Creative Child

How to Get Your Teen to Open Up According to Science

by Rebecca Eanes


Before we move on to how to be an active listener that encourages your teen to open up, take a few moments to reflect on your own needs in your relationships. What helps you to feel seen and heard? What makes you feel like the other person truly cares about what you have to say? What makes you feel ignored or belittled? Think of someone whom you always feel comfortable sharing with, someone who makes you feel better after talking with them. What do they do?

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Now think of someone who often makes you feel worse. Someone who leaves you feeling defensive, hurt, or unworthy. How do they communicate with you? What do they say or do that leaves you feeling this way? Do they shame, criticize, or judge you? Do they make you feel invalidated by telling you it’s not that bad, get over it, or you’re overreacting?

Your teen’s needs aren’t so different from your own in terms of feeling heard and supported. You can disagree with your teen’s behavior but still empathize with their feelings. You can deny a request but still give them the respect of hearing them out. These are active listening skills that make your teen more likely to open up to you. The study mentioned above showed that engaged listening skills such as eye contact, head nodding, and using key words to praise openness helps teens feel more comfortable talking to you. Here are the 3 A’s of active listening.

  1. Attitude. It is important to have the attitude that your teen deserves the respect of being listened to. Just as you immediately know when your teen “has an attitude,” your teen can quickly determine yours as well. If your attitude isn’t open, warm, inviting, and respectful, your teen will shut down. Approach the conversation with a relaxed and open attitude, and your teen is more likely to open up to you.
  2. Attention. There are several ways to show your teen that you are paying attention, including your body language, eye contact, and head nodding. Saying phrases like “yes, go on” or “I understand, continue” will encourage your teen to keep sharing. You can also repeat back what you heard to show that you are understanding the situation correctly.
  3. Adjustment. This means you are able to go with the flow of the conversation and adapt to what the speaker is saying. Many times, we start to assume that we know where the conversation is doing and what the point will be so we interrupt or tune out, and active listening requires us to stay with the speaker, continue listening attentively, adjust our mannerisms to the changing conversation, and see it through to its end.

If you’re having trouble getting your teen to open up that first time so that you can show them your improved listening skills, concentrate on improving the relationship first through quality time, laughter, and connecting activities such as family outings. When your teen feels close and connected, she will start to talk, and when you show her how well you listen when she does, she’ll continue to do so.

Rebecca Eanes is the bestselling author of multiple books including Positive Parenting: An Essential Guide, The Positive Parenting Workbook, and The Gift of a Happy Mother. She is the grateful mom of two boys. 


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