When you ask your teenager questions, do you get the standard responses of: “Yeah.” “No.” “Fine.” “Nothing.” “I don’t know.”
If you are the parent of a teen, you probably know exactly what questions elicit those responses. One parent told me, “Any of those responses would be an upgrade from what we get…all we get is a grunt.”
Have you tried everything you can think of to get an actual answer from your teen? Are you wondering, “What does it take to ask questions that elicit a response?” It’s not that easy to just start asking good questions. It takes practice.
When my kids were teenagers and I was thinking about this I realized that if my kids talked
to me, I would have an opportunity to know what was going on in their lives. And if they listened to me I would have an opportunity to be an influence.
I realized that if my kids were going to talk to me they would have to feel safe. They would have to trust me to be able to:
- really hear what they were saying, without putting my own spin on it
- respect their opinion
- not use that information to become suspicious of them
So how do you ask the kinds of questions that actually begin a conversation with your teenager? These are the kinds of questions that elicit a response rather than shut down the conversation.
- First of all, your kids need to know that it is safe to talk to you and that they can trust you.
- Tone of voice is one of the most important things. You can change curiosity into scorn or shame just with your tone of voice even if you use the very same words. Be VERY careful with your tone of voice.
- You can ask them to share (“Tell me about that”) how they came to their beliefs — as long as you aren’t trying to change those beliefs…only to understand them.
- When you are able to listen respectfully (without interrupting, interpreting, or intervening) your kids have an opportunity to listen to themselves. As they listen to themselves, they have an opportunity to think about (and question) their own beliefs. Give them time and encouragement to do that.
- Before you tell them what you think, ask them if they would like some feedback? If you can offer some input? If they say “no”, accept it. “Okay. Let me know if you change your mind.” (Think about this: How many of the things you tell your teen are things that you have already told them? Many times?)
- Remember that judgment, criticism, embarrassment, or shame will end the conversation.
- Ask yourself… “How would I feel if someone was talking to me the way I am talking to my kid?” If the answer is, “I wouldn’t like it,” chances are your kids don’t like it either. Now is your opportunity to upgrade how you communicate so you can say, “Yes. I would feel respected if I was talked to like this.”
(Next week we will explore what happens when there is a break in communication…and how to repair it.)
Want more tips and hints? Check out “Upcoming Workshops” or “Problems with Teens”.
Debi, thank you for this article! Funny how in my job we are going through asking open-ended questions and I should have known to apply that at home to get better answers. Instead, I get “well, you know.” My response is “no I do not know”. Time to reevaluate for a better response.