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Why Your Teen Isn’t Listening to You

Do you ever feel like your teen is not just ignoring you, but as though they literally cannot hear you? Sometimes, just as you are on the edge of yelling, it’s as though they register for the first time that you’re talking to them.

This is one of the most frustrating aspects of parenting teens, and most parents have to deal with it to some degree. In fact, it’s so common that neuroscientists decided to see if teens are just ignoring their parents, or if they really can’t hear them. What they found out is that teenage brains actually tune out parental voices. How’s that for one of the most infuriating scientific findings of all time?

So now that you know you’re not crazy, let’s look at how this neurology impacts teaching your teen to drive.

Teen Maturity and Development

As a parent of one or more teens, you have your work cut out for you in terms of setting boundaries while expanding their independence. You are preparing your child for adulthood, and all that comes with it, while still maintaining awareness that they need your guidance and authority.

What makes all of this really difficult is that the adolescent phase of development is working against your every effort. Teenagers are quickly growing into adult bodies with adult hormones, while their cognitive development moves at a slower pace. You are continually learning to rebalance what you say and how you say it in order to protect, discipline, and encourage them. And now we know that they can’t even hear you all the time.

What the study I referred to found is that adolescent brains begin responding less to the familiar voices of their parents and more to unfamiliar voices. This natural development is getting them ready to launch from the comfort of their nest in order to meet and socialize with new people. As they mature, they need less interaction with their lifelong authority figures and more interaction with their peers and unrelated adults.

Keeping Your Teen’s Attention While Driving

For the most part, this inability to listen is frustrating and seemingly disrespectful. But in some circumstances, it can be downright dangerous. Driving lessons are a prime example of how tuning out your voice can lead to big trouble for your teen driver. What can you do about it?

Your first step in tackling this issue is being aware that it’s legitimate. Now you know that your teen driver is not purposely ignoring you; it’s literally hard for them to hear you. The second step is to work within that reality. Before your teen ever gets behind the wheel for their very first lesson, set the ground rules in a face to face conversation. Make eye contact, discuss expectations, go over unacceptable attitudes and behaviors, and above all, be encouraging. Your teen needs to know that you are 100% in their corner for this learning process.

When your teen is behind the wheel, set a few guidelines to make sure everyone’s words are being heard. As a rule, use your normal tone of voice calmly at all times. Tell your teen that you need them to respond verbally to your instructions so that you know they can hear you. If they do not respond, say their name, wait for a response, and repeat your instructions. Understand that they may forget to respond if they are trying to concentrate on the road, and be patient with their efforts.

If your teen is really struggling to hear you, you find yourself getting angry, or your teen starts responding with a negative attitude, it’s time to pull over and take a break. If you can’t make any progress after the break, then end the lesson. There’s no need to get into a conflict over it. Remind your teen of the boundaries, and try again another time. If you can manage to always keep yourself calm when enforcing the rules, your teen will eventually catch on to the fact that it’s their responsibility to be an attentive driving student.

Teen Driving Support is Available

Driving is a huge milestone in the parent-teen relationship. There will always be a learning curve to finding the most effective way to communicate with each other. Our exclusive resource, The Parent’s Survival Guide for New Teen Drivers, can give you a great head start in coaching your teen to drive. If you’re still struggling to connect with your teen on this vital life skill, consider professional driving lessons. We have heard from countless parents that their teen drivers seem to digest the exact same information much better when it comes from our coaches. And now we know why… It's science!!


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