Creative Child

How to Get Your Teen to Open Up According to Science

by Rebecca Eanes

“How was your day?”

“Fine.”

“What would you like to do?”

“Whatever.”

If you’re raising a teenager, you’re likely all too familiar with one-word answers and shrugs. Perhaps this is life’s little payback for the days we wished they would just hush for five minutes as preschoolers. Now we wish they’d talk for five minutes, but getting your teen to open up can be like bathing a cat - it’s hard! However, it’s more important than ever to stay connected with them and to know what’s going on in their lives. Fortunately, a brand new study out of the University of Reading may shed some light on this topic.

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In the study, researchers asked 1001 teenagers aged 13-16 to watch staged conversations between a parent and a teenager about a difficult situation. The parent adopted different body language and listening behaviors in different versions of the conversation. In the versions where the parent was visibly attentive to the teen, the participants said they would have felt better about themselves and would have been more likely to open up than they would in the scenarios where the parent was inattentive, distracted, and not using eye contact.

Dr Netta Weinstein, associate professor in clinical and social psychology at the University of Reading, who co-led the study, said:

"We all know that listening to someone talk about their problems is an effective way of reassuring them and establishing a connection. However, until now there has been little thought given to the quality of that listening, and the difference that makes. This study shows that 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."

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While it may seem like a simple solution, parents don’t necessarily use these positive listening skills when their teens want to discuss a situation or ask for something. We are often quick to jump to judgement, rescuing, criticism, or shutting down the request. Too many times, parents talk over their teens rather than practicing active listening, and this shuts down communication very quickly as teenagers have a profound need to be heard and understood.

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