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Five steps to better communication with your teenager

By Theresa Miller is the Director of Residential Life at Brehm Preparatory School in Carbondale, Illinois

Parents, how many times have you had a conversation with your teen and walked away feeling like you were not heard? How many times has your teen walked away, saying, "You never listen to me," or something similar?

Remember the last time your teen wanted you to listen to him or her? I know it's unusual for a teenager to take the initiative when it comes to speaking to parents, but surely you can remember at least one instance.

What were you doing when your teen approached you? You were probably busy. Maybe you were unloading groceries, working in the garage, or taking care of some other mundane chore. You mind was probably elsewhere, as well. Maybe you were mumbling something about the house being a mess or the yard needing work, etc.

Put yourself in your teen's place. He or she tentatively approaches, asks if you can talk, but you're so busy or distracted that you don't stop what you're doing or even acknowledge their question. How do you think that makes him or her feel?

Perhaps we should examine the way we communicate with our teenagers and practice our "active listening." Active listening is a way of communicating that focuses on the speaker.

There are many different active listening skills. The following outlines five basic listening skills that will help you communicate with your teenager in a more rewarding and meaningful way.

Step one: stop what you are doing, sit down, and focus on your teen. Be conscious of your body language. If you are sitting there with your arms crossed and your body facing the other direction, it does not provide a good start for communicating. Sit facing your teen and look at his or her face while they are talking. This shows that you care about what your teen has to say!

Step two: stop thinking about what you are going to say while they are talking. We have all done it, but stop it! You are not listening if you are preparing your response. If you have to take a moment to process before you respond, that is okay. It shows you are thinking about what they have said and want to respond accordingly.

Step three: Really listen! Imagine that: actually listening to what your teen is saying. Nod your head; ask questions to keep your teen talking, such as, "Then what," or "What happened after that?" It's called reflective speech; it keeps the conversation going forward and encourages information sharing. What parents doesn't want to know more about what is going on in his or her teen's life?

Step four: Be open-minded about what your teen is saying. Don't decide that the answer is "no" before they even finish talking. By allowing your teen to advocate his or her position and by validating their emotions and/or argument, you are teaching them valuable life skills.

Step five: paraphrase what you are hearing. Repeat what you hear your teen saying using your own words. For instance, you might say, "So, what you're saying is that you would like to borrow the car Friday night, and that you are willing to do all of the yard work before you leave. Is that right?" This ensures that you understand what he or she is trying to communicate. It shows that you are really paying attention to the conversation and care about the interaction. These are just a few of the basic active listening skills that parents can use when they communicate with their teens. By practicing these steps, you will not only make your teen feel better about your relationships, but you will, too!

Parents, you should understand that teens learn how to communicate, problem solve, negotiate, and advocate by watching you!

Theresa Miller is the Director of Residential Life at Brehm Preparatory School in Carbondale, Illinois. She has more than fifteen years experience working with adolescents; the majority as the Associate Administrator for a licensed residential children's home. Before working in residential care, she worked with victims and witnesses of violent crime (children and adults) at the Jackson County State's Attorney's Office and also in the Investigations Unit at the Jackson County Sheriff's Office. She has a Master's Degree in Education and has served on many boards, task forces, and committees throughout the region that address adolescent issues and concerns. Theresa was the recipient of the Minerva Award in 2007 (an award given to a female in the community for outstanding community service and leadership). She received instructor certifications and taught through the Illinois State Police Training and Standards Board and the Non-Violent Physical Crisis Prevention Institute. In addition, she has successfully completed Conflict Resolution Training, Leadership Training, and other supervisory training courses.Contact Brehm at:, by phone at: 618.457.0371, or via email at: .

Disclaimer: Internet Special Education Resources (ISER) provides this information in an effort to help parents find local special education professionals and resources. ISER does not recommend or endorse any particular special education referral source, special educational methodological bias, type of special education professional, or specific special education professional.


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