To parents and caregivers confined with teenagers during this pandemic, there are only two outcomes for yours and your teens’ relationship: an improved connection or a more distant bond. Unless your pre-quaroutine consisted of spending all day together, your relationship cannot remain the same as it was before. This may be a unique time during their adolescence when you have the opportunity to spend quality time together. The following advice can help build the relationship with your teen that you’ve been wanting.
Listen to What Your Teenager Has to Say.
Although it would be great for your teen to jump out of bed, expressing their love and gratitude for you (right after cleaning their rooms without prompting), there is only one person in the relationship you can change: yourself. Improving your listening skills is a great first step in becoming someone your teen wants to be around. Take this time to step back and hear their thoughts, feelings, and beliefs without judgement and without the certainty that “Parents always know best.” That thought process leads to the all-too-familiar argument of “you never listen to me!” If we want an open-minded teen willing to listen, we need to model that. Listening does not mean telling them what to do or how to respond, but rather understanding their feelings and teaching them skills to make better decisions for themselves. Here are six skills you can begin practicing today to improve listening (Center for Creative Leadership):
(Graphic credit: Center for Creative Leadership)
Pay Attention. You don’t just do this with your ears, you do it with every part of your body. While they are speaking, focus on that moment without formulating a response. Try to not cut them off and give them time to finish speaking. Uncross your arms and legs, face their direction, and NEVER check the time. That is an indicator that you have something more important on your mind.
Withhold Judgment. A judgmental response or tone will reassure them that they are not safe being honest and open with you. This is not the time to push your agenda or criticize. Just like you wouldn’t willingly open up to a boss who judges you, your teen won’t either.
Reflect. Paraphrase their thoughts and feelings throughout the conversation. This not only shows that you are actively listening, but gives them the chance to clear up any misunderstanding. For example, your teen says, “I am always the last one picked for teams in gym class!”
Good Response: “It sounds like you’re feeling devalued and left out”
Bad Response: “Well if you went outside more you would be in better shape”
Assuming you used the preferred response, your teen could then confirm that statement or elaborate further.
Clarify. Don’t be afraid to ask for clarification. You and your teen probably use different language and experience different environments. If your teen says that “Britlee threw shade acting like my fit was boujee”, ask for some clarification rather than pretending to know what is going on.
Summarize. After your teen has expressed their thoughts and feelings followed by your reflecting responses and clarifying questions, summarize what you just heard through restating key themes. This allows your teen to feel heard and understood, which is what they are needing and wanting. If you can help your teen to feel that what they say matters, they will feel like they matter.
Share. This is your time for input, coupled with understanding and empathy. Before sharing your own advice, allow your teen to discover solutions for themselves through guiding questions. This is a way to build their self-efficacy while strengthening the relationship. Sometimes your teen knows what the right thing to-do is, they just have not decided to do it. An example question may be “how do you think Damon would feel if you responded that way?” or “what do you think the consequences of that response would be?” You may also share a similar experience you have been through or even an idea that was sparked by something you heard from them. If you do share your advice, make sure that you are not telling them what to do, but offering options.
If you are living with a teenager who feels far away while in the same home, become someone they want to talk to. This listening model can enhance communication in any relationship, especially when communicating with someone who may feel misunderstood. I urge you to not let this unique opportunity pass. Use this time together to strengthen your connection through active listening because building a strong relationship with your teen leads to building a strong teen.
(Cover photo credit to Gerd Altmann)