A Note from Mary Margaret West: We constantly want to help load your toolbox with more ideas and strategies! Yall. This is so helpful. Shelley is a teen girl mom, student pastor’s wife, and counselor, and today’s post is a game-changer (and it’s really easy to implement)!
I’d like to share with you a powerful phrase that has been a complete game-changer for me in each and every one of my roles involving teen – as a parent to tween and teen girls, as a professional counselor specializing in children and teens, and as a church youth leader. This is my “go-to” phrase that I use with teens almost daily, and it’s AMAZING how it helps them to feel valued, respected, and heard. I’m sharing this phrase with you, so you can begin to put it to use and see firsthand the power of truly listening to a teen. Here’s the phrase:
“That’s interesting, tell me more about that.”
Yes, it’s simple. But, it speaks volumes to a teen. Teens desperately want to be heard. The fact is, in a world where teens are constantly connected via technology and social media, they are (surprisingly) more lonely than ever. This little phrase opens the door for them to feel heard!
Let me explain how to use it most effectively:
- Put on your poker face. This phrase works best when you maintain control of your emotions as a teen tells you something, even if it sounds shocking or bizarre or completely ridiculous. When we remain calm, it helps teens to keep talking, and it communicates that we’re listening to what they have to say. Keep in mind: teens often “test the waters” when they first begin talking with you. They may say something to shock you to see how you’ll respond – to see whether they can trust you enough to share the REAL stuff they wanna talk about. The phrase, “That’s interesting, tell me more about that,” (when used with your best poker face) allows you to hear them out and keep them talking while you build connection and trust, so they’ll think of you when they’re ready to share any “big” stuff they really want to talk about in the future. When we instantly react to their topic with shock or anger, or try to quickly point out how their ridiculous idea could never actually work in real life, teens tend to either shut down or respond with hurt and anger. We can avoid this by keeping our emotions in check and hearing them out first.
- Be quiet and listen. Teens are desperate to be heard. When you communicate that you’re interested in what they have to say, and that you want to hear more, get ready! You might be surprised at how quickly they respond to your invitation. We can show them we’re interested in what they have to say (and also communicate their value and worth): by giving them eye contact (your undivided attention) and by not interrupting (let them get it all out), even if we don’t agree with what they’re saying. A bonus: when we respect and listen to them, they’re more likely to listen to us and respect what we have to say.
- Summarize what you heard them say. When we can follow-up with, “So what I hear you saying is…,” then we give a teen an opportunity to clarify any points that we misunderstood or that they miscommunicated. This ensures we are on the same page and also allows teens to feel heard. It is important for them to feel heard, because in the next step, we will ask them to hear us out.
- Share your thoughts. As you begin to share your thoughts, keep in mind: sometimes teens simply want to process their thoughts and ideas out-loud with someone and are not ready to hear your opinions just yet. Also, older teens probably already know your thoughts on the matter. In addition, a teen may still have more to say on the subject, before we interrupt and begin sharing our own response. Once you’ve heard them out, calmly share your thoughts on what they have shared with you. The key here is to remain calm and keep your emotions in check. Big emotions, like anger and frustration, can shut them down to what we have to say. Even laughter, if perceived as laughing AT them, can shut them down. When you’re done, you might consider asking them to summarize what they heard you say (to be sure you’re both on the same page…and to give you an opportunity to clarify anything they misunderstood).
I hope you’ll give this phrase a try this week! It comes in handy all the time. It’s useful for responding to “big scary” things teens struggle with, as well as the random ideas they often have. I find it especially helpful in awkward conversations when you’re talking to a teen whose sports, hobbies, favorite video games, and/or interests are different than your own. Also, it works well with the teen who prefers to remain on the fringe and is hard to get to know. Of course, this phrase is powerful for ANY teen you may encounter this week. As a bonus: you can even use this phrase with spouses, friends, and coworkers! 😉
Shelley Spence is a youth pastor’s wife, mom to two girls (a tween and a teen), and a Nationally Certified Licensed Professional Counselor. She specializes in working with families of angry or difficult children and teens. Her desire is to live according to the Word and lead others to do the same… at home, at church, and in her work.