Do These Five Things to Get Your Teens to Listen

How to get your teens to talk to you


One of the hardest things we do as parents is learning to communicate with our teens and tweens. It can feel like the hardest thing in the world to get them to open up and talk to us. Sometimes, we get lucky. Sometimes, they decide to open up. But … what they have to say can be the hardest things for us to hear.

Sometimes, they upset us. At best, we point out how they are wrong, and at our very worst, we yell and scream. We lecture. We offer unsolicited advice. This kind of communication never works well, and often, the result is hurt parties on both sides. When they are gue with us, we continue to react – it’s natural to do so. That’s where the conversation becomes less than satisfying.

In the end, we walk away feeling no better about the situation, and we walk away realizing that the conversation didn’t go how we anticipated. We didn’t get the response we were looking for, and we often find ourselves back at square one – hoping again that they’ll open up and talk to us.

So. What do parents do?

It’s hard to know where you went wrong in the conversation. Take a deep breath, and reflect. Understanding how we react in ways that aren’t helpful while learning how to better respond will help you become much more supportive. When they are feeling troubled, upset, or in need of guidance, your reflection will help them feel much more settled.

These are some common missteps parents make when responding to their tween and teens. This is what NOT to say if you want to create a meaningful and safe place for your child to open up and talk.

These examples stem from a parenting book we highly recommend.  The book is full of cartoons to illustrate common conversations, basic principals, and important skills that we, as parents, can mimic.

You might see some of yourself in these comments. Think and reflect on how you might feel from your adolescent’s perspective. How would you feel if someone responded to you in this manner?

“I don’t think I want to go to college.”

  • “Don’t be ridiculous. Of course, you’re going to college.”
  • “That is the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.”
  • “I can’t believe you would even say that. Do you want to break your grandparents’ hearts?”

“Why do I always have so many chores?”

  • “Because you never do anything else around here except eat and sleep.”
  • “Why do you always have to be the one to complain?”
  • “How come your brother doesn’t give me a hard time when I ask him for help?”

“Our assembly was about drug use today. It was so dumb. All they did was try to scare us.”

  • “Scare you? They’re trying to knock some sense into your head.”
  • “If I ever catch you using drugs, you’ll really have something to be scared of.”
  • “The trouble with you kids today is that you think you know everything. Well, let me tell you, you’ve got a lot to learn.”

“I don’t care if I’ve got a fever. No way am I missing that concert!”

  • “That’s what you think. You’re not going anywhere tonight except bed. “
  • “Why would you want to do anything that stupid? You’re still sick.”
  • “It’s not the end of the world. There’ll be plenty of other concerts. Why don’t you play the band’s latest album, close your eyes, and pretend you’re at the concert?”

What you SHOULD DO So That Your Teen Will Talk To You:

  1. Become more conscious of yourself and your child’s feelings.

Maybe some of the above statements make you laugh. However, I can definitely admit to having some similar, biting comebacks with my kids. Stop for a second and take stock. How do you feel when you respond in this way? How do you think your child might be feeling? Are both of your feelings based in fear, confusion, resentment, or disappointment?

In my experience, parents react out of their own discomfort when their child expresses their feelings. It’s normal for parents to want to push away uncomfortable and upsetting feelings that their child has (and that we have too). We want our kids to be happy.

  1. Understand the cost of your response.

Dismissing your child’s feelings, criticizing their thoughts, and questioning their judgement leads a parent straight to a communication dead end. The child will almost immediately shut down, and your cutting remarks just add to their upset. You aren’t helping them deal with anything.

  1. Listen for what might really be going on.

Listen for hidden messages that your child might be saying. There is a world inside of them that we don’t know about, and that they are trying to process and figure out. We not only need to pay attention to the words that they say, but we also should be curious about how they are feeling. Listen for understanding. Let your kids know that they have been heard.

Begin to listen to the hidden messages that your child might be saying. There is so much more going on inside of them that they are trying to process and figure out. We miss opportunities to really connect with them when we only pay attention to the words they say, rather than being curious about how they are feeling. Listening, seeking to understand, and letting our kids know that they have been heard helps them to know themselves in deeper ways.

  1. Try a new approach.

Here are some ideas of how you can respond differently:

“I don’t know if I want to go to college.”

  • “Sounds as if you’re having some real doubts about it.”
  • “Are you wondering if college is right for you?”
  • “Know what would be cool? If you could look into a crystal ball and see what your life would be like if you didn’t go to college… or if you did.”
  • “Maybe we should go visit a few campuses.”

“Why do I always have so many chores?”

  • “Boy, I hear how much you resent it.”
  • “It’s not your favorite activity. Tomorrow let’s talk about rotating chores. Right now I need your help.”
  • “Wouldn’t it be great if rooms would just clean themselves?”

“Our assembly was about drug use today. It was so dumb. All they did was try to scare us.”

  • “So you think they were exaggerating—trying to frighten kids into staying away from drugs.”
  • “Scare tactics really turn you off.”
  • “Sounds as if you wish adults would give kids straight information and trust them to make responsible decisions.”

“I don’t care if I’ve got a fever. No way am I missing that concert!”

  • “What rotten luck to be sick—on today of all days! You’ve been looking forward to that concert for weeks.”
  • “I know. You had your heart set on going. The problem is, with a fever of 101, you belong in bed.”
  • “Even though you know there will be plenty of other concerts, you sure wish you didn’t have to miss this one.”

5. Focus on feelings first.

In order to focus on your feelings, you need to really reflect back to put into words what you think your child might be feeling. Repress the urge to react with your feelings. Check-in with them first. A simple, “Have I go that right?” will go a long way. Usually, they will correct you, and then will offer more.

Listening will provide your child with the greatest comfort. Feeling heard and feeling valued will create a lasting and important impression on your teen or tween.

You might be asking yourself about your own feelings. When do YOU get a chance to talk about what you think, believe, or value? There will be a chance to share that AFTER you listen to your child. The listening and the seeking to understand their feelings always come first.

In summary:

  • Seek to listen and understand first.
  • Withhold your feelings, criticism, or harsh judgment.
  • Reflect back on what you think your child is feeling or saying.
  • Try it out at home. See what happens.
  • Understand that NONE of us do this perfectly.
  • But also understand that we can get better at it!
  • Let me know how it goes and please share your stories!!


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