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Unlocking Communication: How Active Listening Can Transform Relationships with Teens (Do’s & Don’ts)


Actively listening to your teen can help foster an open, safe, and trusting environment where your teen feels seen, heard, and understood. It strengthens relationships and enhances communication, especially around vulnerable topics.

What is Active Listening?

Active listening is the practice of preparing to listen, observing what verbal and non-verbal messages are being sent, and then providing appropriate feedback for the sake of showing attentiveness to what is being said.

Why it’s Important to Practice Active Listening with Adolescents:

A 2021 study conducted by University of Reading found when parents are engaged and listen actively, teens are more willing to talk to them. Adolescents are more likely to open up to people (and parents) who they think are good listeners.

“In parent-teenager relationships, quietly listening to a teenager while showing them they are valued and appreciated for their honesty has a powerful effect on their willingness to open up,” says researcher Dr. Netta Weinstein. (

Levels of Listening:

Level 1: Listening for the sake of self, and connecting what the speaker is saying to personal experience. “What does this mean to me about me?”

Level 2: Listening for the sake of others, paying close attention to the words they are saying. “What does this mean to them about them?”

Level 3: Listening beyond the words and noticing non-verbal cues including body language, tone of voice, pace of speech, breath rate, emotions, energy, posture, themes and patterns, what’s not being said.

Do’s of Active Listening with Teens:

  1. Be mindful: Be present and limit distractions so that you can give the teen your undivided attention. Turn your body towards them, and display open behavior (arms uncrossed), eye contact. Use nonverbal cues like nodding to demonstrate engagement.
  2. Paraphrase or summarize: Recap what the adolescent said by using statements starting with “I’m hearing you say…” or “It sounds like you feel…” and end the statement with “Does that sound right?” When you repeat what you heard, it shows your adolescent that you do (or don’t) understand their situation, and it gives them the ability to clarify further if needed.
  3. Validate: it is important for the adolescent to know that what they think and say matters to you (the adult).  Thank the teen for their willingness to be open and share what they feel.
  4. Show empathy: It is difficult for adolescents to experience their feelings, let alone share what they are feeling with another person. Statements like “Wow, that sounds hard/interesting/difficult, etc. can show the teen that you are putting yourself in their shoes.
  5. Ask before advising: Ask the teen what they would like from you. Are they open to receiving advice? Do they just want to vent or share? Are they looking to solve the problem with you? Providing the teen with options in how you respond demonstrates respect for their autonomy and independence.

Don’ts of Active Listening with Teens:

  1. Interrupt: When the teen is speaking, focus on what they are saying and do not think about how you want to reply. Allow them to complete their entire thought before you respond.
  2. Judge: A non-judgmental environment is essential for the adolescent to feel safe enough to speak freely and truthfully. Avoid making verbal and non-verbal judgements or criticisms about the words the adolescent is using or the situation they are describing.
  3. Assume: Don’t assume you know what the adolescent is thinking or feeling. It is better to ask them about their reaction to the situation. Assumptions can lead to miscommunications which decreases trust and willingness to share in the future.
  4. React: It is critical to remember a major part of adolescence is making mistakes. Teens are balancing newfound independence with academic, cultural, and social pressure. Often, they can be afraid of adult reactions to their behavior. It is important for the adult to stay calm, regulate their own emotions and tone, and ask open-ended questions instead of using declarative or accusatory statements. Why/How/What is always a great place to start.
  5. Problem-solve: It is important for the adolescent to be able share their situation, and with support, come up with their own solutions. Part of adolescence is learning to be independent, and if the adult immediately tries to fix the teen’s problem – it doesn’t give space for the teen to process their situation and grow from it.

For more information about active listening, check out our accredited youth life coaching programs and resources.

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