I am not a parent of a teenager, so I cannot totally understand how hard it is. I have worked with teens for the past ten years, but I do not live day-in and day-out with someone experiencing this emotional and hormonal roller coaster of adolescence. So take my tips with a grain of salt. From my experience counseling teens, here are a few tricks I’ll share with you about listening:
1) Ask them how they are doing…really how they are doing. This will take more questions following the first answer of fine or OK. It may take some creative questions more specific than “How are you?” Like: What happened today at school? Did anything funny happen? What was your favorite part of your day? What sucked? Then, if and when they answer…”tell me more about it” (and really want to know). If they mention someone, ask “What are they like?” Be curious! They may not open up at first, but with some genuine effort and time set aside to just listen—it will happen (at least more so than before).
2) Listen for the emotions before the content of what they are saying. Ask them how they were feeling. If they can’t identify an emotion prompt them with, “were you feeling confused (hurt, anxious, upset, etc.)?” Help them to identify what was going on in them.
3) You don’t need to fix it (most of the time they don’t want you to). Just listen. After you’ve listened for a long while, ask them if they want your help brainstorming what they can do. If they say no, remind them you’re there if they want to talk more about it again another time.
4) Slow down conversations in order to help prevent misunderstandings. Repeat what they are trying to tell you before responding so they feel heard (this also helps us filter initial reactions). Say something like, “So, just so I’m tracking with you…(summarize what they said), is that right?” Before giving your opinion ask what they are thinking/feeling about it. Then and only then, check if they want your feedback.
5) Make time to listen and be really present. Take them out to hot chocolate or ice cream and turn off your phone. Go on a hike or do something else you enjoy together. Genuinely share what you appreciate about them and how you see them growing. Your teen may not ever be able to tell you they need time with you, but they do–they crave it–most of my clients tell me about it.