Adolescents have a job in our society. Their job receives no monetary reward; and many parents struggle with letting their adolescent do their job. The job is to become their own person, to prepare themselves emotionally and mentally to leave home. To complete this job, our teens often withdraw some from the parent-child relationship. They spend more time with their peers and disclose less to their parents. However, a study involving 1,001 13-to 16-years-old teens suggests a way in which parents can encourage better communication with their teen during this time and, as a result, promote more teen disclosure even while their teen does their job of becoming independent. The researchers had teens watch a parent and teen converse about difficult situations. The teens then rated the conversations and the parent-teen relationship they witnessed. What did the researchers discover? What did the teens say in their interpretation of the conversations?
- When a parent was genuinely engaged with their teen in conversation, teens felt more authentic and connected to their parent.
- When a parent was visibly attentive, the teen was more likely to “open up” and engage in more self-disclosure.
That’s all well and good. But what exactly does “genuinely engaged” and “visibly attentive” look like? According to the researchers of this study, these skills involve at least 4 factors.
- Maintaining good eye contact.
- Engaging in nonverbal communication such as head nodding.
- Engaging in verbal acknowledgment and gratitude to the teen for “opening up.”
- Verbally and openly appreciating the teen’s honesty as well as their effort in sharing.
I would also add factors five through eight as factors involved in being “genuinely engaged” and “visibly attentive:”
- Verbal validation of their struggle to “make the right choice” or “do the right thing.”
- Statements explicitly validating and labeling their emotion in response to the difficult situation.
- Asking nonjudgmental questions to clarify the situation and assure you understand. A curiosity about your teen’s thoughts and emotions about the situation. A genuine interest in how they view the situation and how it impacts them.
- Listen. Don’t lecture. Don’t problem-solve. Listen
These skills add up to “attentive listening” and “genuine engagement” with your teen. “Attentive listening” and “genuine engagement” with your teen results in greater intimacy and better parent-teen communication…and that’s a beautiful thing.