When your teen is struggling, you naturally want to help. Your inclination may be to offer your wise counsel and suggest solutions. If her struggle leads to emotional distress, of course you want to comfort and reassure her. Although you know she needs to face it on her own, you may have a strong urge to solve the problem for her. If you are lucky, she will accept your help, she will listen to your suggestions, she may even follow your advice. But chances are when you try to give your teen advice, the first thing she does is roll her eyes and sigh. She tells you you don’t understand and things are different for her. She may even storm off in a fit of defiance.
There are three main reasons teens resist their parent’s advice. First, figuring things out on their own is an important part of developing critical thinking skills and independence. Teens want to feel competent and capable. Second, many are unwilling to open up about challenges or ask questions because they fear their parents’ judgment or worry they may face punishment. Third, past experiences, as well-intentioned as they were on your part, may have left your teen feeling as if you overreact, or turn her experiences into stories about your teen years. Whether one of these most common reasons or something else, she is likely to feel like you just can’t understand and therefore, can’t possibly give her advice.
So how do you give your teen advice?
How can you get her to listen, consider the thoughtful suggestions, and receive the support you are offering?
Practice listening from her point of view
Instead of jumping to conclusions and assuming you know how she feels and what she should do, be patient and hold space for her to open up. She may not be ready to divulge all the details, at first. But the more you show her she can share at her own pace and in her own way, the more she will. When she does open up, listen from her point of view. This means really stepping into her shoes. Asking yourself, what is it like to be her? What must it have been like for her to go through that? When you listen from this place, you demonstrate to your teen that you are really there with her, not pushing her to share and not interjecting your opinion or perspective, until she is ready.
Manage your reactions
Your teen is far less likely to seek your advice if she feels that you tend to overreact. In your teen’s mind, an overreaction includes judgment of the situation or another person, an accusation, and even over-empathizing with her feelings. The best reaction is a neutral, gentle reaction. You can show you understand through nods, eye contact, and calm affirmations like, “That must be really tough.” When you are calm and non-reactive, your teen feels a sense of trust and comfort. She will be more willing to share and listen to your advice.
Ask before you advise
When you ask your teen if she would like your advice or to hear your perspective, you demonstrate a level of respect that will open lines of communication and deepen your relationship. When she says, “yes” she will be much more receptive and she may even follow your suggestions and thank you for your support.
The bottom line
Teens have a desire to figure things out on their own but they also appreciate your guidance and advice. Listening well, controlling your reactions, and asking before you advise, will encourage your teen to share more often and heed the insight you share.