7 Ways to Get Teenagers to Actually Listen to You

Finding common ground with adolescents.

Posted Feb 27, 2020

Everyone knows how hard it can be to talk to teenagers. They roll their eyes; they show disrespect; sometimes they just nod their heads in the hope that you’ll finish talking and they can get on with their lives. Let’s face it; teenagers seem to have an on/off switch when it comes to listening to adults. When they want something or consider what is being discussed valuable to them, they are receptive and may even seem reasonable. When it’s something they’re not interested in, forget about it. You’re left with a stonewalling, impatient adolescent who just wants to get away from you.

That’s where learning how to relate to teenagers can be one of the most important lessons adults can learn. After all, it doesn’t matter if you have the most insightful message to present to a teenager if they won’t listen to you; you might as well be shouting it out in an empty field. It is only when adults and adolescents can find common ground that your message can be effective.

Here are some tips for having an effective conversation:

  1. Wait for the right moment. When a teenager is upset about something or frustrated by a situation, he or she is unlikely to hear our point of view. They can become so absorbed in their own issues that they can only focus on their immediate needs. If this is the case, whatever we say is likely to fall on deaf ears. It’s important that the teenager is in a place to hear what we have to say if our communication is going to be effective.
  2. Do not be in a reactive state yourself. We all know how easy it is to become reactive when adolescents start to get louder and defiant in a situation. As they raise their voices, we tend to raise our voices. The calmer and less emotional we are, the more likely the situation will not escalate and the discussion can have a more positive outcome.
  3. Give respect if you want respect. Teenagers are used to adults playing power trips. How many times have we felt when we were teenagers that our opinions were not respected or did not matter? If we let the adolescent know that we respect him or her, we will likely have a much easier time sharing our thoughts and being heard. 
  4. Leave judgment at the door to be more effective. Teenagers are very wary of being judged. They’ve spent their childhoods being told what to do, when to do it, and feeling criticized by adults. When we judge a teenager’s behavior harshly, they can become overwhelmed and stop being able to hear us. They may become defensive and start justifying their behavior instead of hearing what we’re trying to communicate. 
  5. Listen to their concerns. Too often we are so concerned with getting our point across that we don’t listen to the adolescent’s point of view. While they may not like the rules and boundaries we set for them, if they feel they are listened to, and treated with respect, they may have an easier time accepting them.
  6. Establish boundaries of behavior. When a teenager is in a good place and not reactive, it is important to discuss what is expected of them within the home or work environment. Adolescents who are clear on their boundaries and the expectations of the adults they are dealing with are less likely to have their emotions escalate out of control.
  7. Stay on message. Teenagers who don’t want to follow rules, or hear something contrary to what they want at the moment, often try and change the subject. They may justify their point of view, or raise their voices in an effort to get their way. The more adults can stay calm and clear on their message, the less likely things will devolve into a major upset.

While it is never easy to face the wrath of a teenager who is not getting what he or she wants, being able to stay cool under pressure and more effectively get the message across is a positive step in the right direction. Teenagers who have clearly defined boundaries of behavior established as they grow are more likely to adhere to these boundaries, even when they are angry or under stress. When adults are able to be more effective in their communication with teenagers, it becomes more likely their interactions will result in positive outcomes.