Penny is one of the nicest people I know.
Both of her children are polite and pleasant.
Her thirteen year old 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 school work 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 get your teenager listen to you
There is a wide range of relationships between parents and adolescents. Many factors can cause conflicts between parents and teenagers1.
When parents ask teenagers to listen, some ignore them while others have explosive arguments.
If you have trouble getting your teen to listen, the following tips may help you with typical teen behavioral problems 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 to younger children.
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 eye contact and active listening. There is more to it than that.
What matters more is our attitude toward people who happen to be our own children and lack years of life experience.
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, some parents will keep pressing, resulting in an argument, which does not help them listen to you2.
But it takes two to fight.
Rather than hoping your teenager will back down or be convinced in the middle of an argument, 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 calmer.
3. Give your reasons
Tell your teenager the true (and usually longer) reason 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 on them is less important than the impact on the family?
Young people need good reasons to listen4.
The following are some examples of good ideas and bad reasons.
|What you want them to listen||Bad reason||Good reason|
|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 one of the family members. We all contribute to running this home. If you don’t want to do this chore, what else can you do to contribute to your own family?|
|You are not allowed to talk back.||You must respect authority.||You need to learn to disagree respectfully. It is one of the most important social skills 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 video games and staring at the screen for hours and it is not good for your eyes.|
Giving good reasons takes more work and discussion from the parents.
But 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, different 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 re-examine why it is so important for them to listen to you and own it. If you want to have 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 from risky behaviors.” (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 point of view. Ask them to propose solutions that can help you both reach a common ground.rea
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 from you.
Keeping open lines of communication also helps your teen feel comfortable coming to you when they need you most.
5. Build a good 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 care and trust in both directions.
Relatedness motivates children (and human beings in general)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 a close relationship. 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.
Critical thinking, analyzing, and problem solving are 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, fewer behavioral issues7, and positive outcomes in general8.
Final thoughts on how to make teenagers listen to parents
Teenage brains undergo massive growth and development during adolescence, but not every problem is attributed to their adolescent brain.
Some of the behavioral changes may be due to mood swings and a rebellious phase. But providing unconditional love, undivided attention, and positive communication plays an important role in how much they will listen to you.
If your teenager shows troubled behaviors such as binge drinking, abusive behavior, or violent behavior that poses a danger to themselves or others, get mental health professional help as soon as possible.
Also, watch out for mental health issues during the teenage years. A sudden change in behavior can be a warning sign of a deeper problem such as depression.
Next, find out why young children do not listen.
- 1.Montemayor R. Family Variation in Parent-Adolescent Storm and Stress. Journal of Adolescent Research. Published online March 1986:15-31. doi:10.1177/074355488611003
- 2.Hall JA. Parent-adolescent conflict: An empirical review. Adolescence. 1987;22(88):767–789.
- 3.Lunkenheimer E, Lichtwarck-Aschoff A, Hollenstein T, Kemp CJ, Granic I. Breaking Down the Coercive Cycle: How Parent and Child Risk Factors Influence Real-Time Variability in Parental Responses to Child Misbehavior. Parenting. Published online August 23, 2016:237-256. doi:10.1080/15295192.2016.1184925
- 4.Hoskins D. Consequences of Parenting on Adolescent Outcomes. Societies. Published online September 18, 2014:506-531. doi:10.3390/soc4030506
- 5.Ryan RM, Powelson CL. Autonomy and Relatedness as Fundamental to Motivation and Education. The Journal of Experimental Education. Published online September 1991:49-66. doi:10.1080/00220973.1991.10806579
- 6.Garbarino J, Sebes J, Schellenbach C. Families at Risk for Destructive Parent-Child Relations in Adolescence. Child Development. Published online February 1984:174. doi:10.2307/1129843
- 7.Krevans J, Gibbs JC. Parents’ Use of Inductive Discipline: Relations to Children’s Empathy and Prosocial Behavior. Child Development. Published online December 1996:3263. doi:10.2307/1131778
- 8.WYMAN PA, COWEN EL, WORK WC, et al. Interviews with Children Who Experienced Major Life Stress: Family and Child Attributes that Predict Resilient Outcomes. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. Published online September 1992:904-910. doi:10.1097/00004583-199209000-00019