Active Listening: A Communication Tool
For teens and their parents, adolescence is a time of happiness and troubles. It is a time when an adolescent breaks from the past, and yet, retains some childhood behavior. As a parent of a teenager you may often feel as though your son or daughter is speaking a completely different language than you are. Still, listening to your children during their teen years is important because this is the crucial time when they are forming their identities and taking ownership of their own values and beliefs.
Active listening is a vital part of parenting teens. Active listening is a communication tool that can help parents and teens speak with each other clearly and be understood. This document defines active listening skills and demonstrates how to use these skills to strengthen communications between you and your adolescent.
Three types of responses in active listening
Active listening is about focusing on the person who is speaking. An active listener needs to focus full attention on the person who is speaking. The way parents can show they are actively listening is to do the following
• ask good questions,
• listen non-judgmentally,
• paraphrase, and
• empathize with their teen.
First, as a parent, you train yourself to ask questions in a way that allows your teen to feel comfortable about answering truthfully, and about using his or her own words. 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 get some understanding of how your adult-in-process is experiencing a given situation.
Often 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 teenager, "You didn't like the movie, did you?" it is clear that the parent does not approve of the movie and, if the teen did like the movie, he or she ends up feeling the need to defend his or her position. Consider how much easier it would have been to respond to the question "What did you think of the movie?" And once your teen has expressed an opinion, rather than giving yours, ask more questions to encourage your teens further thinking.
Active listening requires the speaker to look at the hidden meaning behind the question. People often ask questions that might make others feel pressured into coming up with the correct response. For example, you might feel pressured when someone close to you asks, "Do you think I have gained weight?" These types of questions tend to put the person being asked on the defensive. Often the person may shut off communication in order to protect him or herself.
In order to be a good active listener, you need to make sure that you ask questions honestly and sincerely. And that the intent behind questioning is to understand rather than advise, criticize, or pry (the prosecuting attorney approach). Through this process, teens will also understand their own thinking by fostering decision-making and planning skills. Active-listening questions intend to:
Clarify meanings: I hear you saying 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?"
Reprinted with the permission of the University of Florida. © 2008 University of Florida.
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