try
to understand what your kids are saying. It’s hard to
avoid giving them advice, disagreeing with them, or
judging them. The more you practice active listening,
the easier it gets. When you are using active listening
effectively, you’ll learn more about your children and
help them learn to solve their own problems.
Gordon, T. (1976). P.E.T. in Action. Toronto: Bantam Books.
Last Updated 05/05/2009