Most teenagers in a recent study indicated that they want to spend more time with their families and are grateful when their mothers/fathers care enough to make the effort. However, from a parent's view point, the effort is frequently met with a cold shoulder, blank look or the ever ready "shrug of the shoulder."
Here are a few "starting" suggestions to get your teen to listen to you:
Think like adolescents. When I do workshops with adolescents, I ask if they can talk to their moms and dads. Most groan and roll their eyes. I ask them to list their reasons. Here is one list, exactly as they wrote it:
- They try to make us learn from their mistakes, instead of letting us learn from our own.
- They keep bringing up the past.
- If we open up, they will interrupt us and preach.
Whether moms and dads actually do any of these does not matter as much as the fact that many adolescents believe their parents will — so they don’t risk opening up.
Listen to the small stuff. This tests whether adolescents can trust us with the big stuff. Put down what you are doing and give your full attention. Really listen and, at least, nod your head. Then — this is the important thing most of us don’t do — summarize what they told you and how you think they might feel. Do not give advice or ask, "How does that make you feel?" People usually think, "Well if you’d been listening, it would be obvious!" In words that are authentic to you, say something like, "You sound (feeling) because (summarize what) happened."
If they think you don’t understand, they’ll clam up. If you show you are trying to understand but are off-base, they’ll often clarify by sharing more. If you are on the money, they’ll usually keep talking.
Now comes the tricky part. When adolescents open up, they may tell us things we don’t want to hear. We often shut down communication by getting upset, telling them what to do, or minimizing their issues by saying, "It’s not a big deal. Don’t let it get to you. Let it go." It sounds so wise, but to adolescents their issues ARE a big deal and they don’t have much experience in "letting go." Parents, we must realize that if we invite our kids to open up, we have to be ready to handle whatever comes out — and learn how to bite our tongues and not jump in. So what can we do?
The #1 most important skill all moms and dads need to learn is how to ask helpful questions. I’m not talking about fact-finding questions that "grill" adolescents, but questions that "put the ball in the youngster’s court" and help kids think for themselves. Here is an example:
Teen says: "Joey is such a jerk!"
Typical response: "That’s not nice!"
Effective response: "Wow, you sound mad at Joey. What did he do?"
Teen says: "He called me a _____ in front of my friends!"
Typical response: "Well don’t let it bother you."
Effective response: "Jeez, that was hurtful and humiliating! What did you do?"
Now LISTEN – without judging. Decide if he needs to (a) just blow off steam or (b) find a solution. If (b), ask "So what can you do?" Listen to your youngster’s ideas, ask "what would happen if you did that?" and let them decide what to try. If they suggest an unhelpful idea, keep asking, "Then what would happen?" or a leading question that helps them think long-term.
Remember three important points: (1) The quality of the youngster’s solution is not as important as the process by which the youngster reached it. (2) The only way kids will learn to solve their own problems is with practice. Moms and dads can be supportive and helpful by guiding their kids/adolescents through this process without taking over. (3) Some people are internal problem solvers. Encourage them to write down their feelings and ideas.
More tips to get adolescents to listen—
- Make a list of all of the things that your teen gets to do such as talk on the phone, spend time with friends, attend sports, go shopping, play video games, drive the car, etc.
- Make a list of all of the things that you expect from your teen such as chores, homework, attending school, being respectful, honest, and dependable.
- Make a chart with both the privileges and the expectations listed with a place for every day of the week for an entire month.
- Let your teen know that for every expectation they ignore, they will lose a privilege. You have to follow through with what you tell them. You cannot back down. Make sure your lists are correct so that they cannot manipulate you.
- If you are past the chart and have an extreme problem (e.g., drugs, cutting school, having sex), you will need to take extreme measures. You can still make a chart, but in addition to that you should remove everything from their bedroom except for a mattress and clothing for the week. Let them know that you are only required to provide the basics and therefore that is all they are going to get until you can depend on them again. If they squawk about their stuff being gone, you can let them know that as a minor they own nothing and everything under your roof belongs to you.
Points to consider—
- Create teachable moments— Adolescents communicate best with food in front of them or when they don't have to look you straight in the eye. Use drive time to bring up subjects without being judgmental or trying to pry. If you see an incident of violence on TV, you may want to ask your youngster what they think. You then may offer different ways of solving problems. Play "What-if" and don't be surprised at their answers.
- Don't lecture, listen— This is the time in their lives when they are learning to be independent. When you are always ready with advice and answers to problems, you are training them to be dependent on you. You can assist young adults in brainstorming alternative solutions, without sarcasm, nagging or ridicule. If the problem is the youngster's, then allow her to solve it. It is only your problem when the behavior interferes with you. Express confidence to the young adult through words, gestures, and tone of voice.
- It takes a village to raise a youngster— If you are having difficulty communicating, be patient and enlist the assistance of other caring adults who want the best for your youngster. Encourage her to find a mentor and friend such as a grandparent, coach, teacher, clergy or older relative. Adolescents should not rely solely on their peers for important information, conversation, guidance and advice. They need you in their lives, so keep talking. Even though they say "I dunno", they do know you love and care about them. So, hug them when they will let you and most of all, listen to what they have to say, especially when they say, "I love you."
- Parents get frustrated— There are a number of tough subjects that simply must be discussed in a rational, calm and cooperative setting. For instance; school, drinking, drugs, guns, violence, curfews, chores and attitudes are all necessary dialogs that need both sides to share in and listen to. Moms and dads become frustrated and angry and tend to set down the rules, standards and consequences without discussion. If the only time your family talks is when there is a crisis, it will be hard to have cooperation and respect, both of which are necessary to build a true and lasting relationship. It is only through regular calm and open family dialog that parents get to know what their adolescents are feeling and adolescents get to know where their parents stand on issues.
Parenting Strategies for Strong-Willed and Out-of-Control Adolescents