In my practice, the most common complaint I hear from teens about their parents by far is that they just don’t listen. Kids for generations have reported the same problem; parents don’t get it because they don’t take the time or are too preoccupied to really listen.
The specific topics of teen-parent discussions don’t seem to have much to do with this universal adolescent complaint. As a therapist who has worked with tweens, teens, and parents for over twenty years, I can write the script before either the teen or the parent tell me their stories.

Here is the brief version of how it goes;

Teen: “My parents just don’t listen to me, they think I don’t know anything and they don’t understand what I am feeling!”

Parent: “I hear you! Just because I don’t agree with you doesn’t mean I am not hearing every word you are saying.”

Parents, on the other hand, often complain that their teen won’t talk to them and ask me for tips on how to change that.

Is There A Difference Between Hearing and  Listening?

Yes, parents, there is and if you understand it, you can change how the communication goes with your child. Hearing and listening have different meanings and in order to spiff up your listening skills, you need to understand that difference.

My 5th-grade music teacher told our class, “if you listen you remember, if you hear, you forget”.

Clearly, I was listening to him as I put the reed in my clarinet. That comment still resonates more than 3 decades later.

Hearing is passive and requires no effort at all, in fact, we are hearing all the time, without even thinking about it. We are hearing even when we are sleeping. But, think about a time when someone said to you, “I hear you”, did that comment prompt you wonder if they were actually listening to you?

Listening is a much more comprehensive experience, combining our auditory process with our cognitive process. It goes beyond the physical experience of hearing and relies on thinking, reasoning, memory, and perception. Listening involves noticing body language, mood, the tone of voice, and facial expression. It requires your full attention and is an active, rather than passive process, which is why, as therapists, we call the art of listening active listening.

We all want to be heard, understood, and crave to have our feelings validated, and teens are no different. Really listening is the key to strengthening the human connection, it creates safety and it builds trust. Truly listening makes all of us, as human beings, feel cared about, which is essential for positive self-worth and esteem.

Many of the resentments, miscommunications, and arguments that families experience begin when a parent is hearing, but not listening. As parents, when we don’t truly listen, we inadvertently invalidate our child’s feelings, which leaves them as frustrated and angry as our own adult experiences with invalidation do.

6 Tips On How Parents Can Be Better Listeners

  1. When the serious conversation begins, move physically closer to your child.
  2. Don’t interrupt, wait for her to finish, and after she does, wait another 10 seconds before responding.
  3. Focus on your child, don’t let your mind drift to what you will say next.
  4. Your body language will help, nodding your head and eye contact show that you are present.
  5. When your child is finished, and you have waited the extra seconds, start by saying something like, “So, if I am understanding you correctly, you feel like your mom and I are unfair and treat your brother differently, especially with the freedom we give him.”
  6. Remember, perspective matters. The way a teenager perceives an issue is very different than how an adult does. As adults, we have lived through the tumultuous times of adolescence and what looks like a major life crisis to a teen, looks very different at 40.

Parents, to be successful at active listening, put your phone away, turn off the TV, sit, listen, process, and be engaged. It will make a huge difference in the outcome with your child.

“When you talk, you are only repeating what you know. But if you listen, you may learn something new.”
Dalai Lama


Andrea Difilippo is a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker, nationally recognized parenting expert and Chief Parenting Officer with Social Judo.