Do you ever wonder if your child will be one of the casualties of the current adolescent culture?
Do you worry that while you have had the skills to get your child through their elementary school years that you might not have the parenting skills to help them during their middle school and high school years?
Do you think that there might be things happening in the life of your child that you don’t know about, just as your parents didn’t know about everything that happened in your life?
Do you feel like you no longer truly know your child and what he or she is thinking about and dreaming of?
These questions have got you thinking a little bit, haven’t they? Scared about the answers? Are you fearful about the possibilities? Concerned for your child? Are you frightened of that approaching storm as well?
Questions have a mighty way of getting you to think outside the box and consider something other than what you have been holding onto for comfort or out of habit. They arouse you to think. And in the process of that thinking, you either rely on the resources you have collected throughout your life to answer some of those questions or you search for answers from people around you who can give insight, wisdom, and some knowledge outside of your understanding.
If you accept their counsel, chances are it helps you in your journey of answering the unanswered uncertainties you encounter. The gathered knowledge of the principles of right living (wisdom) gained in the past, coupled with the influence of knowledgeable relationships around you keeps you on the path you were intended to walk.
Your child is no different.
Every week I’m asked how I communicate with kids. I’ll tell you how this white-mustached grandpa gets kids to talk to me and to come back for more: I ask kids’ questions, seldom give my opinion, and am careful with my answers.
Let me break this down for you.
How to Talk to Your Teen: The Value of Questions
Asking questions does a couple of things that are crucial in developing a relationship of longevity with your child. First of all, it makes them feel valued. Do you think kids in their tween and teen years need to experience a sense of worth in a world of performance and appearance?
The unadulterated inquiry into their life from you conveys a sense of interest that is seldom displayed and rarely seen by others. I think it impresses a teen to think that someone from a different world would want to come into theirs and show an interest about their life, no matter how put together or how messed up it is.
How to Talk to Your Teen: The Don’ts
For your teen to feel this value, you must position and communicate questions in a way that does not make your teen interpret your question as
• another form of interrogation where you’re digging up dirt or trying to find evidence of wrongdoing;
• a courtesy question just to give you a platform to share another one of your opinions;
• an inquiry to gather information to be used at a later date to prove a point;
• an attempt to jump into their life to add another improvement to their “makeover list”;
• an accusatory investigation into the habits, choices, and actions of friends.
While there may be an occasion in which you have to ask questions to accomplish the things I’ve listed above, there must be a time and place or opportunity where your teen feels safe and your questions are focused to gain insight into your child’s heart. Teens will sense the genuineness and authenticity of your concern; they know if it’s real or not.
Second, asking questions gives teens the opportunity to share answers that show you where their interests are, where their confusion is seated, what conflict of values they might be struggling with, and why they’re behaving the way they are. Questions are the keys that unlock the door of opportunity to engage deeply with your teen and allow motives, hurts, and hidden feelings to rise to the surface. This is what you want, isn’t it?
How to Talk to Your Teen: Remember to Listen
Your questions should then be derived from the answers your teen gives and the follow-up questions he asks of you. If you spend your time asking questions, you may hear more than you want, and you’ll likely hear some things that you’d rather not know. But I can guarantee this: you’ll never have a shortage of topics to discuss.
I don’t share my opinion with teens I’m counseling unless I am asked for it—and then only rarely.
Remember the point of asking questions isn’t so that we can find the answer; it is so they can find the answer.
So when the look in a kid’s eye says, Hey, I need some help here, and I can tell that his wheels are turning, I usually ask, “Do you want an answer or are you asking my opinion?” There are times he just says, “Neither.” And I respond, “Okay.” Then there are times that a teenager says, “Give me your opinion.” More times than not, I respond by saying, “I’m not sure what I think about that”—not because I really don’t know, but because I don’t want to stop the teen from formulating his own opinion. On rare occasions, I let him know what I think.
Why? It is because I want teens to continue to question and search with their whole heart. I want them to keep thinking. I want them to take those bits of truth they’ve already been taught and figure out how to place them in their faith and value development. I want them to do it, instead of me acting like I have to do everything for them. I want them to come up with the answer rather than take the lazy way out and have something given to them.
I want them to feel proud for what they’ve done, not for what they’ve been told. I want them to develop their own thoughts and beliefs, not just plagiarize mine. I want to be the one who directs them to truth, not the one who gives them all the truth.
Do you see the necessity of changing your parenting style from lecture to discussion and filling that discussion with questions?