How good of a listener are you with your teen — even when you are right and they are wrong? Listening is the language of love. The easy route is scolding and lecturing, but the results are often not the same or as powerful as with listening. Sometimes kids just want to talk when they really aren’t looking for a parent’s opinion. Wise parents will learn to quit answering all of their kids questions… before they even ask them!
For older teens, it might help if you ask their permission to share your opinion, saying something like, “Would you mind if I shared with you my perspective?” This sends your teen the clear message that you respect and care for her. Parent expert John Rosemond says that even when it comes to conflict, this principle has the best results:
“The fewer words a parent uses, the more authoritative the parent sounds. The fewer words a parent uses, the clearer the instruction.”
Good listening skills include:
- Giving your undivided attention.
- Looking beyond the content of the words by paying attention to tone and body language.
- Maintaining an accepting and open attitude.
- Using good questions to help clarify your understanding.
1. Watch your tone and body language when you speak.
Your words only convey part of the message. Your tone and body language usually communicate more than the words themselves. For example, saying “good job” when your arms are folded across your chest, while you are rolling your eyes and frowning, more accurately communicates something other than “good job.” Do your best to make sure the message you send is the message you intend.
2. Avoid the silent treatment.
Silence can wreak havoc on communication with your teen. If you need to process your thoughts before you respond verbally, always communicate the purpose of your silence. For example, you could say, “I need some time to consider how to respond. Let’s talk about this after dinner.”
3. Take a time out when emotions are running amok.
When emotions are at extremes, it’s always a good idea to take a cooling-off period to insure better communication can happen later.
4. Break the no-talk rule before it breaks your family.
Healthy families talk on a regular basis. Both parents and teenagers will experience times when they don’t want to talk. That’s a given. But make sure these times are the exception, not the rule. Be intentional to create a culture of conversation in your home.
5. Make family mealtimes conversation times.
I believe it is a great trend that families today are eating more meals together. But with your family’s hectic schedules, it can be tempting to quickly eat and run, moving along to the next activity. So, be proactive to go beyond merely eating. Take advantage of having the family gathered together to engage in conversation.
6. Make bedtime conversation time.
One of the best times to have good communication with teens is bedtime. Yes, bedtime. This might not be the optimal time for you, but remember it’s not about you. It’s about communicating with your teenager. And teenagers’ body clocks are naturally wired to stay up later. When teens are in bed but not asleep, they will likely be more in tune with talking about their day or their problems or whatever is on their minds. This relaxed atmosphere is a springboard for good communication. And these more relaxed conversations are foundational for the other times when you need to have more serious conversations.
7. Have parent-teen dates or hangout times.
By the time kids hit mid-adolescence, they are very focused on their friends and peers. But most are willing to do something fun with their parents; they still like to eat or shop. I recommend having at least a monthly date with your teenager. Let her or him pick the experience, within financial reason. These are great opportunities for casual conversation, and sometimes the time will be right for more serious discussions. But in all cases, these experiences will help build a foundation of healthy communication between you and your teen.
8. Walk around the block.
My good friend (and author and speaker) John Townsend regularly took his sons on a walk around the block. At first they would complain, he said, but by about the second lap around the block, “the floodgates of communication would open.” Whether it is a walk around the block, a cup of coffee at a local café, or shooting hoops together, the bottom line is this: do whatever it takes to keep the communication lines open with your kids.
If your kid is making communication difficult, or if he makes it clear he wants you to stay out of his life, remember your presence still matters. Part of your role in communication is to demonstrate care and connection in a way that means something to him.
Dads who say they communicate their love for their child by working 60 hours a week, yet seldom connect with their children, are just wrong. Moms who constantly say, “Look at all I do for you” but don’t show care and connection in a way their teen understands, are doing it wrong.
Communicating is largely about perception. If your teen’s perception is that you are unavailable to him, your proximity doesn’t matter. To him, you are unavailable. This is why your presence matters. Kids who have a strong sense of connection to their parents are less likely to indulge in at-risk behaviours. So when we think of communication with teens, it really boils down to relationship.