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Getting through to teens and getting them to listen to your advice is no easy task. There are times in every parent’s life when brain surgery seems an easier thing to accomplish. But if you approach things in the right way, you can get them to listen and take your words to heart. Here are some tips on how to approach them and the language to use:

1. Be patient and know when to hold back
Parents are used to being their child’s educator and problem solver, and when a teen or older tween talks about a problem, their first tendency is to immediately offer advice or propose a solution. Parents would do better to bite their tongue. This sort of preacher-parenting doesn’t work as kids get older, and it usually makes them feel judged, which will instantly shut down communication. Think about how you feel when you’re just trying to let off steam and a spouse jumps in with all kinds of declarations about what you should do (or should have done better). This is precisely what kids feel when their parents are always trying to offer advice.

So remember how it makes you feel when others are too quick to share their opinion. When you do want to offer your input, don’t feel a need to provide advice right away. Usually a more effective approach is to wait for a little bit, then come back with “I was thinking about what you told me, and I was wondering if you’ve considered…”

2. Ask before offering feedback
Simply saying “Can I give you some suggestions?” before jumping right into it can change the way your child interprets the advice. If they say ‘no’ don’t push it.

3. Never give advice without listening to their perspective
This goes for discipline issues as well as the things they bring up. If you’re the one approaching them, this can be accomplished by stating your problem (I have concerns about your grades) and then asking their input (why don’t you tell me how you see the situation).

4. Get their ideas
Say: “What ideas do you have?” Simply by reversing the order of the advice you give and letting them express their opinions first can make a big difference in how well it is received. It also saves you the time of duplicating what they’re already thinking. So let them give you their own input first and then either build upon it or offer alterations. It comes off as a lot less forceful.

5. Don’t force your ideas
Rather than saying “Here’s what you should do” say “I’d like you to think about…” This less forceful tactic comes off as less arrogant and allows the teen to claim the idea for themselves, rather than reject it outright because it seems like something you’re pushing on them.

6. Collaborate
Say: “I may have some ideas, tell me what you think about them.” This statement likewise provokes a more collaborative approach, where the decision reached will be a more mutual one. It also encourages more back and forth banter that will help you understand the situation better.

7. Appeal to common goals,
Rather than what YOU would like to see happen, work towards a goal. This can be done with questions like …

  • What do you want others to be thinking about you?
  • What principles do you want to stand for?
  • Is that how you want to come off?
  • Is this really the best choice?
  • Will you be able to look yourself in the mirror at the end of the day and know that you made the best decision for everyone involved?
  • How might others be affected by that action?

Every teen wants to be a decent and successful human being, so encouraging them to reflect on their actions within the larger picture can be more effective than expressing disappointment or disapproval with them.

6. Invoke the principle of balance
Teens are big on give and take and democratic thinking, so speak of ways to compromise or balance their wishes with your concerns or the concerns of others: “I know you think you’re too old to be micromanaged, but we need to find a way to balance your desires for autonomy with my duties as a parent to keep you safe.”

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