Are you Really Listening (part 1 in a 3-part series)

Do you ever notice that your teen’s eyes glaze over while you’re talking to them? This is a surefire sign you are talking too much and listening too little.

Solid, healthy communication is essential in any relationship, right? When we talk and share our feelings, we feel closer to one another. However, talking is only part of the equation. The other portion - the much larger portion - is listening.

Sadly, this often gets reversed because it is easy to talk and way harder to listen.  When communicating with teens, most parents and adults talk 50% more than what’s necessary. If you’re verbose, you may even say 70% or 80% more than necessary.

Yikes! And, when you are busy doing all that talking, it, again, can be tough, really tough to listen. Anyone can talk, but not everyone listens.

*You* need to be part of the group that listens.

Without the capacity for effective listening, communication becomes irrelevant. This is often what happens with your adolescent. Your words become irrelevant.

Let’s take a step back to illustrate.

As a human, you have a deep desire to be heard. It’s natural. It starts when you were an infant and needed your caregiver to hear your cries. When your caregiver listened and responded to your cries, you, without really even noticing it, felt supported. The words your caregiver said weren’t as important - perhaps they were even irrelevant. The relevance was that he or she listened to you.

On the flip side of this, if your cries went ignored or your caregiver talked without really responding, the message you received was that you weren’t important. You may have even felt abandoned. The framework of that illustration plays out within families all the time.

As the parent, you try to share your thoughts, concerns, feelings, and needs with your child, but they are often ignored or resisted. It likely leaves your feeling unappreciated or undervalued - maybe even abandoned.

And, I see this dynamic every single day with parents of pre-teens and teens. Parents are increasingly frustrated because they don’t feel heard. Your teen may feel the same way.  

We want to flip that so you feel heard, and your child feels heard. When you both feel heard, you both feel you matter, and it paves the way for a deep sense of trust.

Yes, it would be easy to say, “just listen,” and it magically happens. However, listening is a challenge for many. As a parent, you have so much to share. I’m no different. I want to share something and feel heard, too. We get so preoccupied with our own point of view that listening flies out the window, and we do not understand what our child is even saying. The result is often cries from our kids of saying, “You never listen to me!” “You don’t understand anything!” “You don’t care what I have to say!”

Ouch. Those cries hurt. They hurt our children, and they hurt us. They hurt because there is a lot of truth to them. Some may say it’s not a big deal, but that hurt can lead to suffering.

For example, a 15-year-old girl who has been on antidepressants since she was eleven told me, “Sometimes, I wish I could just talk to my parents about how I really feel. But I just make them upset when I tell them my real feelings.”

And, a 12-year-old boy shared, “Nobody cares what I have to say. I’m nothing unless I think or say what they want me to.”

A 14-year-old boy said, “My mom is always too busy when I want to talk and then when something happens, she blows up. She has no clue what’s going on with me.”

And, a 13-year-old girl who cried, “I really want to tell my dad what’s going on but I don’t think he’ll understand. He will probably just get mad, anyway.”

As a single working mom of three teens myself, there have been plenty of times when I, too, have been too busy and too tired to listen to what anyone is saying.

It happens to all of us.  

But being too busy, too tired, too whatever cannot be the norm.

Listening is the key to finding out how kids really feel, what’s important to them, to build trust, and, without a doubt, the best way to look for red flags, challenges, and difficulties.

I want to pause on that part.

Kids who are facing challenges such as depression, anxiety, or other risky behavior rarely turn to adults when they need help. Why? I hate to sound like a broken record, but it’s because they feel the adults in their lives aren’t listening.

You must listen more and talk less so your child feels heard.

So, what does that look like? Well, there are a few things.

(1)  Know that listening is an investment. Start by understanding that listening is an investment. Invest your time and energy in paying attention to what your kids are saying ... both verbally and non-verbally. Invest your time and energy in processing what your kids are saying. Yep, you may hear things that are uninteresting, disturbing, or even just weird you may not feel you need or want to know. When that happens, keep listening. If you are feeling triggered or feel the urge to respond, practice deep breathing or, if you are feeling triggered, ask if you can talk a moment to get a glass of water. This can help you recenter without sending the message you don’t want to hear / don’t like what you are hearing.

(2)  Be willing + open to listen. Be willing ... willing to wait for an answer ... willing to hear something you weren’t expecting ... willing to hear something different from what you thought. Be willing to hear anything and everything. Be willing not to react. Just be willing to be there.

(3)  Pay attention to what they are saying AND doing. Paying attention to what they are saying is a natural bi-product of being willing to listen to what your child is saying. Most parents get this part. However, beyond just paying attention to what he or she is saying, pay attention to what they are doing.

Say wha? Listen to what they are doing?? Yep. Stay tuned for part 2 of this when I share more about LISTENING to what your teen is DOING, not just what he or she is saying.

Again, we will continue this series on “Are You Really Listening?” Until then, it’s your turn. In the comments below, I’d love to hear from you...

  • How do you know you are listening? Does your teen offer you clues?
  • What are your thoughts on listening to reply vs listening? Do you feel there is a difference?

With appreciation,

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