How to Listen to Your Teenager Without Appearing to Have Attention Deficit
By V. Michael Santoro, M. Ed.
In one of the Family Circus cartoon strips, the little girl looks up
at her father, who is reading the newspaper, and says, "Daddy,
you have to listen with your eyes as well as your ears." That statement
says almost all there is to say about listening. Being a good listener
means focusing attention on the message and reviewing the important
Listening can be considered an art, as well as a skill, and like other
skills, it requires that you exhibit some discipline to be effective.
However, in today's world where multitasking is considered essential
to surviving in the workplace, it is not uncommon to be talking on the
phone while we are reading mail or sending e-mail, and simultaneously
conducting hand signals with a co-worker who needs your input about
However, when it comes to communicating with your teenagers,
you have to separate yourself from this multitasking communications
style, and learn how to focus 100 percent of your time on her when she
needs to talk to you. If you do not, she will perceive this distracted
behavior as a lack of interest in her.
Thus, during your conversations with your teen, you must ignore your
own needs, demonstrate patience, and pay attention to her. Hearing becomes
listening only when you pay attention to what is being said, and can
contribute to the conversation.
So how good are your listening skills?
Answer the following "yes or no" statements honestly:
1. I make assumptions about my teens feelings and thoughts
2. I bring up past issues during current disagreements
3. I interrupt my teenager's conversation
4. I respond to a complaint with a complaint
5. I respond to my teen with phrases like, "That's
If you answered "yes" to any of these statements, then there
is some room for improvement in your listening skills.
What to do
Use the following guidelines to help improve your listening
1. Maintain eye contact with your teen during conversations. Good eye
contact allows you to keep focused and involved in the conversation.
2. Be interested and attentive. Your teen will sense whether you are
interested or not by the way you reply or not reply to her.
3. Focus on "what" your teen is saying and not "how"
she is saying it. If she is upset, for example, she may be exhibiting
body language that may be distracting.
4. Listen patiently and avoid getting emotionally involved in the conversation.
If you do so, you will tend to hear what you want to hear, as opposed
to what is really being said. Your goal is to remain objective and open-minded
during your discussions.
5. Avoid cutting your teenager off while she is speaking.
This will show her that you respect her right to have an opinion, as
well as to freely express it.
6. Avoid distractions or trying to multitask during your conversations.
This may be okay at work, however your teen may perceive
that you have a terminal case of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). :)
It may be helpful to have a practice conversation with your teenager
rather than wait to try and be a better listener when she comes to you
with a "real world" problem. Inform her that she is really
important to you, and that you want to be a better listener. Then tell
her that you need her help.
Referring to the above guidelines, have her tell you about her day
while you demonstrate your listening skills. Then ask her how you did
and what you could have done better. Remember not to get defensive and
conclude by thanking her for her help. Doing this on a regular basis
will not only improve your overall listening skills, but also will make
your teenager want to talk to you.
Copyright 2004 by V. Michael Santoro and Jennifer S. Santoro, All Rights
V. Michael Santoro, M. Ed. co-authored "Realizing the Power of
Love," How a father and teenage daughter became best friends...and
you can too, with his teenage daughter Jennifer S. Santoro. For more
information, visit their Web site at http://www.dads-daughters.com
About the Author
V. Michael Santoro, M. Ed. has ten years of experience as an educator.
He is also certified in Training and Development with over eighteen
years of industry experience. He coauthored, "Realizing the Power
of Love," How a father and teenage daughter became best friends…and
how you can too, with his teenage daughter Jennifer S. Santoro. For
more information visit their Web site: http://www.dads-daughters.com