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  • Lori K Walters

Asking your teenager to Listen is asking them for Presence: Help them Learn It

silhouettes of two people talking at sunset

I haven’t met a single parent who don’t wish that their teenager would listen to them more attentively.

Yes, there were the years and years of them not hearing you the first or second of third time you said to pick up their shoes or that you really have to leave by 7:30.

But beyond that, as they mature, there is the desire to share more of your life with your kids - your challenges and fears, personal triumphs and what matters deeply to you. It’s one of the things you’ve looked forward to - having more adult discussions - and then, when your kids aren’t present and attentive with you in those heartfelt moments, you feel disappointed, frustrated and undervalued.

You take it personally, without taking in the broader picture.

Presence is an acquired capacity or skill. Think of the people who can be the most present with you, stable and clear as they witness you in the way you need to be seen and heard. These are people who have worked at cultivating their ability to hold space and be present in the here and now to someone else’s experience.

Someone who is 15 or even 22 hasn’t developed their ability to turn off their self-centeredness, their thoughts and feelings about their lives, and be fully “with” you. That makes your request to be witnessed that much more difficult.

Another difficulty is that you can’t really ask someone to ‘be more present’. I mean, it not very concrete. And teenagers need concrete instructions.

How can you ask them to listen to you like this?

First and foremost, you must determine if this is the right time and place. Is the current situation going to support you being heard in the way you want? Is one of you exhausted, hungry, distracted or rushing out the door?

You might feel like you really have to say your piece right this minute but, if you want to be truly heard and seen, this may not be the right time to put it out there. I’m not talking about stifling what needs to be said. This is about fostering connection with your big kid.

So, is this the right moment?

Before you turn this into a cognitive process, consider that your mind might not have a clear picture right now. It may be busy thinking that you “have to” share this now or that you “never” get to say what you want to say. If you’re having those kinds of thoughts, you’re probably not going to get an accurate read on the appropriateness of this moment.

So, drop your attention down to your body, which will always tell you the truth. Breath into your chest and belly for a few seconds and notice what you’re feeling. There may be some nervousness, naturally, if it’s a difficult topic. Maybe belly butterflies, sweaty palms or sore eyes. And underneath that, deep down, is there a real yes or no? What’s your inner knowing about this being a good moment?

Then, with another breath, bring your attention to the subtle energy around you. Is the air smooth or choppy? Is the chi strong or weak? Close your eyes for a second or feel the air with your hands. Is love flowing or stagnant?

This is the information that will help you make a wise choice about sharing – yes or no.


If the answer you come to is that this is not the right circumstance, what will be required of you to hold off?

Do you need to shake it off or write it down? Do you need to exhale loudly or tuck it gently back in your heart?

Turn off the voices that say you should feel rejected, unwanted, disrespected, unimportant, underappreciated, etc. How will you accept the moment for what it is?

How will you expand your heart to hold the Both/And: you want to be heard and now is not the time?


If it seems like a good time to be heard, here are some specific things you can do to support your teen’s presence:

Say what it is you want:  "I’m upset about something that happened today and I would appreciate some empathy" or “I’d really like to just be listened to.”

Double check: "I’m feeling tender about this. I might cry, rant, etc. I just want to check, are you sure this is a good time for you to listen?” (This means being willing to accept a postponement.)

Be specific: "I'd love about minutes to talk about _, just feeling your attention and support.”

Create supportive conditions: "Is there something that helps you be present and listen? Do you want to sit on the couch, take a walk or go for a drive? Background music or silence?”

Ask for what would feel like presence to you: “Would you be willing to turn off your phone and give me your full attention for ten minutes? Are you willing to maintain eye contact while I share this? Can I ask you to repeat back to me how you understand what I say? Would you be willing to stay with what I’m saying for a few minutes before talking about your related experience or changing the topic? Could you refrain from debating or giving advice?”

Reading through this, you may feel uncomfortable with the prospect of saying or asking these things, that it would feel fake, that you might stumble on your wording, get frustrated or back down when they look at you quizzically.

Uh-huh. Changing how you do something feels weird at first. It's when it's uncomfortable that you know you’re changing, right? So, stay with it…

Which statement or request above feels most important to you right now?

Why does it matter to you?

What might saying it change in your next interaction with your teen/ young adult?

How would practicing and getting good at this affect your relationship?

Start there. Try it.

After the interaction, take some time to reflect:

What words did you use? What came out right and what needs tweaking?

What did you notice happening in your body when you anticipated asking and when you asked?

What thoughts ran through your mind? Were they assumptions or real?

What emotions arose in you? What message might they carry?

Breaking Cycles

Most of us were not heard as we needed to be heard. Our parents were too busy, too zoned out, too immature, too emotionally unavailable, too afraid, too ignorant, too angry… to really hear us. Some of us shrank back believing our voice was unimportant; others made a lot of noise to get their attention.

Being heard is a fundamental human need.

How does being heard by your teen relate to not being heard when you were a teen?

What assumptions can be released now?

What pattern do you decline to pass on to your kids?

What healing is possible in you?

May it be so, dear one.



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