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Do’s and Don’ts for Getting Teens to Listen

by Jane Wangersky | July 18th, 2022 | Behavior, Teens

Teenagers-and-parents-talkingWhile thinking about this article, I wondered if I really knew anything about getting teens to listen. It’s never easy, and even when you manage to do it you’re usually not sure you’ve succeeded — at least not until much later. But after giving a mandatory safe environment talk to a group of teen volunteers with only minimal whispering in the audience, I realized that I knew something about getting teens not to tune out completely. So here are my do’s and don’ts:

  • Do model good listening yourself. The way you do it is the way your teens will find themselves doing it eventually.
  • Don’t try to use their slang. You won’t be able to keep up with it, for one thing. Also, teens don’t really want you to. It’s okay for parents to be uncool (which probably isn’t even the word for it anymore). That’s good news for those of us who were always uncool anyway.
  • Don’t use your own generation’s slang with teens. It’s one thing to be uncool, it’s another to sound as if you’ve been living under a rock for 25 years.
  • Do be aware of what teens are most likely to listen to you about. In 2002, Dr. Christine Jackson studied how adolescents accepted, or didn’t accept, their parents’ authority on different issues. The short version is: They’ll probably listen to you on drinking and smoking, maybe or maybe not on religion and school, and probably not on music and clothing.
  • Don’t be too predictable. It’s good to be consistent, but asking your teen the same questions about school or whatever, day after day, will tune them out and bring you one-word answers, if any. Try to think of questions to ask that are unique to the day, even if they’re only things like “Is it still raining?”
  • Don’t be too easily shocked — it’s another way to make yourself seem out of touch — or completely unshockable — that will make it look as if you don’t care.
  • Do work within your teen’s attention span. I didn’t give that group of teens the full safe environment presentation, only the parts that were vital for them. Telling them things they didn’t need might’ve made them miss things they did.
  • Do be patient. Say what you need to say and let it sink in without demanding an immediate reaction. Your teen may be silently accepting what you have to say and just not want you to know it yet.
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