Listen Carefully to Teens for the Best Results

By Dr. Robert Wallace

February 20, 2020 5 min read

DR. WALLACE: Last week, my son became a teenager by reaching the magical age of 13. My ex-husband and I have been divorced for over eight years, so my son and I have spent much time alone together for many years now. He is a good kid, and I want him to remain that way through the very difficult teen years. Speaking from experience, as my own teen years were very rocky indeed at times.

If you could give me one tip to keep my son from going wrong now that he is a teen and a young man, what would it be? — Concerned Mother, via email

CONCERNED MOTHER: I can boil it down to a single word: listening. It's extremely important to have an open and honest line of communication between a parent and a child. Wise parents always find time to listen when a child needs to talk. Regardless of what the parents are doing, they should take a break and devote their full attention to what the child is saying.

When listening, make good eye contact and take special care to never put forth negative body language, especially a frown.

When a teen feels comfortable and trusts the parent will not threaten him or her with intimidating questions, the teen is more likely to speak honestly.

Everyone wants to be heard. The wise choice for the parent is to listen carefully and to let the teen be allowed to make whatever comments he or she wishes about the topic at hand. A good parent can then make wise comments in response to what they hear, even if the conversation becomes delicate or difficult. Using phrases such as, "Well, if it were me ... " or, "In my opinion ... " are good to use because they are nonjudgmental and do not speak down to the teen.

In short, seek to let the teen explain and feel he or she is understood. Then make whatever adjustments or suggestions (and even discipline) in a diplomatic way, without placing blame. Aim for skill building and taking better responsibility in the future rather than showing anger and placing blame.


DR. WALLACE: Last month, I found out that I was pregnant, and this was a really big shock for my boyfriend and me. We have not been having sex regularly, and the few times we did, we always used protection. I'm a good student in the 12th grade and plan to attend UCLA after high school, but everything has seemingly changed for me now.

My boyfriend and I are very well suited for each other. He is in college. Our parents are very understanding and have encouraged us to get married, so we will indeed marry this summer. When I talked to a family friend who is a school counselor in another city 20 miles away, he said it could be mandatory that I have to transfer to a continuation high school when my pregnancy becomes obvious. But since I just found this out and it's already February, I don't think it should be a problem because our school year ends in the middle of June. That's only four months away!

The big concern I have is that when I enroll at UCLA, they might be turned off because I went to a continuation high school. I wish to avoid that and to stay at my existing high school and graduate in June. Am I being reasonable here? — Surprised To Be a Mother So Soon, Santa Monica, California

SURPRISED TO ME A MOTHER: Because you're in the 12th grade, there may be ways to accomplish your goal, even if you "show" a little earlier than you think you might. When I was a high school principal in a district near yours in Orange County, we had much the same procedure regarding pregnancy. However, rather than having to attend the continuation school, you would have been allowed to finish your high school education at home. If you pass the classes, you'd earn the same high school diploma as other graduates receive.

There would be no mention on your transcript that you finished high school in home instruction.

Contact your own school district officials to see if a similar program can be arranged for you, and congratulations on your engagement.

Dr. Robert Wallace welcomes questions from readers. Although he is unable to reply to all of them individually, he will answer as many as possible in this column. Email him at [email protected] To find out more about Dr. Robert Wallace and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at

Photo credit: greymatters at Pixabay

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