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How To Talk So Teens Will Listen

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“Watch your tone!” I’ve said this to my children many, many times. I’ve also said this: “It’s not what you say; it’s how you say it.” If we want to know how to talk so teens will listen, we have to watch our tones, too. A new study found that there’s a particular tone to which teens respond best. How we ask or tell our children to do something is directly correlated to whether they actually do it.

Here are the tones you’ve probably used with your teens—and the one they’d really like to hear.

The Tone to Use

Autonomy-Supportive Tone

If you’re wondering how to talk so teens will listen, this is it. The autonomy-supportive tone encourages and supports the listener. It helps children learn to have an internal locus of control—to know that they are in control of their actions. Instead of blaming others for their choices, they accept responsibility.

It sounds like this: “Hey, I know you’ll do a great job on your homework tonight, and as soon as you finish it, you can watch some TV or use your phone.” The choice is his.

The Tones to Avoid

Neutral Tone

This is the “blah” of mom tones. It doesn’t do any real harm, but it doesn’t encourage or help our children to grow, either. It’s kind of a missed opportunity to motivate our children to make good choices and comply with our requests. It’s a low energy tone and it gets low energy results.

It sounds like this: “Do your homework, okay?”

Controlling Tone

This is the tone that really causes trouble. From the research report: “…controlling tones…sounded like an attempt to push or coerce the subjects into taking a specific action.”

Teens who heard this tone had a “more negative reaction” to instructions, which makes sense. When we use a controlling tone, we back our teenagers into a corner. By taking away their voice, we remove their ability to save face—a big deal to this age group.

It sounds like this: “You better get in here right now and do your homework.”

Of course, our teens do need to follow our rules, even if they don’t understand the “why” behind them. But, if we can watch our tones and focus on how to talk so teens will listen, they’ll see that we view them as mature and capable of making good choices. They’ll not only be more likely to do as we ask, but they’ll also grow in the process. It also helps to increase the number of conversations we have with our teens so we can learn how they feel and what they think.

What type of tone have you noticed works with your kids?


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