What is true listening? Dr. James Jones suggests that true listening is not advise, counsel or trying to solve problems. Listening is just hearing what your troubled teen has to say. Parents often respond to a teen with comments that are judgmental, advisory or are non- accepting in some way. These responses “close” or shut down the conversation and do not promote further dialogue.
Closed responses also “discount” the other person.
Open responses are a much more productive method of communicating with a defiant teenager. These responses are nonjudgmental and have no suggestions or solutions. The response is one of simply accepting what is being said. These responses reflect both the content and the feelings the child is projecting to you as the parent.
In the book Let’s Fix the Kids by Dr. James Jones, he gives an example of closed parent response and an example of open parent response.
Closed parent response
My science teacher gave me a “C” on that science project. I can’t believe it!
- I told you to type it but you won’t ever listen will you?
- Don’t complain; we get what we deserve.
- Teachers aren’t unfair; what did you mess up this time?
These are called “closed responses” because they effectively close down communication between a parent and a struggling teenager. They are usually “put-downs” in the form of giving advice or criticism.
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Open parent responses
Teenager: I can’t believe Mr. Green gave me a “C” on my science project after I spent weeks on the stupid thing.
Parent: It sounds to me like you’re very disappointed (feelings) only getting a “C” after doing that much work. (content)
Teenager: Besides that, he gave Don an “A” because he did the project Mr. Green suggested.
Parent: Have I got this right? You feel angry (feelings) because Mr. Green is being unfair. (content)
Teenager: You’d better believe it! Anyway, I learned a lot from my project; it really was hard!
Parent: Then in spite of the disappointing (feelings) grade, are you glad (feelings) you stuck to your more difficult project? (content)
Teenager: Yeah! I guess I am, but I thought I was going to get an “A” for sure. Hey… what is there to eat?
- When a troubled teen asks you to listen to them and you start giving advice, you have not done what they asked.
- When a struggling teen asks you to listen to him and you begin to tell him why he shouldn’t feel that way, you are trampling on his feelings.
- When a defiant teen asks you to listen to them and you feel you have to do something to solve his problem, you have failed him, strange as that may seem.
- Listen! Your teenager asked you to only listen, not talk or do, just hear him.
- Advice is cheap; you can get both Dear Abby and Billy Graham in the same newspaper.
- Your teen can act for himself. He is not helpless. Maybe discouraged and frustrated, but not helpless.
- When you do something for your teen that he can do for himself, you contribute to his fear and weakness.
- But, when you accept as a simple fact that your teenager does feel what he feels, no matter how irrational, then you can quit trying to convince him and get about the business of understanding what’s behind this irrational feeling. And when that’s clear, the answers are obvious and he won’t need advice.
- So, please listen and just hear your struggling teenager. And, if you want to talk, wait a minute for your turn; and He’ll listen to you.