When asked about their problems with parents, teenagers most often cite not being listened to. Really listening is not always easy. The following suggestions may help.
Give your undivided attention when your teenager wants to talk to you. Don’t read, watch TV, fall asleep or make yourself busy with other tasks. Let them see that your focus is solely on what they are saying.
Develop a courteous tone of voice in communication. Respect brings respect, even in the way we speak. If we talk to our children as we talk to other people, our own children might be more likely to see us as confidants. Gruffness or abruptness can arouse hostility, whereas a pleasant, caring tone of voice can pay great dividends in improved relationships.
Avoid making judgments. Anyone avoids confiding in someone who is critical of his or her behavior. It is not necessary to approve all of your teenager’s behavior, but it is important to understand the feelings involved. Putting yourself in another’s place is not easy, particularly as attitudes, pressures and choices change. Today’s youth face many problems that did not exist when we were growing up. It is a challenge for a parent to be firm about important values while being flexible enough to bend with changing times.
Keep the door open on any subject. Too often, teenagers avoid discussing things that may make their parents feel uncomfortable. Belittling, humiliating and laughing at children can cause deep wounds and short circuit the lines of communication. Teenagers often pay a very high price for not having the right information about many subjects, including sex.
Permit expression of ideas and feelings. Many young people have their own ideas about morality, marriage, work, education, time, money and whatever else is a part of our way of life. Just because their views and philosophies are different from yours does not mean that they feel certain about them. Often young people ‘test’ their ideas in conversation. To communicate, you must be willing to listen first and acknowledge their opinions, even if you alarmed by them. Then give your viewpoints as plainly and honestly as you can, recognizing that love and mutual respect can exist, even when points of view are differ.
Reproduced with kind permission of Suicide Prevention Coalition of Long Island (SPCLI), 2011