Penny is one of the nicest people I know. Both of her children are polite and pleasant. Her teenage son is responsible and diligent. He sets the alarm and wakes up in the morning by himself. He packs his own lunch and goes to school on time. He studies and finishes homework without Penny lifting a finger.
I asked her what her parenting approach was.
“I don’t really have a strategy,” she said.
“It’s just that I treat them like people”.
How to make teenagers listen to you
There is a wide range of relationships between parents and adolescents. Many factors that influence pre-teens and teenagers conflict1.
When parents ask teenagers to listen, some ignore them while others have explosive arguments.
If you have trouble getting your teens to listen, the following tips may help you with the typical teen behavior but they are not intended to be exhaustive.
1. Take a deep breath and switch places
So what can we learn from Penny?
When our kids were toddlers, we told them what to do and expected them to follow our instructions, mostly for their safety.
Over the years, we get used to giving orders.
Many of us have forgotten how to treat our children as people.
So, if your teenager does not listen to you, first, take a deep breath. Ask yourself, “Would you listen to yourself if you were your child?”
How we interact with our kids forms the basis of our parent-child relationship pattern.
Getting teenagers to listen is not just about making eye contact and listening actively. There is more to it than that.
What matters more is our attitude toward the people who happen to be our own children.
Do not take it for granted thinking, “They are our kids, so we can use any tone we want.”
Before we question our teenagers’ attitudes, we should review our own.
What tone of voice do you use when you talk to them?
What kind of attitude do you show?
What emotions are you expressing?
Do you sound irritated or angry?
Do you sound like they’re always wrong and you’re always right?
Are you talking to them or at them?
Are you asking them or telling them to do something?
When making decisions, do you consult them?
Are you respectful when you disagree with them?
Do you want to be treated the same way you treat them?
2. The fight ends with you
When teenagers don’t listen, parents will keep pressing, resulting in an argument, which does not help them listen to you2.
It takes two to fight.
Rather than hoping your teenager will back down or be convinced, you must stop the fight. If not, things will easily escalate3 into a coercive cycle.
Whenever your teen refuses to listen or starts arguing, take a moment to think.
Do it the way you would like to be spoken to if you and your teen switched places.
Most people prefer to be talked to in a calm, positive manner. Your teenager probably prefers that, too.
If you have difficulty putting yourself in this mindset, tell them you’ll come back to this later when you’re both more calm.
3. Give your reasons
Tell your teenager the true (and usually longer) reason for why they must listen to what you say instead of using “because I said so.”
Answer these questions.
Why is it so important?
Does it benefit them or the family?
Are the family rules reasonable?
What impact does it have on your teenager and why do you think that impact is less important than the rule?
Teenagers need good reasons to listen4.
The following are some examples of good and bad reasons.
|What you want them to listen||Bad reasons||Good reasons|
|You must finish your homework.||Your grades are falling. You need to raise them.||I want you to have a good education and getting good grades helps you get into college.|
|You need to complete chores.||Because it’s your responsibility.||Because you are a member of this family and we all contribute to it. If you don’t want to do this chore, what else can you contribute?|
|You are not allowed to talk back.||You must respect authority.||You need to learn to disagree respectfully. It is a very important social skill for your future relationships and career.|
|You must stop playing this video game.||You’ve been playing for hours. I’m sick of it.||You’ve been playing for hours and it is not good for your health.|
Giving good reasons takes more work and discussion from the parents. You’ll save yourself a lot of arguing and trouble down the road if you spend more time now helping your kids understand why you say what you say.
In general, good reasons involve genuine concern for the well-being of your teenager or the family, not a desire to control or be in charge.
If you don’t have a good reason, then you should re-examine why it is so important for them to listen to you and own it. If you want control, admit it.
Here are examples of putting steps 1-3 together.
Step 1: I apologize for yelling. (switch places, as the teen, you want to be apologized to after being yelled at)
Step 2: I was emotional because I felt that you never listened to me. I was wrong to yell regardless. (end the fight)
Step 3: I really want to talk about this issue because it concerns your safety. I love you so much. I do not want to see you get hurt. (genuine reason concerning their wellbeing)
“I am sorry that I yelled. I shouldn’t have. It must have hurt your feelings and I feel bad. Let me tell you why I wanted you to listen to me on this because this is important to the whole family. It affects us this way …”
“You are right. I was wrong for not consulting you before I made the decision. But it has already been done. Now I want to do the right thing to make up for it and I need your help …”
“I know it makes you feel left out. I’m sorry for that. But I feel it would be unsafe for you to go. I want to protect you from bad situations because I love you.”
4. Listen to their side
A story always has two sides. To get them to listen to us, we must listen to them.
Take the time to hear out what they have to say and acknowledge their viewpoint. Ask them to propose solutions that can help you both reach a common ground.
It means you both have to compromise from time to time.
Parents are not always right.
Good parenting isn’t all about being perfect or always making the right decision. It’s about putting our children’s interests first.
Make compromises when you can. They can experience how to disagree with others respectfully and negotiate for a better outcome. Your teen will learn constructive conflict management skills.
Keeping open lines of communication also helps them feel comfortable coming to you when they need you most.
5. Build a two-way relationship
Has anyone ever said, “I care about you, but I don’t care about what you say or how you feel”?
I don’t think so, right?
If you care about someone, you listen to what they have to say. You want to make them feel good rather than bad.
Is your teenager concerned about your feelings? Ask yourself this question if your teenager doesn’t listen to you.
If your teen doesn’t care about you, that is a much bigger problem than them not obeying.
Most of us spend all our energy raising our kids because we want a positive relationship with someone we care about, not because we want an obedient child who follows our orders. The latter can be done much better by a puppy.
If you believe your relationship with your teen is more important, prioritize it over immediate compliance.
Relationships with our children can be extremely powerful when they are based on caring in both directions.
Relatedness motivates children (and humans for that matter)5. If they care about you, they are more likely to listen to you.
6. Stop punishing
Punishment won’t get anyone to want to listen to you. Even though they may do it reluctantly, when they can avoid it, they will, because no one wants to listen to someone who has been cruel and mean to them.
Parents who have relied on negative consequences to change their children’s negative behavior will need new skills for teenage discipline.
The ability to teach someone without using coercion is very rewarding and beneficial for building close and warm relationships. Take a look at this post on positive parenting.
7. Look out for their best interest
Our children do not benefit from always listening to us and never questioning what we tell them. Being able to listen and follow orders” will make them good followers, not good leaders.
The ability to make decisions for themselves is a vital life skill in adulthood. Learning how to think, evaluate, and solve problems is crucial in adolescent development.
It will be in their best interest if you can give your teen space to practice being independent. They must have the opportunity to make mistakes when it is not dangerous to do so.
The best way to raise an independent, confident, and decisive child is to use inductive discipline to allow them to understand and listen to you when there are good reasons. Children of inductive parents show more empathy, less bad behavior problems7, and better outcomes in general8.
Final thoughts on how to make teenager listen to you
Teenage brains undergo massive growth and development during adolescence. Providing undivided attention and positive communication to them is important.
If your teenager shows defiant behavior such as binge drinking or abusive behavior that poses a danger to themselves or others, get mental health professional help as soon as possible.
Next, find out why children do not listen.
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