5 Steps to Being a Good Listener

Alyssa is a 15-year-old from Berkeley, CA. She enjoys lacrosse, music, cooking, and art. She loves creative writing and poetry. When she grows up, she wants to pursue a career in writing or psychology.

When you are a child, life is carefree. You have no responsibility, no worries, and no commitments. Your main concerns are how much dessert you can sneak when your parents are busy, or when you can have your next playdate with your best friend, or maybe even if the cute boy in your second grade class has a crush on you. You love your parents, and it’s unthinkable not to follow their rules — in fact, it probably never even crossed your mind. But as you grow older, evolving into your tween years, the little kid you once were starts to fade. The mold of the child your parents created is disappearing and all of a sudden, you’re your own person. You get to make the choices — whether it’s your opinion, ideas, clothing, schedule, hobbies, et cetera. You now have a say in it. The problem is, as you become a more mature teen, and soon, a young adult, you want ALL the power of yourself. You want to be the one who determines your curfew, extracurricular activities, money spending, and balance of schoolwork and social time. It’s easy to get caught up in thinking you’re responsible enough to handle yourself, BY yourself. In fact, you probably are. However, parents get confused by this sudden switch-up. They’re used to you being their precious baby. They want power in your life too, considering you’re still living with them, and they believe they should make all the rules. This, as one can see, leads to a superfluous of unnecessary fighting.

As a teenager, I am going through this right now. Making my own decisions and trying to gain my parents’ trust has not been easy. They tell me that to defeat the number one thing we argue about, which is trust, I have to open up to them more. They complain I don’t tell them enough about my life (which means they become suspicious when I ask to hang out with a new friend, or go some place they’ve never heard before), but I argue that if I told them everything in my life, they wouldn’t trust me at ALL. I mean, I AM a teenager — what do you expect? I am forced to deal with ideal teenage mischief every day, be it sex, drugs, alcohol, lying, cheating, school, friends, boyfriends, you name it. If I told my parents everything that bothers me, they’d be . . . well, overwhelmed is an understatement. But when I have told my parents personal things, I’ve gotten an array of responses — whether total disappointment to complete acceptance, I always receive an intense reaction. Though they may not realize it, their reaction is the answer to how much I will trust my parents with the next big personal thing that comes up in my life. It determines if I want to discuss it with them, if I want their opinion, or if I even want to tell them. Speaking as a teenager, these are the ways I hope every parent can take on to help their child open up.

1) Listen & Support. When your child comes to you with a problem, it’s your job to hear them out. Let them talk until they are finished. When they’re done, it’s up to you how you want to respond. But whatever way you choose to respond, make sure your undertone is that you love them and will help them through this when they need help.

2) No judging. If your teen trusts you enough to share something personal, you cannot judge. They have shared this piece of information with you for a reason — maybe it’s because they’re required to tell you, or maybe it’s only because they feel like they want to. Either way, they have chosen to take the initiative to tell you something important, which is an act of bravery in itself. It takes a lot of courage to tell your parents something that could result in them being disappointed in you.

3) The more you force, the less you receive. Personally, I can’t stand when my parents suffocate me with questions. When I’m in a bad mood, all it takes is a couple of unwanted “what’s wrong?”‘s for me to blow up. By prodding too much about your kid’s life will make them shrink back. When they want to share, they will. Asking questions is fine, but if they aren’t in the mood to talk, you shouldn’t force it. Don’t be an officious parent.

4) Let them be right. It’s always hard when you realize mid-argument that you’re never going to win. You’ve expressed your opinions and your reasonings as much as you can, but you realize your parents won’t budge, because, well, they’re the parents. They’re the ones in charge. However, if it’s a petty argument that’s making absolutely no progress (i.e., chores haven’t been done, or homework is the priority before going out), leave your kid stunned by simply saying, “okay, you’re right.” It will make them proud that they’ve “won”, while also being thankful you haven’t made them look like a fool. Besides, is it that bad to let them get away with something once in a while?

5) Let it go. After I’ve had an argument with my parents, I go straight to my room and blast my music. When I have to face them again, I’m usually in a bad mood and the last thing I want is another long talk — especially a sappy apology talk. If you’ve had a fight, wait for your child to calm down, think things over, and if an apology talk is absolutely necessary, wait for them to be ready.

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