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How to Listen to Your Teenager without Appearing to Have Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD)

By V. Michael Santoro, M. Ed.

In one of the Family Circus cartoon strips, the little girl looks up at her father, who is reading the newspaper, and says, "Daddy, you have to listen with your eyes as well as your ears." That statement says almost all there is to say about listening. Being a good listener means focusing attention on the message and reviewing the important information.

Listening can be considered an art, as well as a skill, and like other skills, it requires that you exhibit some discipline to be effective. However, in today's world where multitasking is considered essential to surviving in the workplace, it is not uncommon to be talking on the phone while we are reading mail or sending e-mail, and simultaneously conducting hand signals with a co-worker who needs your input about something important.

However, when it comes to communicating with your teenagers, you have to separate yourself from this multitasking communications style, and learn how to focus 100 percent of your time on her when she needs to talk to you. If you do not, she will perceive this distracted behavior as a lack of interest in her.

Thus, during your conversations with your teen, you must ignore your own needs, demonstrate patience, and pay attention to her. Hearing becomes listening only when you pay attention to what is being said, and can contribute to the conversation.

So how good are your listening skills?
Answer the following "yes or no" statements honestly:

1. I make assumptions about my teens feelings and thoughts
2. I bring up past issues during current disagreements
3. I interrupt my teenager's conversation
4. I respond to a complaint with a complaint
5. I respond to my teen with phrases like, "That's ridiculous."

If you answered "yes" to any of these statements, then there is some room for improvement in your listening skills.

What to do
Use the following guidelines to help improve your listening skills:

1. Maintain eye contact with your teen during conversations. Good eye contact allows you to keep focused and involved in the conversation.

2. Be interested and attentive. Your teen will sense whether you are interested or not by the way you reply or not reply to her.

3. Focus on "what" your teen is saying and not "how" she is saying it. If she is upset, for example, she may be exhibiting body language that may be distracting.

4. Listen patiently and avoid getting emotionally involved in the conversation. If you do so, you will tend to hear what you want to hear, as opposed to what is really being said. Your goal is to remain objective and open-minded during your discussions.

5. Avoid cutting your teenager off while she is speaking. This will show her that you respect her right to have an opinion, as well as to freely express it.

6. Avoid distractions or trying to multitask during your conversations. This may be okay at work, however your teen may perceive that you have a terminal case of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). :)

It may be helpful to have a practice conversation with your teenager rather than wait to try and be a better listener when she comes to you with a "real world" problem. Inform her that she is really important to you, and that you want to be a better listener. Then tell her that you need her help.

Referring to the above guidelines, have her tell you about her day while you demonstrate your listening skills. Then ask her how you did and what you could have done better. Remember not to get defensive and conclude by thanking her for her help. Doing this on a regular basis will not only improve your overall listening skills, but also will make your teenager want to talk to you.

About the author:
This article is an excerpt from the book "Realizing the Power of Love," How a father and teenage daughter became best friends...and how you can too! By V. Michael Santoro, M. Ed and Jennifer S. Santoro. For more information visit their Web site at

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