Helping others, encouraging others, are often acts of kindness that have more meaning than you realize. (Catherine Pulsifer)
Often I have parents recount a conversation with their teenager in which they did not realize why the conversation changed into a lecture or monologue, and their teenager did not listen, but instead responded with negativity. How does that happen? It is because as much as a parent is helping with the best of intentions, the parent and teenager need to take the time to listen. Let me give you an example.
It is usually when the teenager has brought home a poor grade, or spent too much money and the classic conversation becomes a battleground. The parent often states their own conclusions, “you are spending too much money, you are not focused on your education” The conversation quickly escalates to a heated debate. The parent genuinely wants the best for their teenager. We all do. While the teenager would like the parent to ask, “what are your goals? What do you want from life?” If you were to ask each participant in this conversation they would be quick to blame the other person for not listening. How often as a parent do you say, “if only (the name) would listen to me it would work out so much better, I know best” While your teenager is saying “why doesn’t mom or dad ever listen to me”. The two are trying to have a conversation but no one is listening. The conversation is really two very strongly opinionated monologues with the goal to get their point across and “win” the conversation. However, is the goal to “win” the conversation or develop the relationship? By the parent focusing on their agenda instead of the teenager, you lose the opportunity to hear what the teenager is trying to communicate and may damage the relationship.
Each of us wants to be heard, accepted, to be known and valued for who we are. Think about how hard it is to receive criticism from someone who we feel does not accept us or value us. We hear the criticism, but we do not react to the criticism. We react to the person giving the criticism, and if we do not feel valued by that person we react negatively to the criticism. Often the criticism falls on deaf ears, or it escalates into an argument, defending our character or the behavior that is being criticized. Our ability to listen to criticism and respond in a positive way, all depends on who is giving the criticism and the relationship that we have with the individual. So our ability to change, to find creative solutions, is dependent on being in a supportive environment, one in which we feel valued.
In the parent-teenager relationship it is important for the teenager to feel accepted, valued, and loved unconditionally. If the teenager feels these emotions, they are more likely to pay attention to what the parent is saying. The conversation will also change from a monologue, with each person trying to “win” the conversation into a dialogue where creativity and change can be encouraged. The best way to do this is to listen. To take the time to understand where and why your teenager received the grade they did, spent the money they did, or did not do something you had asked. As a parent, it is stopping after asking the question and listening. Listening is a powerful tool for changing lives, for showing acceptance. It demonstrates to your teenager that you value what they have to say and will listen.
The challenge for parents is to listen, not to search for what you want to talk about, your hidden agenda, and not to offer advice. I think we can all relate to the sentence that begins, “in my day, or when I was in school.” The sentence that begins with that is offering advice, opinions, and illustrates that as a parent you were not listening to understand but listening to push your agenda. So instead be curious about what your teenager is telling you. Ask a question on what is making you curious. Help your teenager assess their goals, and how to achieve them. Teenagers are developing critical thinking and also trying to discover who they are and what they want to do in their life. As a parent, by facilitating the discussion, asking the curious questions and having your teenager explain and clarify what it is they are trying to do, builds the relationship. This dialogue creates a space where you as a parent can offer suggestions based on the discussion and examine the positive and negatives of those suggestions. It is about developing critical thinking skills and developing positive communication with your teenager.
So take the time to listen. It demonstrates your acceptance of your teenager and their thoughts. Your teenager is most open to being influenced by the parent who accepts and values them. As a parent it is so important to take the time to listen, with the desire to understand. The change from the monologue approach to the opportunity to have a real fierce dialogue about goals will help to build the relationship with your teenager.