Many parents understand how hard it can be to talk to their teenagers. They just roll their eyes, show disrespect, and sometimes simply nod their heads just to finish the conversation. But why do they almost always turn sour during moments that feel ripe for connection?
Psychologist Lisa Damour, author of the book Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions into Adulthood, explained that adolescents are like adults such that they may find the best relief from simply articulating their concerns and worries. This is why there is such a maxim among psychologists that most problems feel better when they’re on the outside than on the side, regardless of whether the difficulties are big or small.
Damour’s advice is to let the teens vent. Just let them get it off their chest as they need a “sounding board.” Adults can help by creating the space that teenagers needed to do this, so long as they remember to hold back from adding their own thoughts or interrupting when teens put into words what’s on their minds.
They’re seeking empathy
Empathy is often confused with compassion, sympathy, and pity, which are each reaction to the predicament of others. Yet, empathy involves seeing someone else’s situation from his perspective and sharing his emotions. It is sending the message of “I feel your suffering.” Much of what bothers teens cannot be solved. We can’t prevent their social dramas or fix their broken hearts. It is during these times that they may come to adults or their parents looking for empathy instead of solutions. A sincere “You have every right to be upset” or “Oh man, that stinks” lets them know that you are willing to keep them company in times of distress. You can also express your solidarity by asking if they want you to stay nearby or if it would help if they have some time alone. Ask them if there’s anything you can do that won’t make things feel worse. These may look simple questions but it sends a powerful message that you will stick with them and will not be put off by their distress.
They question the source
Joe Martin of All Pro Dad said that another reason why teenagers don’t listen is that they don’t believe half the things we’re telling them. He said that parents feel almost obligated to pass the life lessons and wisdom to their children. However, as noble as their intentions are, they can sometimes question the source. Martin’s advice is if you really want your teenager to listen to you, don’t ask them to do anything that you’re not willing to do by yourself. It is best to lead by example and not by explanations. “They don’t hear what we say but they watch what we do,” he said.
They’re afraid of disappointing us or of being judged
One of the toughest things to learn when it comes to raising teenagers is when to keep silent. Martin’s advice, based on personal experience, is to control the urge to fix, solve, resolve, and correct every problem that your child has. If your teen tells you something, never be shocked by it because you can never undo it anyway. Instead, ask non-judgmental questions because they will listen to you more because you didn’t react the way they expected and you stayed calm.
Teens who are hurting and are not healed yet can end up hurting themselves and others. Sometimes, their reason why they refuse to listen is that he or she is suffering or hurting in silence and don’t know how to express it. Don’t ignore your teen’s pain because if you do, your teen will also choose to ignore you. As a parent, you don’t need to always have the answer. Just give him a safe place to share their hurt and be the parent who listens with empathy.
Ways to get teens to listen to you
David Schwartz, a licensed Marriage and Family therapist, gave some tips for having an effective conversation with adolescents. First, wait for the right moment. When your teen is frustrated or upset about a situation, it is unlikely for them to hear our point of view. They can become so absorbed in their own issues that they only focus on immediate needs. So, whatever you say may fall on deaf ears. This is why you need to wait for the right moment so that communication will be effective.
Second, avoid being in a reactive state. It is easy to raise your voice if they raise their voices too. However, the less emotional and the calmer we are, the more likely the discussion will have a more positive outcome. Third, if you want respect, give respect. Teens are used to adults playing power trips. If teens know and feel that they are being respected, they will likely have an easier time sharing their thoughts.
Another tip Schwartz said is to listen to establish boundaries of behavior. This means that if the teen is already not reactive and in a good place, you can discuss what is expected of them at home. Teens who are clear about the expectations and boundaries set on them are less likely to have their emotions escalate out of control. As they grow, they are also likely to adhere to these boundaries even if they are under stress or are angry.
UNICEF shares that some 1.2 billion adolescents aged 10-19 years today comprise 16% of the world’s population and more than half of the world’s adolescents live in Asia. Meanwhile, Pew Research Center published that some of the common concerns and challenges of teenagers in the US alone are anxiety and depression with 70% seeing it as a major problem among their peers, followed by bullying (55%), drug addiction (51%), drinking alcohol (45%), poverty (40%), teen pregnancy (34%), and gangs (33%).
It is never easy to face the anger of your teen, who is not getting what they want. However, being able to stay cool under pressure is important. When you are able to understand, listen, and collaborate, teens will also learn how to get through conflict lovingly and calmly and this is fundamental to developing satisfying and healthy relationships.