Active and Empathetic Listening:
You will often hear teens complain that their parents don’t listen to them. This can be frustrating to a teen since when they do try to communicate with their parents but they are feeling like they are not being heard. This in turn will often make them not want to communicate with their parents.
To help your teen feel that you are hearing them, make sure you are actively listening. Actively listening involves making sure you are giving them your full attention and then repeating back to them their major points. If you are doing something else while talking to them, you may not hear everything they say and they won’t feel like you are listening to them. By repeating back to them the major points that they made, they will know that you really heard what they said and it will allow them to clarify if needed.
It helps to also focus on what you perceive your child’s emotions are at the time of the conversation. You can say, “I gather you’re really angry about this.” This allows you to avoid misunderstanding how they feel but also help them identify how they may be feeling.
The key to empathy is to listen without judgement and connect with them on an emotional level. If your child is complaining about a teacher or peer, try not to lecture them but rather validate their feelings and offer empathy, support and guidance.
Talking with your Teens:
Spend time talking with your teens about different thoughts, ideas, observations and topics. This opens the door for having meaningful conversations that allows your teen to open themselves up to giving you some insight into their lives, experiences, beliefs and opinions. These types of conversations will reassure you that you are doing a good job as a parent, or will tip you off that you may need to watch for something. When talking to your teen, consider the following:
- Avoid lecturing
- Don’t act as if you know all the answers
- Keep any judgemental thoughts to yourself
- Allow your child to talk without interruption so that he can get to his/her point.
- Show respect for your teen’s point of view, even if you don’t agree with it.
Developing Opportunities for Communication:
Often times, parents and children have very busy schedules due to work, school, sports and afterschool activities. It’s important to make time to communicate and have face-to-face time. Below are a few ways in which to do this:
- Build structure -- consider making a few dinners a week with the family mandatory
- Seize the moment -- talk with you child whenever you have the opportunity. i.e.: in the car or over breakfast
- Eliminate distractions -- cut down on phone and TV time in order to promote conversations
By beginning to engage in the above, you will be able to improve your communication and ultimately your relationship with your teen. It won’t always be easy and there will be times that you do lecture or don’t actively listen. But take those opportunities to apologize and then correct your behavior. By doing this, you will also be modeling how to accept responsibility and be accountable for your actions. Your teens will appreciate this.