Are you dealing with the ever-familiar lament of teenagers everywhere that no one truly listens? Maybe the problem lies not with listening in general, but with their perception of being heard. Do you truly listen to the concerns that they bring to you? Are you listening while you drive, pay bills, talk on the phone or perform one of a multitude of other daily tasks? When dealing with our teenagers it is not only important that we listen, but that they perceive that we are truly hearing what they say.
Start by giving them your undivided attention. It may seem impossible at times, but remember if you don’t listen when they are ready to talk you may never get the opportunity again. Often it takes a teenager hours or even days to gather the courage to approach an adult with something that is bothering them. When they finally approach an adult to express their concerns, and the adult does not stop to listen, or listens as they continue with what they were doing, what message does that send?
From their prospective, we might as well have said, “I am sorry, but you are not important enough for me to listen to.” Since this is not the approach we need to keep lines of communication open, the golden rule when dealing with your teenager is be available. Even if their concerns seem trivial or irrelevant at the time, remember it is important to them. Their concern over the issue at hand makes it valid enough to warrant not only being heard by you, but receiving your undivided attention.
Remember, because they have decided to talk to you does not mean they are looking for you to solve the problem for them. Recognize the fact, that by coming to you with their problem they are taking baby steps towards becoming an adult. As their maturity level grows, they will need you less to actually solve their problems. However, if you learn to listen and to give them advice without judging them, your role as a confidante will continue to grow with their maturity level.
Be an active listener. Listen to them, as you would to a friend, and respond back when appropriate. Pay attention to their facial expressions, and the meaning behind their words to determine exactly what it is they expect from you. Are they looking for that authority figure or do they truly just need a friend to lean on? Your ability to truly listen to what they are saying, and determine the appropriate response will dictate the outcome of this and future conversations.
While communicating with your teenager can be difficult, it does not have to be impossible. Show them the respect that you would give to another adult or a friend. Even if the information that they are relaying to you is upsetting, keep your emotions in check and treat them as an equal.
Being able to maintain an open line of communication with your teenager is imperative in helping them to mature into the responsible adult that you know they can become, but part of the burden for maintaining that communication falls to you. It is your responsibility to be an active participant in every conversation and to give them your undivided attention. Try it just once, and watch that familiar lament fall away and be replaced with conversations that you never dreamed you could share with your teenager.