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Listening to Teens: Ignore the Impulse to Tell Them What to Do

Your teenager starts to explain his perspective and you immediately hear the flaws in his logic. The next natural step is to point out the problems with his reasoning followed by an overwhelming temptation to give advice—even though you know that the conversation will end in frustration and disappointment.

Do Parents Know Best?

Yet, you live with the faint hope that today might be different; today he will listen and understand.

When it doesn’t happen (as it likely won’t) you might try to comfort yourself with the idea that some of what you said might do some good, one day. It may feel hopeless sometimes, but, like most parents, you just keep repeating the cycle.

In reality, I believe that trying to get through to your teenager stems from a bit of both narcissism and fear. The narcissism: the assumption that you know what’s best for your teen. The fear: if they don’t do what you say, they may end up hurt or failing.

When Not To Give Advice

What if your teen occasionally knows what is best? What if suffering occasionally is a good thing? And if your teen manages to solve the problem in his own way, despite ignoring your advice—that may be the most frustrating of all.

I recommend that instead of giving advice to teenagers immediately, you listen to your teenager. Listen very carefully and try to understand where he is coming from. This approach has much more power than you realize. Listen, and then repeat his thoughts back to him.

It is helpful for teenagers to hear their thoughts and feelings reflected back to them so they can try to solve their own problems.

What Happens When We Listen to Our Teens?

Parents are surprised to learn that if you avoid giving advice and lecturing, by listening very closely and encouraging teenagers to talk about what is happening, they often come to their own reasonable conclusions.

Parents are in a tough position. After years of life experiences, they already know the deal and can think of several possible solutions. But for teenagers, the experience is new and difficult, so watching them struggle through it can be tedious and excruciating. But, trust me, if you give them enough time to process the problem, they too can get to a solution.

Think of it in terms of the teenage mind. Teenagers go to school all day with teachers who lecture them, give assignments and set rules. Then they come home where they have responsibilities and are subject to parental authority. Give your teenagers the gift of time and patience. Let them develop the trust that you will act as a sounding board so they can think about their own solutions to their own problems.

Be there and listen. It’s invaluable.

Miguel Brown has been working with teenagers for more than 10 years. You can find Miguel at Miami Teen Counseling or on Facebook and Twitter.

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