How to Improve Communication with Teens

Almost every adult wants a magic formula that will make conversations with teens easier. There actually is one, but it’s likely not what you expected or want to hear. Communication with teens always improves when we practice active listening.

Most of us aren’t as good at listening as we’d like to think. Hearing someone talk is different from concentrating on what that person is saying. Active listening occurs when you are not thinking about anything else other than what is being said to you. Parents who actively listen to their teenagers have closer relationships with their children and improve their children’s chances of a successful adulthood.

Improving your listening skills is easy to do with practice and the helpful tips listed below. You can teach these tips to your teen to improve their communication skills, but more importantly, you can use them yourself.

Body Language

Check your body language to ensure you’re showing interest in what the speaker is saying:

  • Make eye contact which indicates respect and that you are giving your full attention to the speaker. (However, too much eye contact can be intimidating, especially to teens, so don’t turn it into a staring contest.)
  • Avoid crossed arms or crossed legs, which can make you look annoyed or defensive.
  • Lean slightly forward with your body or give a slight tilt of your head to seem interested.
  • Avoid rubbing your eyes or head, which communicates distress.
  • Nod and/or smile where appropriate, which encourages the speaker to continue.
  • Avoid looking at your watch, fidgeting, yawning, or playing with your hair or fingernails, all of which communicate boredom.

Active Listening Basics

Becoming an active listener is all about respect and understanding. It can take time to replace bad listening habits with these new ones, but all of your relationships will improve if you regularly practice these principles:

  • Don’t interrupt. Being interrupted is frustrating for the other person – it gives the impression that you think you’re more important, or that you don’t have time for what they have to say. If you are naturally a quicker thinker or speaker, force yourself to slow down so that the other person can express themselves.
  • Don’t plan. When someone is speaking to you, you should be spending your energy trying to understand their viewpoint or feelings, not trying to think about what you will say back to them. You can’t listen and prepare at the same time. Work to fully appreciate what the other person is trying to communicate before you offer any response.
  • Ask questions. When actively listening, your goal is to understand the other person’s message. That means you should ask questions to clarify what the speaker is saying. It reminds the speaker that you are listening attentively and that you are truly concerned and/or interested. Be sure to let the speaker finish talking before asking any questions. Make sure your questions are open-ended, such as, “Do you mean ____?” or “How did that make you feel?”
  • Don’t judge or jump to conclusions. Try not to react emotionally to what’s being said, but instead focus on trying to understand the speaker’s message. Equally, don’t assume that you know what they will say next. Listening closely to someone and working to understand their viewpoint does NOT mean that you have to agree or disagree with them. You can make someone feel heard and understood without believing they are correct or offering your own opinion.
  • Don’t solve. When someone shares their opinion or problem with you, they are more than likely just trying to get things off their chest. You do not need to offer any advice. If you feel that you have something important to share, ask the speaker if they would like to hear your suggestion before offering unsolicited advice.
  • Summarize. Once the person has stopped talking, paraphrase what you heard them say. You might say, “what I’m hearing is…” or “sounds like you’re saying…” and then let them correct you where appropriate. Although summarizing might feel awkward, it does two important things: it shows the speaker that you are paying attention and it helps avoid misunderstandings which reduces the potential for conflict.

Final Thoughts…

When you actively listen to someone, you are letting them know that you care about what they are saying and that you are concerned for their well-being. Truly listening to children builds trust and lets them know that adults are interested in their thoughts, ideas and feelings, even if they still don’t get their own way. Additionally, these techniques will help your teen in adulthood, so teaching and role modeling this type of listening will prepare your child for success.

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