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"You never listen to me!"shouted the angry teenager at her anxious parent.

Updated: Jun 21, 2023

We love them so much, we really want to understand and support them through the difficult teen years, but so many of our attempts at communication end like this.

It's complicated, we are often torn between our desire to be close to them and our desire to be respected and listened to. How is it possible to want to cuddle someone at the same time as wanting to scream at them? There is no handbook, no 'how to' manual, for how to raise your teen. Each family is different, each person is unique, there is no 'one rule that suits all'.

There are a few things you can do though that often improve the situation:

Tip #1 - Check your expectations

What are you hoping to get from this conversation? Is it a friendly chat? A request for information? A complaint? A command?

What are you trying to achieve and what outcome are you hoping for? Take a moment to think about it before you start the communication. You may have found yourself at this point before; how did it go last time? Could you, or should you, change your approach to make the communication more effective?

Tip #2 - Timing is key

What would make you not want to speak or listen to someone? Probably the same for your teen. What do you take into consideration when you need to discuss something with a work colleague or a friend?

Have a think about how you feel when someone is trying to talk to you when you are tired, hungry, stressed, busy or scared. Even things like a full bladder or a period pain can make you less likely to want to engage. Is your teen OK? Is it a good time? And if it is not, can you wait? If you need to have the talk now, is there any way you can make your teen more comfortable? Maybe both sit down with a hot chocolate or a piece of cake?

Tip #3 - Be collaborative

People engage better if they feel included in the process.

Ask for your teen's opinion and input. Use open questions and a collaborative approach. Let them know you don't have all the answers and that you are learning too. Encourage a 'team' feeling, that you're in this together and you can work it out together.

Tip #4 - Actively listen and use reflection

When your teen answers a question or gives their opinion, make sure you listen effectively.

Active listening means stop what you're doing, look at them and listen without thinking about what you are going to say next. Let them finish without interruption. When they've said their piece, reflect back to them what you think they have just said, e.g. "So what you're saying is.....".

This lets them know that you were listening and that you have understood what they were saying. It keeps the topic on them and you are not making it about you. It shows respect to them and their opinion. It also gives them the chance to hear what they've just said and maybe adjust it or take it back. If you have misunderstood then they can correct you (or the way they say it). This is called reflective listening and it is the technique that counsellors use. If you do this before moving the conversation on in any way, they cannot say you were not listening to them (well, they can, but it would seem very unfair even to them!)

Tip #5 - Speak less, touch more

Saying the same thing over and over again, getting progressively more stressed and angry, does not help you or them.

Before you speak, make sure you have their attention. Before you speak, go to them, put your hand gently on their arm, leg or back and make direct eye contact. Keep what you're saying short and easy to understand, say it clearly and assertively (not aggressively). If necessary, remind them of previously agreed consequences, but don't say too much. If it is a 'consequences' situation make sure you carry out any agreed upon consequences for any subsequent negative behaviour; being consistent is very important. Family meetings are the best place to discuss and put in place rules for behaviour and consequences.

Practical tips and techniques like this are exactly what FACE aims to deliver to parents. Go to to see the wide range of topics and support available to help regular parents deal with commonly faced issues.

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