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Why Listen to Your Adolescent?

Listening to the teenager can strengthen your relationship in many powerful ways

So much of the quality of their relationship to the adolescent depends on parental communication -- particularly by how well they listen. Why is that? I think the answer is because truly listening is valuable in so many ways. Consider what a few of these might be.


Truly listening doesn’t come cheap. It costs setting other demands, preoccupations, and entertainments aside, and paying undistracted, uncritical, uninterrupted, uncontested, and undivided attention to what the teenager has to say, hardest to do when opposed to what is being said. To receive this parental effort is usually appreciated. “When I want to talk, my parents make time to hear, even when they disagree with what I have to say.”


Adolescents feel valued when what they have to say is treated as worth listening to. Truly listening sends a powerful message about valuing to the teenager. “When my parents take what I have to say seriously, I feel they are taking me seriously.”


When parents take the time to truly listen and to model how this paying attention is done, by example they encourage the teenager to do the same with them. To encourage adolescent listening, the parental model matters. “I listen to my parents because they listen to me.”


When parents want the adolescent to comply with what that young person doesn’t want to do, sometimes listening patiently and giving a full hearing to the teenager’s objections can cause her or him to cooperate with them. “I didn’t get to do what I wanted, but I did get to have my say.”


When parents listen, their interest encourages the adolescent to communicate. They give the young person permission to practice declaring themselves – stating feelings, beliefs, questions, needs, wants, disagreements, and limits. “I am comfortable expressing myself with other people like I do with my parents.”


The best informant parents have about their adolescent’s internal and external worlds of experience is the adolescent. So it behooves parents to listen to everything, including arguments, the young person has to say. “The more you let me talk, the more about me you get to know.”

When parents choose NOT to listen, the consequences can be far reaching.

The adolescent can feel parents are too busy to listen. “My parents don’t have time for me.”

The adolescent can feel lack of listening is quietly hurtful: “My parents don't value what I have to say.

The adolescent can feel less inclined to listen back. “My parents tune me out, so I tune them out too.”

The adolescent can feel less willing to work through disagreements. “My parents won’t hear my say, so why should I do what they want?”

The adolescent can feel less practiced speaking up. “My parents don’t listen much, so I’ve learned to shut up and not to say much.”

The adolescent can tell parents less. “My parents don’t want to hear, so they don’t get to know.”

I believe truly listening to their adolescent is worth the parental investment because there are so many payoffs when they do listen and so many problems when they do not. Most of all, listening is an act of giving and being given to, dedicating parental attention to your adolescent and receiving what is shared in return. In this way, listening enable connecting, while not listening can weaken that connection.

So, if you are inclined to New Year’s resolutions for strengthening your parenting, one might be this: “Whenever my adolescent wants to talk, I resolve to give the very best listen that I can.”

For more about parenting your adolescent, see my book, “SURVIVING YOUR CHILD’S ADOLESCENCE” (Wiley, 2013.) Information at:

Next week’s entry: "Growing Differences" between Parent and Adolescent.