How to Use Reflective Listening with Your Teen

There can be an odd parent-child relationship that develops when children become teenagers. For most part, you may have had a healthy and happy relationship with your child – up until now. Now that your child is in adolescence, perhaps they don’t talk to you as often. Perhaps they are a bit more edgy, standoffish, and distant.


According to the Center for Reflective Parenting, one of the ways that parents can strengthen the parent-teen relationship during this sometimes challenging stage of life is use of reflective listening. Reflective listening is a technique of listening intently to a person’s story or problem and responding with a summary of the situation and feelings. Solutions or evaluations of the problem are not offered in reflective listening because it can undermine a teen’s ability to solve the problem on their own. In fact, it is during this stage of life that a parent wants to teach their teens to problem solve and think for themselves.


Furthermore, reflective listening is a significant communication tool that is at the core of healthy relationships. Research indicates that children whose parents are reflective, meaning that they recognize there is more going on inside a person than simply what is seen, are happier, more successful, and more resilient. Parents who are reflective tend to also have the ability to recognize what a teen needs to grow psychologically, socially, and emotionally.


Often, parents are quick to jump to conclusions about the way that their child is behaving or what their teen is communicating. Yet, reflective listening asks that a parent be reflective, patient, and compassionate. And it is through reflection, patience, and compassion that they can better appreciate and understand themselves as well as their teen. In this way, the relationship between parent and child develops in a secure way, based on presence, truth, and authenticity.


Another reason why reflective listening can be useful is because teens tend to experience life in extremes. Daily life for them might begin on what feels like an incredibly low note and end in joyfully happy one. The breakup with a friend or a low grade might feel like the end of the world to a teen. However, parents can provide support and enhance communication when they are willing to simply listen, be patient, and try to understand life from their teen’s perspective before jumping in with some advice.


Here’s an example of reflective listening:

Your teen: “I have Jonathan! He said that I was overweight in front of all my friends! I can’t ever go back to school again! Everyone thinks I’m fat now!”

Parent: “You must feel embarrassed that he said that. And angry that he said it in front of all your friends. It’s frustrating when a friend disappoints you that way.”


Notice in the example above that you didn’t give any advice. For example, you didn’t suggest that your teen talk to Jonathan about what he did. You simply identified what your teen might be feeling. And by acknowledging and naming those feelings, you help your teen feel seen and understood. This is the core of strengthening a relationship. If you want to support your teen and build your parent-teen relationship, practice using reflective listening with them.