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Helping Your Depressed Teen Feel Heard and Supported (Practicing Active Listening Skills)

Helping Your Depressed Teen Feel Heard and Supported (Practicing Active Listening Skills)

Watching your teenager struggle with depression can be overwhelming. However, you can bring them closer to healing by making them feel heard. Listening actively to teens makes them feel loved and valued and can be a crucial form of support for those struggling with complex depression disorders. We understand the role of parental communication in promoting teen emotional well-being at Nexus Teen Academy. Therefore, we seek to help you make your teenager feel heard and validated by discussing active listening in this blog. Join us, and let’s assist you on how to talk to your teen about their depression.

The Power of Active Listening in Supporting Depressed Teens

Active listening is an important communication skill that transverses simply playing to what the other party has to say. It requires one to actively process and seek to understand the meaning and intention behind words. Instead of mere participation, an active listener stays mindful and focused on and during the conversation.

Here are the benefits of actively listening when interacting with a depressed teenager

  • It shows you are genuinely interested in the conversation. This makes the teenagers feel heard, valued, and acknowledged.  
  • It demonstrates empathy.  
  • It helps validate their experiences, emotions, and perspectives.  
  • They feel more confident and understood, encouraging them to articulate their feelings clearly. This can boost their self-esteem and help them develop effective communication skills.  

Above all, active listening helps establish trust, making teenagers feel free and eager to share. This is particularly important for teens dealing with mental health issues, such as depression.

Fundamentals of Active Listening to Practice

Active listening is a skill that encompasses several components and techniques, such as the following:  

Paying Full Attention

You can pay full attention to your teenager by:  

  • Eliminating Distractions: Do away with anything that may distract you as you talk to your teen. You should turn off your computer monitor, put your phone in silent mode, and pause loud background music. This also means choosing a quiet environment with limited distractions.  
  • Taking Notes: You can scribble a few notes, highlighting key points in the conversation. However, don’t make it look too formal; your teenager should loosen up to share more. 
  • Asking Questions: Seeking clarification shows interest in the conversation and prevents you from drifting. However, wait until your teen completes their sentence or trail of thought before asking a question. It’s also recommended to ask open-ended questions that build on the conversation.

Body Language and Non-Verbal Cues

Besides paying full attention, active listening heavily relies on non-verbal communication. Here is how you can use your body to show attentiveness during conversations:  

  • Make and Maintain Eye Contact: Turn your head and upper body to face your teen directly and make eye contact as you talk to or listen to them.  
  • Lean Forward: Leaning forward shows you are engaged and attentive, while leaning back may signify disinterest, dislike, or negativity.  
  • Use Head Movements: Nodding is a powerful communication tool that should be explored more often. For example, besides proving your attentiveness, three nods at regular intervals can encourage your teen to open up more. Additionally, you can tilt your head occasionally to show interest, curiosity, and involvement.  
  • Facial Expression: Do not remain blank when conversing with your teenager. Depending on the scenario, you can frown or smile occasionally to show concern and empathy. 
  • Mirroring Expressions: You can observe your teen’s facial expressions and physical gestures and subtly take them on where applicable.

Encouraging Your Teen to Open Up

You need to encourage your teen to open up for a successful conversation. This can be achieved by creating a safe space for sharing and using open-ended questions. Here is an in-depth discussion:

Creating a Safe Space for Sharing

Teens are more likely to open up in environments that support open discussions. This can be achieved by:  

  • Actively listening to them without judgment.  
  • Upholding high confidentiality levels and respecting their privacy.  
  • Avoiding criticisms.  
  • Allowing them to open up at their own pace.  
  • Being available and approachable. Reassure your teenager of your love and support by showing genuine interest in their thoughts and feelings.  
  • Calmly and constructively addressing conflicts.  
  • Maintaining a calm and supportive demeanor.  

However, remember to set clear boundaries for a sense of security even as you create and maintain a safe space for sharing.

Using Open-Ended Questions

Seeking clarification or asking questions when conversing with your teenager is crucial. However, you should prioritize open-ended questions to encourage them to open up. Here are a few great examples:  

  • How have you been feeling about things lately?  
  • Do you feel supported?  
  • Would you mind sharing how I can help you right now?  
  • What are some of the things that make you sad or stressed?  
  • Do you still enjoy your hobbies?  
  • What would make you feel better right now?  
  • Are there thoughts or concerns that keep you awake at night?  

You can ask the above questions at the beginning or during the conversation. However, allow them to answer at their own pace, without interruptions, and while staying attentive.

Practicing Reflective Listening Techniques

Reflective listening requires paying attention to what someone says and letting them know you’ve heard and understood them. It encompasses reflecting the other party’s feelings and ideas as accurately as possible. This invaluable listening skill involves several techniques, including reflecting, clarifying, summarizing, and validating. Let’s expound on them.

Reflecting and Clarifying

Listen to your teenager and use your own words to reflect what they’ve said. This helps you (and them) ascertain that you properly understood the message. You can also repeat a few important parts, word for word, to express attentiveness and help you stay focused on the rest of the message.

Summarizing and Validating

You should acknowledge your teen’s feelings, emotions, and experiences without judgment after reflecting, summarizing, and clarifying what they’ve shared. Instead of belittling or dismissing their emotions, emphasize the importance of their feelings. We encourage you to reflect on their emotions and use empathetic statements.   

Here are a few reasons to prioritize reflective listening when talking to teenagers:  

  • Repeating their thoughts and ideas back at them can help them refine their message delivery, leading to clearer and more concise messages.  
  • It helps you stay silent and focused on the conversation, improving understanding.  
  • It allows them to check the accuracy of their words, helping them communicate how they hoped.  
  • It can help you build a better relationship with them.

Avoiding Common Listening Pitfalls

You should avoid judgments, assumptions, interruptions, and quick solutions when talking to teens about mental health issues. Here is an in-depth discussion:

Judgments and Assumptions

Adolescents may refrain from sharing their thoughts and feelings if they fear judgment. Additionally, it’s harder to actively listen when you have pre-formed opinions about your teenager or their condition. Adopting a judgment-free approach allows you to listen actively to what your teen has to say while encouraging them to open up. You should show empathy and understanding and avoid criticizing their perspectives (however much you disagree).  

Making assumptions about your teen’s emotions or experiences also makes them feel misunderstood or invalidated, which can lead to a trust breakdown. Instead of believing in stereotypes or generalizations, ask open-ended questions to clarify any assumptions you may have.

Interrupting or Offering Quick Solutions

You may be tempted to interrupt or offer quick solutions as your teenager discusses their challenges and experiences. However, that may show you are disinterested in what they have to say and lack empathy. Instead, allow your teenage son or daughter to express themselves fully before offering a response.  

Quick solutions also rarely address or recognize the emotional aspects of a teenager’s experience. Therefore, internalize what your teenager has to say and validate them before offering solutions.

The Role of Empathy in Active Listening

You should be empathetic when talking or listening to a teenager with depression. This helps you understand the message and can improve your overall relationship. Let’s first distinguish empathy from sympathy before looking at empathy in action.

Understanding vs. Sympathy

Although empathy and sympathy involve emotions, there’s one major difference. When we sympathize with someone, we understand their feelings, but from our perspective. However, we feel what they feel when we empathize with them. Therefore, empathetically listening means putting yourself in the other party’s shoes and connecting emotionally. You are more likely to give a heartfelt response when you listen to your teenager with empathy.

Empathy in Action

Here is how you can express empathy when having a conversation with a teenager struggling with depression:  

  • Ask how to support them instead of offering quick solutions or unsolicited advice.  
  • Allow them to open up at their own pace. This requires patience and understanding.  
  • Show that you acknowledge and understand their struggles.  
  • Pay attention to what they have to say.  
  • Avoid judgment or criticism during conversations. Instead, show your genuine desire to help.  
  • Do not dismiss their feelings or compare their struggles to others.  
  • Show genuine concern and interest in their well-being.  

We encourage you to learn as much as you can about teen depression to understand your teenager’s experience.

Building a Habit of Regular Check-Ins

You should communicate consistently and balance listening with speaking when supporting a depressed teenager. Let’s find out more.

Consistency in Communication

Supporting a depressed teenager requires consistency. Here is why it’s important to consistently and regularly check in with them:  

  • It can help you identify signs of escalation promptly.  
  • It helps build a strong and supportive relationship.  
  • It enables timely intervention, preventing the worsening of depressive symptoms.  
  • It offers them a chance to express their feelings and release pent-up emotions.  
  • It is a form of ongoing monitoring for those in depression treatment.  
  • It helps improve emotional well-being.

Balancing Listening with Speaking

Conversations with your teen should be dialogues, not monologues. Here is how to avoid monopolizing the discussion:  

  • Do not interrupt your teenager as they talk about their feelings, emotions, or experiences. Give them a chance to express themselves.  
  • Pay full attention to your teenagers as they talk. It’s advisable to acknowledge their feelings, too. 
  • Encourage your teenager to open up more through open-ended questions. Such questions also encourage 2-way conversations.  
  • Do not rush to offer solutions. Instead, let them finish sharing what they have to say.  

However, balancing listening and speaking doesn’t mean staying silent throughout the conversation. Feel free to share your thoughts and experiences where applicable, but do not dominate the conversation.

Navigating Difficult Conversations

You should prepare well for mental health discussions with your teenager, as emotions may run high. Read through to learn how to navigate difficult conversations.  

When Emotions Run High

You should stay calm when emotions run high as you talk to your teenager. Here are a few helpful strategies:  

  • Avoid appearing aggressive or defensive. Try as much as possible to maintain an open posture.  
  • Ground yourself by taking deep breaths and focusing on your physical sensations. This is particularly helpful when you notice yourself getting tense.  
  • Watch your tone and volume. Refrain from shouting.  
  • Avoid pointing fingers or resorting to personal attacks.  
  • Express your feelings through ‘I’ statements.  
  • Choose your words carefully to avoid being hurtful.  
  • Remind yourself of your teen’s condition; remember they are counting on your support.  

You can also take breaks to cool off or center yourself before continuing the conversation.

Seeking Professional Help

At times, it’s advisable to seek professional support. The following signs signify the need for professional intervention:  

  • Increased irritability or frequent anger outbursts that make it difficult to converse.  
  • Increased isolation and withdrawal from friends, family members, and social activities.  
  • Persistent sadness, mood swings, or feelings of hopelessness.  
  • Self-harm behaviors.  
  • A general interest in suicide or suicidal thoughts and ideations.  
  • Concentration and decision-making challenges.  
  • Frequent physical complaints without any apparent or justified cause.  

We have a range of qualified, licensed, and experienced teen mental health specialists ready to attend to your teen at Nexus Teen Academy. Contact us for tailored guidance, support, and treatment.

Conclusion

You need active listening skills when supporting a teen with depression. This requires being fully present, paying attention to non-verbal cues, keeping good eye contact, asking open-ended questions, reflecting on their message, withholding judgment, and being patient. We encourage you to use these skills when supporting your teenager’s journey through depression.  

We are committed to helping parents and teens overcome a range of mental health disorders at Nexus Teen Academy. Feel free to contact us for further guidance on supporting a depressed teenager or to learn more about our teen depression programs.

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