How can I help a teen learn to be attentive?
Listening to others is a skill that is basic to all human relationships, and every interaction with another person is an opportunity to demonstrate attentiveness. Many young people fail to be attentive because they are self-focused and have not considered how their behavior affects others.
Help the teens in your life become more attentive by modeling alert behavior and explaining how much you gain for yourself and give to others by paying attention.
Start with being attentive yourself.
Make a commitment to be fully attentive when you interact with the teen. By listening carefully, you will communicate that he is important to you, that you value him as a friend, and that you respect his ideas.
When he comes to talk to you, set aside what you were doing and focus on what he is saying. Lean forward and pay attention to every word he speaks. Maintain good eye contact without staring at him. Nod and smile when he says things that are right, wholesome, and true.
Discuss why attentiveness matters.
Help the teen understand that attentiveness dramatically impacts his interaction with others. When a person is attentive, he will experience more opportunities for deeper relationships and more thorough learning experiences. By demonstrating alertness, he gives everyone around him the gift of affirmation—they will know they matter to him and that he cares about them.
Expose signs of inattention.
In an instructional setting, an attentive person can give the speaker great encouragement by sitting near the front and responding with gestures that reflect his attentiveness, such as nodding, smiling, and jotting down notes. Physical expressions of boredom are disheartening and distracting to others, particularly in a large group setting such as a classroom or church. Ask the teen if he regularly does any of the following things while listening to others:
- Passing notes
- Checking his watch
Not only are these actions discouraging to a speaker, but they can also annoy and distract others who are trying to listen. Sometimes these gestures are not intentional demonstrations of boredom, but the teen should be aware of what they communicate to others and should avoid them as much as possible.
Trace restlessness to root causes.
Inattentiveness is often a symptom of deeper problems. A teen may not be able to concentrate because he is in bondage to bitterness, immorality, substance abuse, or another problem. All too often, teens experience the following indications of inner turmoil:
- Mood swings
- Irrational fear
- Questions about life
- Sudden anger
- Urges to fight
- Desires to flee
- Weird mental pictures
Ask the teen if he is struggling in any of these areas, and then address the needs he expresses. Be patient and compassionate as you challenge him to take steps toward freedom.
The goal of Satan is to snatch away or crowd out the good seed of God’s Word. He will use distractions of any kind to hinder a teen from listening to truth that will transform his life. Pray for God’s protection and encourage the teen to live according to the truth of God’s Word.
Notice and remove distractions if possible.
Individuals who are in charge of a meeting often are not able to deal with disruptions that distract the audience. It is appropriate for you to take the initiative to address these distractions, such as closing a door to a noisy hallway or politely asking a parent with a child who is disrupting a meeting to kindly step out. Addressing these needs allows the speaker, yourself, and others to concentrate more fully.
Prepare to learn wisdom.
It is wise to begin each day by asking God for wisdom and understanding. It is also wise to bow your head in prayer before a meeting starts and ask God to give the speaker a special message for you and to give you spiritual ears to hear it. God will hear your prayer. He may also motivate others to be attentive to His voice as they see your example.
Talk about the points made in a meeting.
After a meeting or conversation, ask the teen what he thought about specific points made by the speaker. What ideas had special significance to him? How did God use the message in his life? Share with him why the message was important to you.
Periodically evaluate your attentiveness. Encourage those around you to express genuine love by being alert to the words and actions of others. “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets” (Matthew 7:12).
This article is adapted from pages 22–23 of the Effective Counseling Course, Part Seven.