Listening is a skill, but very often it gets overlooked when communicating with teens.
Moreover, listening is something that we take for granted. We hear, and we think we respond in the best way possible at any given time.
However, hearing is not the same as listening. Listening is where we concentrate, engage our brains, and consciously seize the moment. Moreover, we are constantly running through a considered response.
3 Effective Ways of Communicating With Teens
When communicating with teens, listening can get sidelined and pushed to the side. But, it is in fact a massively powerful tool. When harnessed, it can open that (firmly closed door) into what your teen is really thinking and feeling.
As we run through life at top speed, we juggle parenting, work, and free time (what’s that??).
In midst of the rush, we reach the next item on our mental checklist:
1. Check-in With Your Teen
‘Are you ok?’
‘Is everything alright?’
And the answer we inevitably get back is ‘Yeah’.
We race on to the next thing on our list, secure in the knowledge that our teen is ok.
But wait, hang on.
Is that really the truth?
Are they really ok?
Or, are they just agreeing with you?
Agreement in a non-committal way is often the strategy employed by your teen, particularly when we ask closed questions – these are the ones that require ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ answers.
From your teen’s point of view, these are probably their preferred type of questions.
A quick ’Yeah’ gives nothing away. It solves the problem of parental intrusion.
It means that they can get back to their friends, social media, gaming (the important things) as quickly as possible.
To pin your teen down try adopting open questions.
These often start with ‘How’, ‘Why’, ‘Who’, ‘What’, ‘When’ and require more than a ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ answer.
If they reply with a one-word response to your open question, or a dismissive grunt, don’t give up, keep going.
‘Tell me why do you feel that way?’
‘How does that look to you?’
‘Share with me, what does that mean to you?’
Oh no! There’s silence.
2. Communicating With Your Teen When in Silence
Take strength, take a breath, smile, nod, and wait.
It may take time, but your teen (like most people) doesn’t like silence.
They find it uncomfortable, but silence is positive, it stretches on and in this space, there is room for thinking.
Most of us jump into the silence and talk.
Keep eye contact with your teen (or on them if they are not looking your way).
Raise your eyebrows, nod, and smile, by doing this you are sending out positive messages.
They may wonder why you are still loitering in their bedroom but don’t back away, push it further, sit down.
Heh, you’ve got all the time in the world, or that’s what your body language says.
At first, after waiting some time you may have to repeat the question and wait. Again allowing that space.
This isn’t the time to scan the bedroom, letting your eyes rest on dirty mugs and discarded clothes.
Resist the urge to scold and instruct, instead, you are there to listen.
Eventually, your patience will pay off.
Initially maybe if only to get you out of their bedroom and return to whatever they were doing.
But once you get your opening, when they share that nugget, keep going.
Keep positive, even if you don’t like what you hear. Keep on with those open questions -the ‘Hows’, the ‘Whys’.
Concentrate on their feelings, keep those silences going.
Often teens don’t share, not only for the obvious reason that it takes effort.
But they often believe that you can’t possibly understand them, that you are diametrically opposed in experience and opinion.
3. Share Your Experience With Your Teen
Telling a story here can be a good strategy.
Make sure that it will have some shock impact of some degree.
This will gain their attention and redefine the boundaries of the conversation.
It will allow them to discuss things that they couldn’t before.
By telling your story you have made the unacceptable acceptable and opened up possibilities.
Keep it short, drop it in, the aim is 20% you talking, 80% them.
Try and show them that you struggle with issues and decisions.
Just as they do.
You don’t know the answer.
Just as they don’t.
Show how you reflected and thought about it. Demonstrate that mistakes are part of learning and that makes us human beings.
When we run so fast through life, we can miss the really important things.
These aren’t the meetings we turned up to on-time, the perfectly cooked meals, not even getting that fantastic promotion.
When we truly reflect on the really important things, are not things, they are the people that we love.
In the end, it is love that really matters.
So, by creating time and space, by moving away from judging and towards connecting.
By asking open questions and allowing the silence to spin its magic.
Build those important bridges that span the void of the teenage years.
We can REALLY listen, to the words, and to the silences. We can step into that teenage world and truly be really there for our children.
To learn more about parenting your teen, check out the links below.
Dr. Caroline Holden is the founder of University Study Success which helps students to reach their potential at university through online courses, mentoring and coaching.