How to Listen to Your Teen Better in 3 Easy Steps
Have you ever been in this situation?
Someone is talking to you and they stop or ask you a question and you have no idea of what they just said.
I have, my guess is that you have as well. My favorite thing to blame is my iPhone, but deep down I have done this for a large part of my life.
My guess is that you as a parent of a teen or tween have done this as well. Probably more than you would like to admit. I am not saying this to heap shame on us, rather for us to realize what is going on and to take steps to improve this area.
Over and over in the research I read, the #1 protective factor in students not participating in risky/harmful behavior is a healthy relationship with their parent(s).
Here's the thing, healthy relationships can develop and grow from healthy conversations. I would contend that without healthy conversations a healthy relationship is almost impossible. And a major component of healthy communication is healthy listening. I would contend that without healthy listening that healthy communication is not possible.
Below are 3 critical steps to improving your listening skills.
#1 Put Down the Phone
Now this may seem very simple to do.
For me this is difficult. At times I think my iPhone is a body part and attached to me. When I put my phone down I have separation anxiety. You may think I am joking but sadly I don't think I am. The problem comes when my wife is discussing an important topic with me and I don't pay attention to what she is saying because I am looking at something like Facebook or Instagram on my phone. In fact, she tends to not discuss things with me when I am on my phone because she knows that I am not likely to listen to what she is saying. My phone can be a barrier to healthy conversation with my wife.
The same is true for you and your teen. If you have your phone out while talking with your teen you are less likely to be truly listening to your teen. And your teen may not talk with you because they know you are busy on your phone and won't fully listen to them.
So, let's agree to put down our phones when people are talking with us. Especially the teens in our life.
#2 Be Fully Present
Have you had it where someone is talking and while they are talking you start thinking about all of the things you have to do at work? Or the things you need to buy at the store? Or on the bills that you can't forget to pay? If this has happened to you, you are not alone. I would be lying if I said I didn't do this.
Most of the time when people do this when I am talking with them, it makes me feel like they don't care about what I have to say to them. It makes me feel like I am not important to them.
Your teen is the same way. They can tell when you are thinking about other things and not listening to them.
It is going to take some work, but let's be fully present in the conversations that we are in. Your teen will notice and be more likely to talk with you about more topics.
#3 Don't Think About Your Response
Whelp...this one is convicting to me.
When people are talking to me I am constantly thinking about what I am going to say back. Or what advice I am going to give them. And let's be honest, when I am thinking of my response or my advice, I am not listening.
Not at all.
I am listening to myself.
My challenge to you is: when your teen is talking to you, don't think of how you are going to respond or how you feel about it at that moment. Stay in the moment. Listen to understand and not just hear what they are saying.
As I end this, I want to be honest with you. You are going to mess this up. And that is okay. The goal is not perfection but improvement. Take the step that you struggle with the most and work on that. Set up systems to help you with that step. For example if you struggle with being on your phone while your teen is talking, find a place to put your phone for an hour while you are home with your teen or if that is too long start with 30 minutes.
Every little step you take will be one giant step towards healthy listening, which will lead to healthier conversations, which will lead to a healthier relationship with your teen son or daughter. And a healthier relationship with your teen will lead to your teen being socially and sexually healthier.
One last thing. You can do it!!!
Written By: Mike Van Drie
Mike has worked with teens for 13+ years. Mike has been married to Natalie for 10 years. They love living near downtown Holland. Mike prides himself on being left-handed and even has a left-handed clock in his office that confuses the majority of those who glance at it!