Listening to Your Teens

Parenting with Fewer Lectures

I was touched the other day when a young teenager told me how he felt about coming to see me individually. I’d done some work with him and his father together about the young man’s academic difficulties and in efforts to build their relationship.

How a Teen feels when listened to

The teen said to me that he really liked talking to me. He said, “You really listen. You want to listen. You make me feel good to talk. I feel like you really care about what I have to say.” He said, “It’s different than talking to my dad. A lot of times I’ll try to say something, but I know he’s mad or stressed about something and doesn’t really want to hear me. Or if he does hear me, he’ll give me a lecture about something or tell me why I shouldn’t feel what I feel. I feel excited when you listen to me. You come ready to listen and you want to know more, so you make me think more about what I’m saying and I say more.”

Admittedly, this was music to my ears. This is the experience I want people who talk to me to feel. My intention is that as teenagers or parents or couples or individuals talk to me and experience being deeply listened to, they can then go into their own lives and communicate better (both, in listening and talking) with their important people. I like to nurture one’s capacity to listen because inevitably that positive process then spreads into the world.

I also liked how this young man identified the most salient things about listening to teens…

A teenager can tell if the adult really wants to listen and wants to get to know them better. Or if the adult is mostly focused on having their own say and is only “listening” so they can jump in as soon as possible with what their own expectations are.

Listening to a teenager helps them to know their own truth and learn to speak it. Listening also helps a teenager to build confidence about their own ideas and to feel better about themselves – something that they truly need as they enter this world that we and they live in. 

To truly listen to a teen is not to tell them what they should or shouldn’t feel; or do; or that they were wrong in their perspective or always make bad decisions. To truly listen to a teen, one must hear them out, with acceptance, and be receptive and curious enough to help them to figure out a better course of action for themselves, or to know their own feelings better.

This young person’s dad has been listening also and has been great in his responsiveness. He has learned that as he listens better, his son also listens better and they both feel closer to each other and have less conflict between them.

Parent’s distress needs to be listened to, too

Of course, when parents are stressed and distressed about the multitude of things affecting their lives, they may not present the best listening mode to their kids. Our own capacity to listen gets diminished when we’re struggling in some way, so it’s important for parents to make sure they get their own listening needs met by talking to a supportive person, or doing mindfulness, etc. Often a teen thinks his or her parent is mad at them or doesn’t want to be around them if the parent is in a negative mood. The teen will stop coming to the parent with hopes of being heard.

Lectures are not the way to go

My young man realized that when he gets lectured to, he is really not being listened to, and he acknowledged how this made him shut down or hold back whatever he had on his mind. Parents are typically great lecturers. They often see their teen’s expression of some frustration as the perfect cue to give a lecture about what that teen needs to work on, or could do better at, or needs to focus on; or all the things that won’t work out because of that grievance expressed… Often a parent lectures when they’re trying to make the teen into the teen they want them to be, rather than seeing and knowing (and accepting) who they naturally are.

Of course, many of us were lectured at by our own parents, and we don’t realize when those old hurts get triggered by our teen’s expressions and we think surely a good lecture will spare them and us the re-experiencing of that pain. Only it doesn’t actually work that way…

I encourage parents to listen to their teens with openness and curiosity and without judgments. Have the intention to understand rather than find fault or be critical. Remember, if you are talking, you are not listening.

Not just for Teens

These suggestions are helpful in your adult relationships as well. Everyone prefers to be listened to, rather than reacted too. Recently, when I was expressing my grievance to a loved one, I was told “I can’t change how you feel but I can listen to you.” It made such a difference to me that I could be fully listened to, without defense, lecture, argument, condemnation, and in fact it did change my feelings – into something bearable and tempered with understanding. I felt better in me and about me; and closer to my loved one. I was grateful for the courage taken to simply listen, even though it was uncomfortable for both of us. 

I wish you ease and deepening of your relationships when you are mindful about listening to your adolescent, your partner, your loved ones. I’d like to hear from you, about any experiences you’ve had, where you found that listening to your teen, or another loved one, made a difference in how they felt or how you felt. Let me know how that was for you or any struggles you may be having with listening.

For more ideas on how to bring more calm and less worry into your life, click here for a free email course on Mindfulness.

Listening with Heart
Cindi Rivera, MFT

Marriage, Family Therapist
[email protected]
(510) 482-4445


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