How To Really Listen to Your Teen: and help them solve their own problems!

The teenage years are a time of huge change and at times uncertainty.  Be prepared for that and accept that the road for them will be rocky sometimes.

  • Expression of emotion is good.  Rather than discouraging it, it is healthier to express it and manage it if needed.  Pent up emotions eventually cause greater stress and can lead to unintended actions that end up as a final pressure release, and a result of not accepting and dealing with earlier emotions.
  • Empathise and validate emotions.  When your teenager comes home fuming about something, telling them that you can see they are really angry, lets them know that you are acknowledging their emotions and trying to understand what is happening.  Try to put yourself in their shoes for a moment and imagine what it must feel like, eg “that sounds like a really tough day at school.”
  • Set boundaries if you need to.  If your teenager has blown their cool and expressed it inappropriately, you will need to set the boundary.  To do it in a respectful but effective way, you could say something like: “it’s ok to be angry, but it’s not ok to throw things in the house. I’ll be back in 10 minutes and if you are ready we can talk then.
  • After that focus on the problem itself.  For example you can try asking “Did anything happen at school today that is making you feel so upset?”  Give them time to respond.  Watch their face and their body closely.  Patience will pay off here as you take away pressure and give your support.  Once they start talking, you can keep listening and validating their feelings of hurt, isolation, embarrassment, or betrayal.  Do this by reflecting back what you have heard and showing you are keeping up, eg “You felt pretty hurt by your friend because she didn’t stand by you when the others put you down”.
  • Help your teenager to come up with solutions themselves, eg “what can you try next time when you come home angry, instead of throwing your backpack?”  or “What’s another way to show your anger so that others will want to listen to what happened to you?” By doing it this way, you are much more likely to help your teenager come up with ideas that will work for them.

I hope that this has been helpful in some way and you get some ideas that you may be able to use.  What might be one thing that you think you could try?

I would really like to hear from both parents and young people who have either tried these techniques or been involved in conversations using them.


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