As teens move toward becoming more independent from their parents/caregivers, they tend to be less inclined to share personal hardships, like feeling hurt by their friends, struggling with their classes, or doing something wrong. When they do share, it can be a valuable opportunity to show them your love and desire to understand them.
When teens make a bid to talk to you about their challenges, respond by letting them know that you’re available for them. You can show that you’re really listening—with warmth and non-judgment—by following these eight tips:
- Make eye contact with your teen as much as possible, while still appearing natural.
- Lean forward and have responsive body language toward your teen.
- Sit straight and remain engaged while your teen is talking to you.
- Keep your full attention on your teen.
- Nod your head in response to what your teen says to you.
- Speak slowly and softly.
- Show empathy through your gestures and body language.
- Be as natural as possible with your teen.
When your teen is vulnerable with you, it helps to acknowledge the courage it took to do so, by saying things like, “Thank you for being so honest. That must have been hard for you to say. Do you want to tell me more?”
As you’re listening attentively, you may sometimes hear teens talk about their regrets. For example, a teen might realize that they acted without thinking things through or they didn’t know how to stand up for themselves and felt trapped. You can show them empathy by saying things like, “Ahh. What an intense feeling to have.”
With non-judgmental listening, teens can feel open to figuring out their own solutions and may make plans about how they might handle a similar situation in the future. You can acknowledge your teen’s initiative and reflection by saying things like, “That’s a big decision. I’m glad to hear it. Thank you for sharing this with me.”
Netta Weinstein, Ph.D., University of Oxford