How to Talk So Youth Will Listen

When your youth FINALLY start warming up to you, how you respond will either encourage or discourage them from further disclosure. I’m sure you know some of these barriers to communication but let’s go through some of them.

Ordering – Telling your youth what she or he should do. For example, “Stop complaining that your teacher gave you a failing grade. Go into school tomorrow and talk to her about it.”

Threatening – Telling your youth to do something, “or else . . .” – suggesting there’s only one acceptable course of action. For example, “If you don’t take your studies more seriously, we’re not going to go out and have fun anymore.”
Preaching – Telling your youth how to act or behave – usually has a moralistic, ‘this is the right thing to do’ tone. For example, “You shouldn’t talk about other people like that.”

Avoiding – Trying to avoid problems or uncomfortable situations in the hope that they may go away on their own. For example, “Oh, let’s not talk about that. It’s so depressing! Let’s try to find something happy to think about.”

Pacifying – Trying to make your youth feel better without really addressing the problem. For example: if your youth says, “I feel bad because I was really mean to my little sister!” You reply, “Oh, don’t worry about it, I did the same thing many times.” Even though you may be sincere, you haven’t helped your youth resolve the issue.

Lecturing – Giving your youth unsolicited advise. For example, “If you want to get ahead in life you must really go to college. You should really work harder in school so that you can get into college.”

In other words, don’t ever talk down to them or be condescending or act like a know-it-all. Youth have more than enough intimidating authority figures to deal with already; they don’t need you to be yet another one. Also, youth in general know the difference between right and wrong and know what the right course of action should be without you having to tell them. So, learn to unclench a little, don’t be so uptight, make light of serious situations (where appropriate) and have a little fun. In other words, be loving, loose and loony!


While saying that, youth don’t need you to be “one of them” either, the trap many of us (and parents) fall into. We attempt to dress like them, use their language, get into the same fads they’re into. We think that that helps us to bond more with our youth. Well, it does in a way. We develop the friendship element and the youth want to hang out with us more, we get into the “in” crowd. Two things can happen. One, when you get to talking about more serious issues, they will tend to either not take you seriously or the other extreme, avoid the scary youth leader who “mutates” into this other authority figure whenever something serious is discussed. And two, you end up in a clique and the youth who really need you, the outcasts, the “not in-crowd” youth feel more alienated from you. Here’s the thing, you don’t need to look like and be like your youth to identify with them. You need to be a role model. That means being your own person with your own identity, holding to a high standard of integrity and having a clear purpose. That is what makes a strong youth leader, one with a magnetism that attracts youth. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying you need to be charismatic and loud and extroverted. But you do need to have identity, integrity, and purpose.

Ask the Right Questions

Learn to ask the right questions. Ask open-ended questions instead of close-ended ones. Instead of saying, “How was school?” Ask, “How do you feel about school?” Instead of, “Are you good at sports?” Ask, “I wasn’t good at most sports when I was in school, but I did like soccer. How about you?” Never underestimate the power of the question, “What do you think?” Especially when you youth come to you for advice, they aren’t really looking for a solution; they’re looking for approval on an already decided course of action. When you’re too quick to give advice, youth are quick to shift the responsibility of their choices over to you. “You told me it was ok! Now look what happened…” Sound familiar?

Remember that the activities you do together can become a source of conversation. Whether you are playing soccer together or enjoying a snack after seeing a movie, having a conversation about the activity itself can help your youth become more comfortable talking to you. These conversations can lead to more personal discussions later. Remember that you can always bring up memories of activities you have participated in with them to keep the conversation going.

Talk, Don’t Tell

There will come a time when in the stage of your relationship with your youth where they feel comfortable enough to open up to you about personal matters. When that happens, be supportive (this is, of course, cause for celebration). If you respond by lecturing or expressing disapproval, he or she is very likely to avoid mentioning personal matters in the future. Instead of seeking support and help from you, your youth might start to avoid conversations with you about problems and hiding school or family difficulties from you or worse, turn to the wrong people for support.

To demonstrate that you are supportive and non-judgmental, you can:

· Respond in ways that show you see your youth’s side of things.
· Reassure your youth that you will be there for him or her.
· If you give advice, give it sparingly and be sure it is focused on identifying solutions.
· If at times you feel concerned or disappointed, make sure it is covered with reassurance and acceptance.
· Sound like a friend, not like a parent.

Key Leaning Points:
· Be loose, loving and, loony!
· Identity, integrity, and purpose.
· Sound like a friend, not like a parent.

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