Listening to Your Teenager

It’s good when parents seem to recognize our teens’ need to grow and change and explore their world around them! This is so important and something that parents find difficult to do.

Teenagers are going through so much these days, not just the physical changes we see, but emotional and psychological ones as well. They have pressure all around them and need us as parents, to understand and nurture.

At school they have to keep up with their peer group, their work load and perhaps even bullies who may form groups to overpower some of the teens they don’t want around. The level of education is far more sophisticated than when we were at school so they have work so much harder at this as well. They are unsure of their body changes, and the teen magazines don’t help as they portray the perfect girl or the perfect boy…and what about keeping up with body image in compared to the rest of their friends! Huge stuff for your teen.

When they come home, parents need to listen carefully to what they are saying, not just with their words but their body language and their actions i.e. they can sleep a lot, want to isolate themselves and listen to their music, are confused about who they are and what they want to be.

How can parents help? For starters, parents can help by not pressuring their teen with loads of questions like:

What do you want to be?‘ or
Why are you behaving like this?’, or name calling/labelling
You’re so lazy and disorganised!‘, or yelling or making unreasonable demands
It’s the weekend, shouldn’t you be studying?‘ or snide remarks
Your hair looks awful like that’.

Home should be the place of support and understanding. When we really listen to what our teens are telling us we can really get to the bottom of their concerns instead of throwing a lot of questions at them. They don’t need lecturing, probing or preaching – they need to connect and they need someone to understand what they are going through. When that someone does tune in, you will get to the bottom of what they are REALLY saying. Furthermore, they will tell you more about their life and begin to trust you enough to come to you again and again.

For example here is a typical teenage conversation:

Mum: How are you darling?  Was school good today?
Teen: I suppose.
Mum: What does that mean ‘I suppose’ ? (PROBING)
Teen: Boring as usual, I hate school.
Mum: Don’t say that, we are paying heaps to send you to school, your father has 3 jobs blah blah blah (LECTURING/PREACHING)
Teen: Oh you don’t understand. How would you?  You don’t have to put up with my teacher all day, I have to! No one understands!
Mum: Of course I understand I went to school too you know so don’t back answer me and be so rude, you think I’m stupid
Teen: Goes to room and slams the door

Here’s the same conversations with Listening and Understanding skills:

Mum: How are you darling?  Was school good today?
Teen: Yeah, I suppose.
Mum: You’re not sure about school lately?
Teen: I’m not sure of anything these days.
Mum: Something is bothering you about school?
Teen: You can say that again, it’s my teacher.
Mum: You’re having some problems with her recently?
Teen: Yeah, she always picks on me and makes me look stupid in front of every one, she’s awful.
Mum: This happens all day or just a particular class?
Teen: Oh just maths, I just don’t get it, other kids get it and if I don’t have the answer, she says ‘sleeping again in class??’ in front of everyone, so embarrassing.
Mum: Sounds like you need help with maths.
Teen: Yep and science too.
Mum: What do you suggest we do about it, any ideas?
Teen: My friend Jamie has a great tutor and he’s never in trouble at school.
Mum: Would you be happy to get some details off Jamie about his tutor?
Teen: Yup, I’ll sms him now!

Notice the second conversation went rather differently? Mum was really listening to her teen and in doing so her teen opened up more and more to tell her what the real issue was and is wasn’t altogether a teacher problem – but the teen trying to cope with maths and science as well. Sometimes, it’s worth controlling our need to probe, question and jump to conclusions so that real connections are made with a wonderful group of kids, called teenagers!

Notice also that mum did not give the teen the solution: "We better find a tutor right away".  Instead she posed the question to the teen "What DO YOU SUGGEST?"  We don’t give our teens (and sometimes little kids as well) the credit they deserve to come up with their own problem solving! A skill they will use forever!

Let their brilliance shine in guiding your teens, they are worth listening to.

Happy chatting mums!


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Thank you for sharing. This is important for us with teenagers.

Amy your right, it is not

Amy your right, it is not easy but very possible. Sometimes we have to look past their attitude without judgment so that we can reach them. Sometimes we have to say we are sorry for hurting their feelings so that we can start all over again. It sure is a confusing time for them and I would not want to be a teenager in 2009 ! LOL. Skippy

Thanks for sharing.

Thanks for sharing. although we as parents know what is the right way to communicate with teen, sometimes it is easier to say than do, especially look at the teen’s attitude.

hope to learn from you.

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