How to Listen to Teens So They Come Back to Talk
By: Dr. Dana Kornfeld
If there’s one thing I have learned when it comes to communicating with teens (or
communicating with anyone for that matter) it’s that people don’t like to be told what
to do. Behavioral change does not seem to come from other’s advice, warnings,
admonitions, or lectures. So how do we talk to our teens in a way that nurtures the
relationship, helps them grow and develop, and paves the way for connection and
The first thing is don’t talk… listen. Don’t offer advice unless they specifically ask for it.
And so when our teen comes to us to tell us something, whether it is about her day, a
problem with a friendship, or something that she may have done that she is ashamed
of, the key to creating a space where she will continue to feel comfortable coming to
us as her parent is not to criticize, not to lecture, not to tell her what to do, but rather
to listen. To listen carefully and with empathy. To put our self in her shoes, and to
respect her as the individual that she is.
We may feel we have the answer to the problem because we have lived longer and have life experience. That is true, but if we want our children to open up to us, we have to squelch our desire to advise, control, or direct, unless it is specifically asked for. This is hard to do, because we love our children so much and it is painful for us to see them in pain. But emotional growth and change come from finding one’s answers within.
So when your teen comes to you with a problem, just listen and take a moment to think about what he needs. Perhaps it is just empathy. Perhaps it is careful questioning to help steer him to a deeper understanding of the problem. Your child will continue to come to you if he is listened to and respected; if his mistakes are not catastrophized, but honored as the inevitable missteps that occur as he navigates his life.