Active Listening: A Communication Tool (page 3)
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?"
Asking questions: a self-evaluation
You can be fairly sure you are using active listening effectively if you:
- Do not assume you know what your teen means; don't try complete the teens statements or say, "I know just how you feel."
- Ask for clarification with questions such as: "What did you mean when you said I have been unfair to you?" or "You said she's crazy what do you mean by crazy? What does she do that is crazy?"
- Check your tone for sincerity. As you are talking to your teen, check that your tone of voice matches your feelings and body language. For example, a parent may sound angry when in reality he or she is concerned for his or her child. However, because the child hears anger he or she becomes more defensive and shuts the parent out.
- Ask open-ended questions that allow for a variety of responses. If you ask closed-ended questions, you limit the range of responses and suggest that you already know what is going to be said.
- Show interest in the speaker and the conversation by saying, "Tell me more about that" or "Keep going , I'm following you."
- Don't give advice until after you have asked for the teen's opinions on the situation, as in "What are some possible solutions to this problem?" or "What do you think should happen?"
Paraphrasing is a tool a you can use to make sure that you understand the message that you think your teen is sending. It is restating the information you just received to make sure you understand it. For example, your child says, "I hate math and the teacher because she never lets us do anything cool!" You might say, "It sounds like youre having a hard time with math and that makes you feel frustrated and bored."
This technique helps parents and teens communicate in several ways.
- First, it helps parents make sure they understood the message correctly.
- Second, by restating or paraphrasing, parents draw further information from their teenage son or daughter.
- Third, paraphrasing allows the teen to know that his or her parents have heard them and are interested in what he or she has to say.
- Fourth, it allows the teen an opportunity to correct any misunderstanding immediately. The following are examples of paraphrasing dialogues (paraphrased responses are italicized):
Example 1: A mother and son are discussing how much TV he should watch during the week.
Mom: "Mike, I'm concerned about how much you've been playing video games and watching television lately. I think we need to set up some kind of schedule to make sure you are finishing your homework and doing other things besides playing video games and watching television."
Son: "But reality shows don't get repeated and if you miss an episode you're lost! And I've got to keep up on my gaming too. All my friends watch this much television and play the same games I do."
Mom: "You'll feel like you're missing out on something if you don't watch all the shows and play all the games your friends do."
Son: "Yes!! Then I'll be the big loser who doesn't know what everyone else is talking about, and loses when I play video games."
Mom: "If you don't know what your friends are talking about, you're afraid you won't fit in and they'll make fun of you."
Son: "Exactly, Mom! That's why I have to watch TV and play video games."
Mom: "Hmm, I can see that TV and video games are important to you. Can you tell me which shows you and your friends like best and when they are on? And, which two video games are the most important to you? What might be some healthy alternatives you can do instead of watching TV and playing video games with your friends on a 'free' night? (favorite sports to play/fun outdoor activities)
Example 2: A father and daughter discuss curfew.
Dad: "Dawn, I'd like for you to come home at 1 a.m. from this party tomorrow night."
Dawn: "Dad, there is just no way. The party is until 2 a.m. and I have to be there until the end.
Dad: "It sounds like this party is a big deal for you, and that being there until the end is important."
Dawn: "Yeah! Jason will be there...and there's going to be a live band...and all my friends will be there! Dad, you just have to let me stay until 2.
Dad: "You're excited about the party and want to make sure you have every opportunity to hang out with your friends and Jason."
Dawn: "Yes, I can't come home before 2."
Dad: "I get that this party means a lot to you, and I am concerned about your safety. Let's get more details about this party--and your ride there and back--and see if we can work something out were both comfortable with."
Empathizing means that you (as a parent) have the ability to put yourself in your teen's shoes. To empathize you must ignore your own, adult perception of the situation for the moment and accept your teens feelings, thoughts, and ideas of the situation as yours. See it through a teen's eyes--during your discussion.
Empathizing does not mean you need to agree with your teen.
Empathizing does not mean you need to give in to your teen, or allow her or him to set her orhis own rules to avoid confrontation.
Empathizing means you do not dismiss what your teen says as ridiculous or silly. Your acceptance of your teenager's thoughts, ideas, and feelings increase the chance that your teen will talk to you about the problems and issues that he or she is facing.
It is easy to know when you are being empathic because:
- Your body language and tone match
- Your tone and your feelings match
- You are focused on what your teen is saying and meaning You are trying to see things from your teen's point of view which requires that:
- You do not impose your feelings, thoughts, and ideas throughout the conversation
- You refrain from immediately giving advice
- You are tired after listening because it takes a great deal of energy
- You ask yourself if you would make that same statement to an adult. If not then think twice about making it.
Results from active listening
- Active listening takes time and practice and does not produce results overnight.
- Usually, each time you and your teen talk, your conversation will get easier and will include more active listening-- not just from you but also from your child.
- You, as the adult, have to lead the way.
1. This document is FCS2151, one of a series of the Family, Youth, and Community Sciences department, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida. Publication: December 1999. Revised: June 2005. Please visit the EDIS Web site at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu.2. Daniel F. Perkins, Ph.D., assistant professor, Human Resource Development, and Kate Fogarty, Ph.D., assistant professor, Youth Development, both of the Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida, Gainesville FL 32611.
This document is copyrighted by the University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) for the people of the State of Florida. UF/IFAS retains all rights under all conventions, but permits free reproduction by all agents and offices of the Cooperative Extension Service and the people of the State of Florida. Permission is granted to others to use these materials in part or in full for educational purposes, provided that full credit is given to the UF/IFAS, citing the publication, its source, and date of publication.
Reprinted with the permission of the University of Florida. © 2008 University of Florida.
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