Listen to Learn

If I were limited to one recommendation that would improve relationships between parent and child, especially with teenagers, it would be listen to learn. Listening and valuing young people’s feelings and ideas is what promotes the ability of parents to effectively communicate with them.

Listen to learn means not inserting one’s opinion and not judging what the youngster says while the youngster is speaking. Parents have a natural tendency to approve or disapprove of young people’s statements. Parents’ first reaction is to evaluate from their own point of view and then approve or disapprove of what the youngster says. This is listening autobiographically. The tendency to make evaluations is common in almost all conversations, but it is much more intense when feelings are involved. An easy strategy for replacing this tendency of listening autobiographically is to cultivate the habit of listening to learn.

Listening in anticipation of what a child will say is also a habit to be broken. Listening in anticipation encourages interruptions. A child wants to be acknowledged and does not wish to feel that you know what he is about to say. A parent who listens well acknowledges the youngster’s feelings and opinions. In addition, listening well can be a model for adolescents, who often do not listen well.

“Zip the lip” is extremely difficult for a parent, but it is the surest way to improve communication and understanding. No great insight ever enters the mind through an open mouth. It is important to let young people know that a parent is willing to listen, even though it may not result in agreement. A simple, “Talk to me about it” is an effective start toward dialogue. Just use the most effective sales principle: Inquiry precedes advocacy.