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How to Get Your Teen to WANT to Listen to You

The biggest challenge when parenting an adolescent is how to get her to listen to you and your advice. You want to protect her from bad decisions and choices. But now that she’s “all grown up” (in her mind), she “knows it all” and does not listen to you. She has transformed from a kid that followed your lead and had everything done for her to a teen that makes her own choices and decisions.

As most parents may have already figured out, you can't make your teenager change if he doesn't want to. No amount of pleading, forcing, or discipline will work. In fact, the more you persist, the more he will rebel. So, instead of “How can I get my teen to listen to me?” …the question should really be “How can I get my teenager to WANT to listen to me?” The answer is to examine the quality of the attachment between you and your teenager. A weak parent-child bond translates to having a deaf teen.

How to get your teen to WANT to listen to you:

1. As a parent, you have to “pretend” that your teen hears you when you speak. If you know he has no hearing problems and doesn’t have headphones on, then assume he can hear you. Look at him and state the rules in a clear, calm manner. For example, “In order to go to the movies with your friends this coming Friday night, you need to be back home by 8:00 PM tonight. I know you really want to see that movie, so be sure to be home by 8:00.” If your teen claims he didn’t hear you (after he returns home at midnight), rather than arguing about his listening skills, state the following: “You knew the rules. You didn’t make it home by 8:00 PM, so no movie this weekend. We can try this again next week. If you meet your curfew, you can go to the movies with your friends next Friday.” Don’t get pulled into a power struggle. If he tries to push your buttons, simply leave the room.

2. Be as consistent as possible. Disciplining your teen’s poor choices one week – and then letting it slide the next – sends a mixed message. Maybe you were too tired to care if she didn’t do her homework. So, then what your adolescent thinks is “When dad has had a long day, I can skip doing homework.” For rules to be effective, they must be enforced dependably.

3. If you are hesitant to implement some “tough love” with your teen for her poor behavioral choices, you also guarantee that she will NOT listen to you. If an adolescent feels that she can do as she pleases without any significant consequences, you can bet that she will do just that. Sure, be compassionate and show unconditional love, but do not be afraid to show your adolescent that her poor choices ALWAYS have associated consequences.

4. Pick your battles carefully. Coming home at midnight may be more risky to your adolescent than not cleaning up his room when asked. Of course, don't ignore blatant disregard for a rule (no matter how small), but at the same time, don't lose your cool over a dirty bedroom. Loss of computer privileges until his bedroom is picked up is a more appropriate response than the loss of the computer for an entire week.

5. Often times, an adolescent fails to listen to her parents because she thinks they only want to spoil her fun. The "Because I said so" comment may work for younger children, but in the teenage years, those are “fighting words” that will only sow seeds of rebellion. So, don’t bark-out commands. Instead, open the doors of communication and explain how choices have consequences. For instance, if your adolescent wants to attend a party where alcohol will probably be available, don’t just say "NO WAY!" Instead, explain how such situations pose serious risks.

6. When your teenager challenges your rules, keep the conversation focused on your expectations, not on your adolescent’s ideas about fairness. If you have to “defend” your rules, it gives your teen the impression that the rules are negotiable. Rather than arguing about your rules, simply state the facts (e.g., “I know you don’t like the rules, and you prefer to ignore me. But the truth is this: You don’t have to like the rules, you just have to find a way to follow them.”).

7. When your teenager ignores you or pretends not to hear, remember that it is a “control issue.” She wants to be “in charge” now that she is “all grown up.” Even if you're annoyed, keep our cool. You don’t have to attend every “war-of-wills party” you’re invited to. Sometimes it best to ignore that fact that she ignored you.

8. If you truly want your adolescent to listen to you, you need to listen to his problems and concerns too. Listen without judgment, asking questions and taking a genuine interest in his life. Allow him to openly share any objections he has about the issues at hand, and respond in a way that shows you really understand his concerns. This isn’t to say that you should compromise on the house rules necessarily, but you can be sympathetic to your adolescent's frustrations. If he says that a rule isn’t fair, ask him to elaborate. Be open to the idea that some rules may need to be adjusted in order for them to appear fair. For example, maybe an 11:00 PM curfew on Saturday nights isn’t fair because he wants to attend a movie with friends that doesn’t start until 10:00 PM. He would have to miss the ending of the movie to be home on time. Maybe he could have an 11:30 PM curfew (just on some Saturday nights).

9. Offer rewards, not just consequences. For example, for feeding the dogs all week, he can have an extra 30 minutes on his curfew. For taking his little brother to baseball practice, he can borrow the car Friday night. Rewards are incentives to “Listen to my advice and rules.”

10. Pick the right time to talk to your teen about “the rules.” For example, starting this conversation while your adolescent is engrossed in a video game may make the conversation feel like a penalty of sorts …or when your adolescent has just come home from school, he may have other things on his mind and may not be able to focus on the “You need to listen to me” conversation. Make an appointment. For example, take him out to dinner, wait until the evening meal, or wait until bedtime when you have both had a chance to wind down.

11. If you want your adolescent to be open to communication and willing to listen, don’t treat him as a subordinate. Instead, treat him as a contributing and valuable member of the family. Let him take part in important family decisions. Listen to his opinions. Support his goals. Take time to remind him that he is loved unconditionally. The more he feels respected and valued, the more willing he will be to listen to your advice.

12. Lastly, write the rules down and post them somewhere prominent. If your rules are written, there is little room for misinterpretation. Sit down with your adolescent and have her read the rules aloud to you. This gives her a chance to ask questions and make comments. Revisions to the rules (the first draft anyway) may need to take place as well.

My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

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