Does Your Teenager Listen to You, or Just Hear You?


For the last three weeks, your son has been coming home from school an hour later than usual. The first thing he does upon arrival is take a shower. He never used to do that. His behavior seems odd, but he never mentions it, and you’re afraid to ask. Partly because of what you’d discover, but probably even more so due to how he’d react to your being “paranoid” and not “trusting” of him.

This issue becomes even more important in your mind, because he’s a junior in high school and he’s supposed to be focusing on preparing his college applications. You desperately want to make sure he’s on the right track in this critical time. But you also know the importance of giving him his space so he can grow. How do you balance that?

Trust is your currency to have a voice

We’ve seen that trust works when it has been demonstrated and not just a theory. The more trustworthy your child sees you’ve been, the more he will listen to you, allowing you to selectively and effectively intervene.

Once you have that foundation, they’ll know that 1) you have their best interests in mind, and 2) you will also respect their need to experiment on their own.

To build that track record of trust, we’ve seen the following behaviors be effective:

  1. Converse instead of critique – i.e. how you react to bad news/behavior. "If I know Mom isn’t going to freak out when I tell her what we were doing behind the liquor store, even though I know I shouldn’t have been there, then I’m going to feel a lot more comfortable sharing this type of news with her."

  2. Focus on the behavior, not the character – Behavior reflects the decisions we make. Character is inherent to our identity as human beings. Encourage the behavior you’d like to see by rewarding positive behavior; don’t make your child feel bad or helpless about who he or she is as a person (i.e. things he can’t change). By exemplifying the ability to separate the two, you are also teaching your child a valuable skill in dealing with difficult future peers at school and work.

  3. Select your battles – Let him fall so he can learn to get back up. You can decide which mistakes are too serious to recover from; those are the times you intervene.

There are so many decisions that your teenager makes that could shape the rest of his life. Do you want to be included in that process? Do you want to feel like a strategic partner, a trusted advisor to your child? It’s time to show that. Try these out and let us know how they work for you.

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