Question: Our teenager complains that we never listen to him. We don’t think the accusation is fair, but we also want him to know that his concerns are important to us. How can we prove that we are indeed paying attention when he talks?


Before you try to convince your teen that you’re listening, make sure that you really are. Practice listening until you’ve perfected the skill. Why do we say this? Because it’s easy for parents to assume that they’re listening to their child when in actuality their brains are busy thinking about other things, making assumptions, or planning out what they’re going to say in reply. Genuine, meaningful communication requires that you put distractions aside, empty your mind of preconceived notions, and devote yourself to hearing what the other person has to say.

What this means in practical terms is that when your teen starts talking, you turn off the TV, put down the newspaper, set the laptop aside, and give him your full attention. Wait to hear the whole story before jumping to conclusions. Stay focused and try to be a careful fact collector. Ask questions instead of rendering an opinion. This will naturally require a significant investment of time and energy. Remember, teenagers can be every bit as demanding as toddlers, only in different ways.

What it means to listen

As you tackle this challenging task, it will be worth bearing in mind what listening is and what it is not. Listening is not the same as agreeing. It’s a demonstration of respect for another person’s feelings and ideas, not necessarily an endorsement of them. In connection with this thought, it’s also important to remember that there’s a vast difference between a conversation and an argument. A conversation, like a dance or a duet, is a delicately balanced two-way operation. It’s an interactive blend of speaking, listening and thinking. Arguing, on the other hand, is mostly speaking (with the volume turned up). If you find a conversation morphing into an argument, end it immediately. Go your separate ways for the time being and agree to revisit the issue when you both cool down and feel you can return to a civil discussion of the facts. If you want your teenager to be "quick to hear and slow to speak" (James 1:19), you need to set the example. As you practice these principles, take time to point them out and discuss them with your son. That will prove that you’re making a serious effort to learn the art of true communication.

If you’d like to talk this over with a member of our staff, please feel free to call Focus on the Family Canada’s counselling department. Our counsellors are available to speak with you Monday through Friday between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Pacific time at 1.800.661.9800. They’d be happy to assist you in any way they can.

© 1999 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. International copyright secured. Used with permission.

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