How To Really Hear Teenagers

Connecting with teenagers can be tough but being a good listener is a good place to start…

Communicating with teenagers can often be difficult. You might feel as if you’re on two completely different wavelengths. Maybe angst and frustration get in the way of what your teen wants to say. Ultimately, most people just want to be heard and understood, and teens are no different. Being a sympathetic, supportive ear, means you can build a stronger bond with teenagers and become aware of the issues that matter to them most. Train yourself to be a top listener with our top tips:


If your teen is angry, let them vent. Trying to communicate and reason with a hugely frustrated person is almost impossible (and seldom leads to any kind of resolution) so now is the time for listening. Give them the time and space they need to unburden their thoughts and feelings.


Refrain from interrupting, even if you massively object or disagree with something they’ve said. Make a mental note to come back to this point later when they have calmed down. Let them spill everything out, no matter how haphazard. Keep eye contact while they talk to let them know that you are listening to every word.


Wait for a natural break before you respond. Reflect back on what they’ve said to you to let them know that you have been listening. Ask clarifying questions if you’re unsure about anything they’ve said to make sure you fully understand the issues at play.


Channel your inner zen. A good listener is a calm listener. You probably know from experience that getting into a heated discussion or argument rarely helps the situation. Focus on being as calm as you can. It can help to de-escalate tensions if your teen is particularly angry – it’s quite difficult to maintain a level of anger when the person you’re speaking to is as cool as a cucumber!


How you present yourself can make all the difference. Hold your teen’s gaze when they meet your eyes and lean forward to show you are truly engaged with what they are saying. Put down anything you might have been looking at, such as a mobile phone, and give them your full attention. Nod in places where it’s appropriate and don’t jump to fill in silences. The most important thing about body language is to be natural. If you overdo it or it feels forced, it can feel patronising or false.


Young people often feel as if adults diminish their feelings and it’s true that we tend to do this without realising. For example, if a pupil is upset at being ignored by a friend, you might try to ‘patch over’ their feelings by saying something like, “Oh, such and such isn’t that good a friend anyway. You’re better off without them!”.

While this sentiment comes from a good place, it doesn’t really address the issue at heart and can come off as a dismissal of the child’s feelings. Instead, you might want to try saying something along the lines of “I can see why that would be very hurtful’ to validate and show understanding of their hurt feelings.


Be wary of offering examples of your own personal experiences to try and make the teen feel better about their own issue. While we often think it’s helpful to say, “I remember that happened to me and I felt…”, it actually steers the conversation towards you, and away from your teen. This can invoke a sense of resentment or frustration in your teen, who may feel as if they’re not being properly listened to. A simple rule you can keep in mind is to only offer your own experiences if asked for it. Until then, let them talk and listen closely. 


Work with the teen to examine possible resolutions to whatever their issue is. Repeat back the exact same words they used to further reinforce just how closely you’ve been listening to make them feel valued and understood. Together, you can talk over the problem and break it down in more detail.


Now that you’ve given 100% of your attention to what they have said, have a think about what you’ve learned from the experience. Is there anything you’d do or say differently? Perhaps it didn’t go quite as you’d imagined, and you feel as if you’ve somehow failed… please don’t beat yourself up. Learning how to be a good listener takes time and practice, and there will be plenty of other opportunities to try again in the future. Until then, you can always sharpen your listening skills on your partner, friend or even your work colleagues.


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