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Engaging Actively in Conversation with Adolescents Helps Them Open up Better

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  • Aug 30, 2021

A new study has shown that attentive listening techniques such as maintaining eye contact, nodding, and using keywords to praise openness could really help teenagers when they admit their wrongdoing and share hurt feelings with their parents. Researchers put up a staged conversation between a parent and a teenager about a difficult situation and asked the participants, who were mostly 13-16 years old teenagers, to watch it. The parent in the staged conversation was adopting different body language and listening behavior in different versions. The participants who saw the versions in which the parent was visibly more attentive said that they felt better about themselves as a teenager. They also stated that they would likely be open up more in the future conversation with their parents. The study was the first to analyzed hearing quality in isolation from other parenting techniques and found that teenagers feel more connected to parents when they are more engaged in listening. Dr. Netta Weinstein, Associate Professor of Clinical and Social Psychology at Reading University who led the study, said, "We all know that listening to someone talk about their problems is an effective way to calm them down and get one to establish a connection."

This study shows that in parent-adolescent relationships, intuitively listening to the teenager while making them realize that they are valued and acknowledged for their honesty has a strong impact on their zeal to open up. An equal division of male and female teenagers was recruited for this study, while three identified as other genders. The team found that active listening was equally important for all the participants. The first video conversation scenario showed a teenager admitting to his mother that he tried vaping and he felt embarrassed about it, and in the second conversation, he told his mother that he was rejected by his friends after he refused to vape and felt hurt. Each video conversation scenario had a version in which the mother listened carefully and another in which they seemed more distracted and used less eye contact.

"With such a large group of participants, it's comforting to see that active listening was universally beneficial during these teenage years. The study also has some important implications for adolescent well-being. Participants said that the good listening model seen in the videos would lead to better welfare. Although we don't know how often expectations match reality, it is clear that active listening in teenagers is more likely to produce a good result than the more passive style we tested it against," said Dr. Weinstein.