They say, "Little children, little problems; bigger children, bigger problems." What they mean is that the tween and teen years are nothing to sneeze at, and if you're a parent of a tween or teen, you know this. But new research confirms that active and engaged listening can help your teens open up more and share their life--which means you can make more of a difference for them when hard times hit.

When our tweens and teens share disturbing things with us, it's hard to not immediately react and move to fix or correct. But research from the University of Reading showed that active and engaged listening when teens were self-disclosing helped their feelings of well-being and made them more prone to share with their parents.

The researchers asked over 1000 13- to 16-year-olds to watch a staged conversation in which a parent and a teen talked about something difficult. In the vignettes, the parent adopted different body language and listening behavior and teens saw different versions.

What the research team found was that those teens who watched versions where the parent was actively engaged and visibly attentive said they believed the teen would have felt better about themselves if they were the teen and that opening up again for their parents would be more likely.

The active and engaged listening they were speaking of utilized techniques like eye contact and nodding as well as using keywords to praise the teens' willingness to be open and share hurt feelings.

This study is the first to look at the quality of listening to your teens vice additional parenting techniques combined and shows that active engagement with the teens made them feel more connected to their parent and authentically heard.

Dr. Netta Weinstein is an associate professor in clinical and social psychology at the University of Reading. She co-led the study and said that it's known that listening to someone's problems is an effective way to reassure them and establish connections. Still, until now, there was little attention paid to the quality of listening, Dr. Weinstein said, and that makes a difference to our teens.

She went on to say that the study showed quietly listening to a teenager while showing them they're appreciated for their honesty and valued for their truth has a powerful effect on their willingness to open up about other issues.

The study looked at a group split fairly evenly of male and female teens, with three identifying as another gender, and the team found that gender didn't make a difference in the importance of active listening.

The videos showed scenarios where teens admitted to issues and feelings troubling many teens today--trying vaping and feeling shame, or being rejected after refusing to try vaping and being hurt.

The teens shared that being listened to well, and not just being heard, would lead to better discussions between the parents and teens in the future. Dr. Weinstein said that we obviously have no way to know how often the expectation of better conversations turned into reality, but was more likely when active and engaged listening on the parent's part was involved.

The takeaway? Be the safe place your teens can come to and share their feelings and their valid concerns about living as a teen in today's world. Consequences for actions are legitimate, but be sure your teens know that there is merit in being honest and upfront, and that you'll actively listen to where they're coming from before the talk of consequences occur.

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