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Why Your Teen Says You Never Listen

by | Mar 2, 2021 | Parenting Teenagers, Teen Coach Advice | 0 comments

A few weeks ago, I was coaching a teen and listening to her describe an ongoing communication problem with her mom.  

“Erica, all I want is for her to listen to me, but she always interjects her opinion or tries to find a ‘parenting moment’ when I just need her to hear what I am saying.  It’s so frustrating and makes me never want to share what’s going on. She always makes it about her!” 

It’s not uncommon for teens to complain that their parents never listen and just don’t understand.  While this sentiment is sometimes charged with sarcasm and exaggeration, it highlights a core problem with parent-teen communication.   

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Why is it that teens feel their parents aren’t listening and don’t understand? Why do they fly off the handle when parents offer well-meaning advice or even gentle suggestions? 

Understand How Your Teen Feels Heard

Parents tend to have a particular listening style.  Many listen to gather information. Others listen to problem solve or teach a life-lesson.  Some listen to understand.  As you read through the following examples, consider how you tend to listen to your teen.  

Example 1: Listening to Gather Information

Parent:  How is it going at school? Have you had a chance to talk with your math teacher about that grade?

Teen:  It’s going ok.  I did talk with Mr. Smith yesterday and he is so annoying. He didn’t help at all. I don’t know what I am going to do. He thinks I’m stupid and he’ll probably fail me.  I don’t know why I even need math anyway.  

Parent: When is the next test? Do you think we should get in touch with the tutor? What else do you have for homework tonight? Maybe you can spend a little extra time on math. 

Teen: Mom, seriously, you ask so many questions! Don’t worry. I will handle it. 

In this example, your teen feels overwhelmed! Although you are asking important questions so as to gather information, your teen feels caught in an avalanche of inquiry and senses your worry.  She is likely to shut down or shut you out. She does not feel heard or understood. 

Example 2: Listening to Problem Solve or Teach a Life Lesson

Parent:  How is it going at school? Have you had a chance to talk with your math teacher about that grade?

Teen:  It’s going ok.  I did talk with Mr. Smith yesterday and he is so annoying. He didn’t help at all. I don’t know what I am going to do. He thinks I’m stupid and he’ll probably fail me.  I don’t know why I even need math anyway.  

Parent: Honey, Mr. Smith doesn’t think that about you.  You need to change how you’re thinking about him and about math.  You are not stupid. You need to think more positively about yourself.  You need to learn how to deal with challenging subjects, and teachers whom you don’t like.  I had to learn the same lesson when I was your age.  Even today, I have to deal with people at work who annoy me.  This is an important lesson. 

Teen: Seriously mom? 

In this example, your teen feels like you have taken over the conversation.  She doesn’t tune into your suggestions because she feels she is being told what she needs to do, rather than trusted she is capable of figuring it out for herself.  She doesn’t feel her frustration is valid or you understand her experience with a difficult subject. She feels the point of the conversation has gone from her struggle in math to your struggle with math and your present challenges with annoying people. She does not feel heard or understood.  

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Example 3: Listening to Understand 

Parent:  How is it going at school? Have you had a chance to talk with your math teacher about that grade?

Teen:  It’s going ok.  I did talk with Mr. Smith yesterday and he is so annoying. He didn’t help at all. I don’t know what I am going to do. He thinks I’m stupid and he’ll probably fail me.  I don’t know why I even need math anyway.  

Parent: (Nods) That sounds really frustrating.  

Teen: It is! Everyone else gets it. I don’t know what my problem is. Why is it so hard for me? 

Parent:  Would it help to talk with me about some solutions? Perhaps we can come up with some things you could do to improve your grade and feel better about math? 

Teen: I don’t know mom…. 

Parent: Ok, well I am here for you.  I know you can figure this out, but I am happy to talk it through when you’re ready. 

In this example, your teen feels validated.  She will be more receptive to your parenting advice because you asked her if she needed it.  She feels your encouragement and trust that she can overcome challenges, and appreciates your offer to help.  She may or may not take you up on it, but she will walk away feeling heard and understood.

Listening from Her Point of View

To improve communication with your teen, shifting how you listen to her can make a difference.  When you practice listening from her point of view, she will be more receptive, calm, and communicative with you. She will feel heard and understood.  So, next time she is lamenting about a teacher or describing a struggle with a friend, tune in to her words, tone, and body language.  Instead of asking yourself, how can I help her? ask yourself, what is it is like for her to go through this?  Step into her shoes and listen from that place.  Feel what she is feeling.  Listen with the intention of understanding and showing her that you are fully present.   This type of listening will go a long way with your teen and teach her how to listen to others with empathy, non-judgment, and attention. 

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