When you think teens report wanting the most from the adults in their lives?
Did you think that it was a new bike or car? How about money or to stay out late? Did you guess that they wanted to spend more alone time with their friends or mates? Oh, wait maybe you thought they wanted more privacy on their devices and social media?
If you guessed any of these, you are wrong.
Today when I finished a workshop with a dozed youth classified “at risk” which means they have been labeled to have environmental or emotional factors which may set back, or halt, positive developmental cycles, I asked them to randomly write down what they wanted adults to know. The young people could have wrote anything. They were instructed to use whatever language they wished and that no topic was off the table. Each child sat with their backs turned to one another so they could have full privacy while writing. Each response was folded and placed in a pile to ensure that they would not be matched to their statements.
When I got home, I read the notes that each young person entrusted me with. I was shocked to discover that 100% of the notes, every single note, said almost the same thing. Each note made the same plea. Each child wanted adults to listen to them. They wanted to be heard.
So here it is. The age old fight that parents and adults have been having with young people since the dawn of time. Note, the children did not say that they wanted to be heard and be right. They did not say they wanted to be heard and get their way on anything. The young people said they wanted to simply be heard.
As adults we often do not properly listen to our young people. Here are some common reasons why:
- We are so busy we simplify what our young people are saying to us by speaking for them and inserting what we think they are trying to say to speed things up. This makes us miss what they are actually trying to say.
- We simply do not like what they are trying to share with us. It can be uncomfortable to hear things our young people have to say at times so we shut them down or clobber them with rules, or insert our values, rather than understanding.
- We do not know what to do with the information they are trying to share with us. Often as parents we feel that we are expected to know the answers to what our young people are having challenges with. This is our personal expectation, to “fix” problems is part of a mature adult’s human nature. While young people are most often not seeking answers as much as companionship and understanding.
When our young people feel they have no voice, they stop talking. When our young people stop talking to us, they start talking to others…most often peers. I feel it is no coincidence that out of 12 at risk youth who were given a platform to communicate anything they felt important to adults, all chose to speak on the topic of being heard.
As the balance on this conversation, here is my advice to parents and adults who interact with youth.
- Be easy on yourself. You do not have to have all of the answers. Most often young people are not looking for answers to a problem, they are looking for understanding and comfort in the situation they are facing.
- If you allow them, young people will tell you what they are feeling and what they are seeking from you in a specific situation. If they are able to be comfortable, trust you and know they are being heard, they will ask you for what they need.
- When you do not have the answers, he honest about that. You can still help them find a resource which can help.
- If you are, for whatever reason, unable to have a conversation with your youth and offer your undivided attention, do not have the talk at that time. Let the young person know they are important and because they are important you would like to speak to them (in an hour, or tomorrow at 4pm) at another time so you can give them your undivided attention. And make sure you stick to what you set and that you are completely present.
- Mirror what they are saying to you. For example, “I heard you say…..” or “When you said….”
- Start conversations with your youth when things are not serious. Young people are super smart and funny. They have lots to say. Having fun conversations with our children is the number one way to help them understand how important their thoughts and feelings are to us.
There are many ways to show your youth that they are important and that their voices are heard. As human beings we need to know that our thoughts and our feelings are understood by others. When we do not feel understood or heard, we feel isolated. When we feel isolated, we tend to further isolate not only ourselves, but others.