By Anita Schmidt, LCSW, Family Service therapist
I hear time and again from the adolescents I see in my therapy practice that they do not feel heard by the adults in their lives.
Research suggests that adolescents offer more information when they feel the dialog is with a good listener. As a parent of three adult children, there have been times that I have forgotten to “ask” rather than “tell.” I encourage parents to try to take the time to ask their adolescent a specific question every day, something like “what was the best part of your day?” or “what makes science difficult?” It should be something specific enough that a one-word answer will not suffice. Let them know you comprehended what they said by “reflecting” it back to them (e.g., “You are saying…”). Follow up only with clarifying questions (e.g., “So you are wondering ...?”).
Avoid conversation stoppers such as admonishing, advising, or problem solving. We want very much to make life easy for our kids, but jumping in to solve their problems or advise them can feel like a vote of no confidence. It takes away the autonomy they need to find their own path.
Often, being a good listener means using silence, which allows the speaker time to think things through for themselves. Showing understanding with a simple “uh-huh” or “that must be difficult” is enough to keep them talking it through. It is important for adults to support an adolescent’s process, not to control it. A supportive conversation with a young person can be a gift for both of you.