The first and foremost key point, (which I concede is also an active listening skill):
Conversations with teens are best dealt with your full attention.
Well der….If your teen wants to talk to you, it is imperative that you make yourself available RIGHT NOW! Stop what you are doing and welcome the conversation. Yes we all have busy lives and in the real world we can’t always drop what we are doing, but I can’t stress enough how important it is for you to take any and all opportunities offered to you.
If you have younger children, make them wait - it is sooo important that your teen feels that they are a priority to you. When communications have improved, you can explain that right now is not great, but if you are trying to improve things then do not make the mistake of thinking ‘later’ will be an option.
I introduce to you: TEENAGE RESPONSIVE LISTENING
This is something the adult does, NOT the teen. So be prepared to learn something new!
How Teenage Responsive Listening differs to adult active listening:
Gentle Intermediate Eye Contact
A method of maximising conversation is to minimise eye contact. As mentioned previously, eye contact is not always interpreted by teens as it is by adults. The temptation of multi-tasking can seem like a good idea but be warned, if it is a task that your teen feels is more important to you than what they are saying (such as checking your phone) then you asking for trouble.
Try sitting next to your teen rather than in front, or make a hot drink for you both and stare into your cup for the majority of the time. Conversations in the car flow easier due to the lack of direct eye contact.
The occasional glance and subtle, non-threatening level eye contact is still important as we are trying to guide the young adult into the grown up world where eye contact is acceptable and non-threatening.
Silence is Golden : Keep Quiet
Heads up: if your teen is telling you something, an awesome trick is to not say anything! Let them do the talking, you are the listener these days. This is easier said than done and will take you some practice in biting your tongue. Do not offer your opinion or your help unless they ask (and they probably won’t). The benefits of only listening (and observing) are hugely important in giving you an insight into your teen's life as well as minimalizing the conversation ending in an argument and door slam. Regardless of the topic of conversation, just listen.
Pay Attention to what they are not saying
Body language can give you some strong cues that the matter is serious -to THEM- and should be treated as such. You will need to do a great deal of assessment during the crucial conversing ‘window’.
Is my teen needing to talk about something really important?
Is my teen in a good mood?
Is there a hidden meaning behind what is being said?
All of which has to be done completely poker-faced. Awkward floating around, mindlessly picking at something, lowered eyes are all signs that there is something going on in their head. It is up to you to learn to read your teen’s body language and recognise if they are showing signs that there is something on their mind. Important: do not approach the tiger yet!
Make note if you think something is going on, but don’t launch into it just yet.
Always request Permission to Respond
So you have given your full attention to your teen. You have allowed them to do all the talking and you have observed their body language. You have heard what they have to say, but now what?
The best thing to do is to ask permission to make a comment. Asking “May I have your permission to discuss this point?” may see them responding with a 'yes' but it could very well end with a ‘no’. If they do say no you can always say “ok, but if you do want a different perspective, I could have a few things to offer when you are ready.” By doing this it maintains your teen’s sense of control of the conversation, which lessens it coming to a ‘crash and burn’ situation. Chances are they will come back to you about your opinion later.
I can not stress how hugely important this is to building trust and respect between you both.
Learning how to distinguish if your teen is actually asking for your help is something I will go into further on Day Five, but it is important to know that responding with your opinion is not always what is required or desired. Asking permission to respond is a key point of emotional intelligence. In the context of talking with teens, it offers some incredible growing experiences for you and the best role modelling for them.