Listen up Dad. Your kids need you to hear them.
In a recent article in Psychology Today, 9 Listening Mistakes That Will Damage Your Relationships, author Amy Moran says that listening shouldn’t be a passive activity—it requires active participation.
As a dad parenting a teen, being a great listener can get pretty dicey at times.
We actually can make the issue worse by how we listen (or not), and how we choose to show up in our teen’s lives when they need us the most.
We can hone our listening skills by knowing some of the mistakes we may already be making.
Just having an increased awareness of these mistakes is a great way to get a head start on improving how we listen.
Sometimes we think we are being a great listener just because we work hard at not talking over them or because we are biting our tongues while they tell us things that make us want to scream.
But, the skill of active listening is so much more than learning to just keep your mouth shut while our teens are talking to us.
In her article, Amy Moran shares bad listening habits taken from The Communication Skills Book by Matthew McKay.
I thought it would be helpful to take a few of these bad habits and apply them to our conversations with our teenagers.
As a parent, it’s oh so easy to fall into these bad habits with our teenagers.
When your teenager comes to you with a problem or issue that you’ve heard dozens of times, it’s so tempting to make immediate judgements and assumptions about their situation.
This mind-reading habit can lead us to formulate opinions, attitudes and decisions based on our ability to be a great mind reader.
The truth is, none of us are mind readers.
Listen to the situation with fresh ears, you may find that it’s nothing like you assumed and requires an entirely different response from you.
Yeah, I think it’s fair to say we are all guilty of this one.
Your teenager starts talking to you and you can tell they are building up to asking you to allow them to do something you already know you are going to deny.
So, instead of being an active listener while they are talking, we are busy rehearsing the speech we are about to deliver on why our answer is an emphatic no.
The problem is that while we are rehearsing our “no” speech in our heads, we can’t be really sure what they are actually saying to us.
The truth is, they may not be heading down the path to the “ask” we think they are, and because we haven’t really been listening, our response is going to be totally off base.
When I think of this particular bad listening habit, I get a mental image of a conveyer belt of fruit.
You know the one.
The workers stand along the conveyer belt, sorting all of the fruit by size and quality, chunking the bruised or bad pieces into the garbage bin.
There is already a standard in place for the workers to use in knowing which pieces of fruit to allow to pass through and which ones to toss.
But using a filtering process when we are listening to our teenagers will send the wrong message.
Filtering means that we are entirely focused to the things being said that only support our view, our position, our decision.
It means that you already have a set of criteria that you are going to apply to whatever the situation and circumstances are that your teen is presenting.
Now don’t get me wrong.
As parents, we already know that there are some requests and points of view that our teens come to us with that the answer will never be yes!
But what’s important to remember is that while they are speaking to us, we are communicating back to them in many different ways, other than our words.
If we are truly valuing them and interested in them feeling respected by us when we are leaning in to their thoughts and opinions, when the time does come from us to say no or not now, it can be much easier for them to receive.
This listening mistake is a close cousin to many of the other ones.
It’s no doubt that as parents, our plates are often full to overflowing and there are always plenty of reasons for daydreaming.
Whether it’s our upcoming deadlines or other concerns that tempt us to drift off to another place while our teen is trying to have a conversation with us, just being more aware of staying tuned in is a great place to start.
Much like the mind reading mistake, judging our teen’s motives or values before hearing him or her out, is definitely a listening mistake.
The role of parent is a tough one, there is no doubt.
We are always being put into a place of making judgment calls and tough decisions.
We often wonder if we’ve made the right decision and then play the blame game when the decision we’ve made has unintended consequences.
But no matter where you fall in the scenario, it’s important to remember to be fully present as a great listener when your teen is sharing their thoughts with you.
Doing this well on the front end and saving the judgments until you have all the information you need, will go a long way in building a stronger relationship with them.
I think that this listening mistake of debating tends to catch us a great deal of the time when having a conversation with our teens.
Teenagers have a built in DNA for debating!
If you’ve held more than one conversation with a teen, you know exactly what I’m, talking about.
They are great at debating just about any topic, anytime, anywhere.
But that’s not always a bad thing.
What’s important for us as parents to remember is that when are working on building our relationships with our teen through better listening, we have to be willing to hold off interrupting, arguing and wrangling with them on every topic they bring up.
Remember, we are working on stronger relationships that show how much we value them and one of the best ways to do that is avoiding the power struggles of debating in every conversation.
From my experience, the best listening advice around for valuing your teen, while still providing great leadership to them as their parent, is to practice avoiding these listening mistakes.
When we do that, we are also practicing one of Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People … Seek first to understand, then be understood.
Like I’ve always said, there’s a reason we all have two ears but only one mouth!
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