Editors Note: This article is written by BCC Counselor Colleen Ryan as part of our series on “Helping Teens.” In this series, our counselors are unpacking how we can all care for teens who are facing different types of trouble.
“You’re not listening to me!”
“Why don’t you ever listen to me?”
“How come you don’t put down your phone and listen to me!”
We live in a culture where there’s so much noise and so many distractions that we are losing the art of listening. We are losing the art of being present and being engaged with thoughtful conversation with those that we are with.
We are attached to our phones and allow the various notifications that we receive to dominate our lives. We are losing the art of listening.
Quick and Slow
Yet, our teens desperately need to have adults who are actively listening to them and engaged in their lives. James 1:19 says, “My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.”
Did you catch that? “Quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.”
Now if the verse HAD said, “Slow to listen, quick to speak, and quick to become angry” we’d say, “Yep, I’m doing that really great!” But that’s not what James says; he says the opposite.
How are we doing with being “Quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry?” If you were to ask this question to the teen in your life what would they say? How would they respond?
Foolishness and Folly
The book of Proverbs, known for contrasting the foolish person against the wise, talks a lot about listening… or the lack thereof. Proverbs 18:2 says, “A fool finds no pleasure in understanding but delights in airing his own opinion.”
So when we ‘listen’ are we actively trying to understand the other person’s point of view, or are we too busy spouting off our own opinion? Usually, it’s the latter.
A few verses down, Proverbs 18:13 says, “He who answers before listening – that is his folly and his shame.” Ouch! Answering before listening. Can you relate? Have you ever done that? I know I have!
Yet Proverbs calls that folly or foolish, and it is. None of us would ever want to be characterized as ‘foolish’ but if we’re answering before speaking, that’s what we are.
But hang on, there is some great instruction and encouragement in Proverbs 18 as well. Let’s take a look at verse 15: “The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge; the ears of the wise seek it out.”
Did you get that? We need to have discerning hearts that want more information, and if we’re wise our ears will seek it out.
Oftentimes I tell my clients that when they’re in a conversation or even a disagreement and they’re trying hard to listen but they don’t understand the opinion that is being expressed, they should ask the other person:
“Can you help me understand why that’s so important to you?”
“Can you help me understand why you thought it was OK to blow off your curfew?”
“Can you help me understand…”
By wording it this way, the door to further understand the other person’s thought process and reasoning is swung wide open.
But after you ask the question, you need to be willing to listen to their answer. No rebuttal and no interruptions.
Now you still might disagree with their reasoning, and that’s OK. But it’s important that you listened with an intent to understand and that your teen feels heard and understood. We can agree to disagree, but let’s make sure that we’ve listened well first.
So that begs the question: When I’m in a conversation or even a disagreement with a teen, does my heart want more information? Are my ears seeking it out? Or am I too busy proving Proverbs 18:2 (A fool finds no pleasure in understanding but delights in airing his own opinion”) and Proverbs 18:13 (“He who answers before listening – that is his folly and shame”) to be true?
For “failing to listen fosters mistakes and incites anger. Listening is paramount to knowing how to respond properly and to contribute words of value.”
Now more than ever our teens need adults who will put down their phones and who are wise enough to listen with an intent to understand, love them unconditionally, and speak truth into their lives. But it all starts with listening.