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Teens are more likely to open up to attentive listeners

Quality listening skills can make young people more comfortable sharing personal things

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A new study conducted by researchers from the University of Reading found that teens are more likely to open up to people who they deem to be attentive listeners. 

The findings suggest that parents should try to learn to communicate better with their teens to make them more comfortable with being open. Being more engaged and making eye contact can help teens do just that. 

“We all know that listening to someone talk about their problems is an effective way of reassuring them and establishing a connection,” said researcher Dr. Netta Weinstein. “However, until now, there has been little thought given to the quality of that listening, and the difference that makes. 

“This study shows that in parent-teenager relationships, quietly listening to a teenager while showing them they are valued and appreciated for their honesty has a powerful effect on their willingness to open up.” 

Paying attention to listening skills 

The researchers had over 1,000 teens between the ages of 13 and 16 participate in the study. The participants were shown a series of videos where a teen was sharing something important with a parent. In half of the videos, parents practiced attentive listening skills; in the other half, they appeared aloof and distracted. 

Across the board, the participants were more drawn to the versions of the videos where the parents were paying attention and engaged in what the child was saying. When the parents in the videos made more eye contact and offered comfort and support to the teenagers who were sharing their feelings, the teens involved in the study felt more comfortable. 

The participants shared that the feelings of validation and empathy that they saw in the videos are two important factors in being willing to open up to their parents -- especially with vulnerable topics.

“With such a large group of participants, it is reassuring to see that active listening was universally beneficial across these years of adolescence,” Dr. Weinstein said. 

“The study has some important implications for teenage well-being as well. The participants said that the good listening model observed in the videos would lead to better well-being. Although we don’t know how often the expectation meets reality, but it’s clear that active listening is more likely to lead to a good outcome for teenagers than the more passive style we tested it against.” 

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