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Active Listening: A Critical Parenting Tool

Posted: November 7, 2016

Communication is important when parenting, especially with adolescents. Active listening is key to effective communication. Read on to learn more about listening to your teens.

For teens and their parents, adolescence is a time of happiness and troubles. It is also a time when an adolescent breaks from the past and retains some childhood behavior. As a parent of a teenager you may oftentimes feel as though your son or daughter is speaking a completely different language than you. Yet, listening to your children during their teen years is so very important because this is when they are forming their identities and taking ownership of their own values and beliefs. Thus, active listening is an important part of parenting adolescents. Active listening is a communication tool that can help parents and teens speak with each other clearly and be understood.

Active listening is about focusing and concentrating on the person who is speaking. The way parents can show they are actively listening is to do the following three things: ask good questions, paraphrase, and empathize with their teen. First, as a parent you ask questions in a way that allows your teen to feel comfortable about answering truthfully and using his or her own terms. Second, you restate what you heard to make sure that you understood what your teen was saying. Finally, you need to take the time to see things through your teen's eyes and understand how your child is experiencing any given situation. Here we tackle the difficult component of asking questions

Often times questions can seem accusing or blaming to the person asked. A question may make the person feel backed into a corner. For example, if a parent asks his or her teenage son, “You didn’t like the movie, did you?” it is clear that the parent does not approve of the movie and therefore, if the teen did like the movie, he ends up feeling the need to defend his position. Consider how much easier it would have been to respond to the question “What did you think of the movie?”

In order to be a good active listener, you need to make sure that your questions are honest and sincere and that the intent behind questioning is to understand rather than advise, criticize, or pry. Active listening questions intend to:

  • Clarify meanings: “I hear you saying that you are frustrated with Johnny, is that right?”
  • Learn about others' thoughts, feelings, and wants: “Tell me more about your ideas for the project.”
  • Encourage elaboration: “What happened next?” or “How did that make you feel?”
  • Encourage discovery: “What do you feel your options are at this point?”
  • Gather more facts and details: “What happened before this fight took place?”

Contact Information

Daniel Francis Perkins
  • Professor of Human Development and Family Studies
Phone: 814-865-6988