Why You Need to Listen to Your Teen

Posted November 19, 2012 by

It is after school, and my 13-year-old daughter and her friends are talking about what happened in school that day, and I am listening.

At first I pretend I don’t hear much as I dole out snacks and waters, but then I chime in with a question about a kid they said was suspended from school for bullying.

“What kind of bullying?” I ask.

My daughter said, “He was harassing another boy for being gay.”

And a friend said, “It’s really sad because the boy who was bullied won’t come to school anymore cause he is so afraid.”

This is a typical day at my house . . . kids talking in my living room with their backpacks strewn about as they share their feelings about school, their thoughts about life, and sometimes just joking around like kids do.

I then casually asked if they knew the bullied boy or his parents.

While my daughter did not, her best friend said, “I’ve known them since I was little. Kids always make fun of him and call him weird, but I have always felt sorry for him.”

We talked for about an hour about the issue of bullies in school, their feelings and their fears. I even found out that my own daughter had been cyberbullied a few times, but that she chose to ignore it.

As the mother of two teenage daughters, I have found that they often share their deepest feelings in the most casual of settings, and often at the most inopportune of times.

That is why it is so very important, say child experts, to both “talk and listen” to your kids, and often.

Listening is the key to finding out how they really feel, and the best way to find out if they are in trouble.

While this may seem like an overly simplistic answer, kids who are depressed and have serious problems often report they don’t have adults “to talk to or turn to” when they need help.

Parents also need to pay attention to what their kids are doing, what their friends are doing, and what kids you don’t even know might be doing.

What they are saying and not saying is also important.

For example, when was the last time you took the time to ask your child how they really felt . . . waited around to hear their answer . . . and were willing to accept an answer you weren’t expecting or didn’t want to hear?

Some comments by teens include: “No one listens to me when I talk; what I say never matters; I feel invisible,” and, “It’s better if I just say nothing at all.”

Sadly, it’s not their friends they are talking about, but the adults in their lives.

Childhood experts say there is no shortcut or “easy way” when it comes to assuring the well being of children.

But the reality is that when parents don’t communicate, kids suffer.

A 15-year-old girl who has been taking anti-depressants since she was ten, said, “Sometimes I wish I could just talk to someone about how I really feel. But I just make people upset when I tell them my real feelings.”

And a 14-year-old boy said, “When I try and talk to my parents, they tell me ‘they’re too busy.’ They’re always busy and they have no idea what’s going on.”

As a busy working mom of three girls, there are plenty of times when I have been too tired to “want to hear anything”, much less what a teenager has to say.

But then I recall my own childhood and how my parents “were always there for me,” and wonder how I might have turned out if they had not been there to listen and to talk.

I also recall the day when I found out my classmate committed suicide . . . when a mom down the street sent her teen to rehab . . . when parents I knew learned their 15-year-old was pregnant . . . and when three teenage boys from my high school died in an alcohol-elated car accident.

That’s why I talk to my kids.

It’s not always convenient, it’s not always fun, and it’s not always meaningful or momentous.

But at least I know that I am tuned in to their lives in some way, and that I may just learn a thing or two about how they are feeling; even if it is something that I don’t want to hear.

And that’s just the key, say childhood experts . . . listening to kids even when you’re not in the mood, because if you don’t, your kids may just keep everything bottled up inside.

According to Lindsay Taliaferro, assistant professor of Health Sciences at the University of Missouri: “Sometimes just talking about their feelings allows young people to articulate what they’re going through and to feel understood, which can provide comfort. Adults don’t need to solve all of a teen’s problems, but they should let the teens know they have a safe person they can talk to.”

Francesca Biller is an award-winning investigative journalist, blogger and Op Ed writer for print, radio, television and the web. For nearly 20 years, she has covered politics, families, popular culture, the media, race and the economy. Awards include The Edward R. Murrow Award, two Golden Mike awards and four Society of Professional Journalists awards for reporting and writing. You can find out more about Francesca here http://open.salon.com/blog/checka and here http://francescabiller.webs.com/.

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  1. Francesca Biller Report

    Hi Ella Mae,
    Thank you for reading my article.
    First of all, let me say that I am sorry for the pain that you are going through with your son.
    The only piece of advice that I can give you as I have not been through the experience that you have, is to seek some professional advice and counseling from those who deal with adult children with similar problems that your son has.
    As a mother, I cannot imagine the pain that you must be going through, and I know that even when your child becomes an adult, they will always “be your child” and that you would do anything to help them.
    Therefore, I would look towards your community for any help that you can find, including any counseling for parents who have adult live-in children, which today is more frequent, as well as into groups like Al Anon which can be a great support for loves ones of people who have some sort of substance abuse, as you said he was in rehab.
    I hope that things get better for you and your son.

  2. Francesca Biller Report

    Hi Amy,
    Thank you for reading my article. You have posed a very good question.
    As the mother of a daughter who is now past her teens, as well as of a preteen daughter and a 13 year-old, I can tell you that I have found myself in the very same situation that you are in, and often!
    Just like adults, as you well know . . . no one can agree with one another or get along all of the time. My younger daughters often tell me what their friends are allowed to do, and incessantly ask me when “they too” will be able to do the same things.
    While teenagers will often try and use whatever they can at their disposal– be it exaggerating, lying or acting overly dramatic in order to get their point of across, we have to remember that “we” are the parents, and expect that they will often not like our answers. And if they “always did” like them, we would most likely be doing something wrong.
    It is okay for teens to be upset and disappointed when they don’t get their way. That is part of growing up. And as parents, it is our job to make the most responsible of decisions without “fearing” we might hurt their feelings.
    Kids actually feel safe and more loved when they have boundaries, and when parents have consistent, fair rules and expectations of them. So don’t be afraid to hear your daughter “how unfair you are treating her”, especially when you know you are doing a good job.

  3. Rebecca Wolfenden, Parental Support Advisor Report

    To Ella Mae: Thank you for writing in. It sounds like you are in a difficult situation with your son right now. It can be so hard when you see your child making these kinds of decisions with his life, and it’s difficult to figure out what the best next step is when there is so much emotion involved. What we find can be helpful is thinking about what you would do if it were a neighbor, or another person involved other than your son. Would you feel like you had to pay the pawn shop in order to allow a neighbor to stay out of jail? Although it is difficult, we encourage you to let your son experience the natural consequences of his actions. It is so hard as a parent to watch your child struggle and make poor choices; however, sometimes those natural consequences can be the best teachers. I am including links to some other articles you might find helpful as you continue to work through this; we wish you the best. Is It Time to Call the Police on Your Child? Assaultive Behavior, Verbal or Physical Abuse, Drugs and Crime Are You a Mother or a Martyr? How Much is Too Much When “Doing” for Your Child?

  4. Rebecca Wolfenden, Parental Support Advisor Report

    To AmyT: It is pretty frustrating when your teenager tells you something that you don’t want to hear. Ultimately, you do have the right as a parent to determine what your house rules are, and what is appropriate for your daughter to do. It is normal for teens to want more freedom, and to think that their parents’ rules are unfair. What can be helpful is letting her know specifically what behavior you would need to see from her in order to earn more freedom. For example, if she is telling you that you are unfair because her curfew is earlier than her friends, you could say, “Your curfew is currently 10PM. In order to have a later curfew, I need to see that you are coming home on time every night for the next 30 days. If you do that, I am willing to let you stay out until 11PM on Fridays and Saturdays. If you do not come home on time, your curfew will stay at 10PM until you can show me that you can handle this.” This helps your teen to feel like she is heard, and also puts the responsibility on her to meet your rules in order to earn more freedom and independence. Janet Lehman talks more about this in her article Parenting Rules and Expectations: “But Everyone Else Is Doing It!” We wish you the best as you continue to work through this.

  5. Ella Mae Report

    I know this is for teen agers but I would like to know about my 33 year old son he still lives at home but i’m having problem with him stealing things and pawning them so that he can get pain medience right now he is in a rehab program but i am wondering if i should pay the pawn shop so the pawn shop won’t press charges against him he already have charges from the people he took things from. please advise me what to do i don’t want to see him go to prison he basically a good son other then this.

  6. AmyT Report

    I actually do listen to my children who are now teenagers, 16, 17 & 19. My only concern which was not mentioned in the article, is what do you say when it is something that you don’t agree with? My daughter will tell me how unfair I treat her because my rules for her as a 16 year old are strict to compared to her friends, so when I am listening to her tell me this and I don’t agree she tells me I’m not listening.



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