Get Your Teen to Listen: Take the Positive Approach

By Terry Maher, MSW, LCSW

Do you think that your teenager isn't listening to you? Have you ever wondered if what you are saying is getting through to your teen? There you are, pouring your heart and soul into sharing your experience and knowledge, and your teenager looks at you as though you will just never "get it." Pretty frustrating as a parent, huh?

The key to keeping your teenager listening, and possibly paying some attention, is to keep it positive and short. Behavior modification tells us behavior that gets noticed is repeated. So, regardless of whether the attention given is positive or negative, we reinforce behavior by paying attention to it.

Try to reward what we call the "pro-social opposite" of the behavior that you would like to see eliminated. In other words, if your teenager’s room smells like something died in there, be sure to avoid a lecture about the importance of cleanliness. On the other hand, break out the band when your teenager makes a small effort toward picking up the dirty clothes on the floor of his or her room, notice and affirm each little step your teenager makes toward cleaning the room.

Keep the message positive and you will be amazed at how much more your teenager attends to what you are saying—one thing that experience has taught me is that even though kids act as though their parents are idiots, they do crave positive parental attention.

One last word of advice, don’t let your end of the conversation last more than a few minutes as you will probably find that you are talking to only yourself. Kids have a limited attention span for adults. So be smart, get your licks in early then get out!


Terry Maher is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), with a B.A. in Psychology from California State University Long Beach, and an MSW from University of Southern California with an emphasis on mental health services.

If you want your teenager to hear you better, call Terry to make an appointment. Contact 714-432-9857 ext. 6 or via email: