For those of us who are parents, we try our best every day to do right by our kids, to support, guide and love them unconditionally. When it comes to the teenage years, it can be difficult to speak the same language as one another. Teenagers are coming into their own, feeling more willing, confident and ready to be more independent from us. They have a mind of their own when it comes to making decisions. We still, however, have an important role to play as parents or guardians, and although we are not trying to stifle their independence, we still need to guide them and share our own life experience and wisdom. This also applies to any adults who must work with or engage with teens in their lives or careers.
It’s not always easy to know how to say what we mean and mean what we say with the words we use. It is as though we speak a different language than our teens.
When we are trying to be helpful by offering solutions or alternatives, we tend to begin our sentences with:
• “Have you tried doing …………”
• “Would it be a good idea if you ………….”
• “Should you ask someone else ………….”
The issue with these types of questions is that they come from the parent’s agenda and not the teenagers. They suggest there is a right answer and usually that is the one the parent is thinking of. The other disadvantage to this type of question is you’re not having a dialogue, a connection because there tends to be just one-word answers – yes or no. We are making suggestions to help but a lot of time, teens don’t want our help. So, we need to learn how to ask the right type of questions, so it looks like they came up with the solutions themselves.
‘Why’ questions can also cause defensiveness as it may appear to the teenager you are analysing their decisions.
• “Why did you decide to stay out late?”
• “Why have you not done your homework?”
• “Why haven’t you cleaned your room?”
It also may appear that your focus is to judge their motivation. Most of the time, the response would be “I don’t know” “I forgot”. Don’t be surprised if your teenager stomps off or becomes angry. Putting someone on the defence can alert the Amygdala (fight, flight or freeze) part of the brain, the area that when someone feels threatened in some way, sets off chemicals to make someone react to the attack, causing anger or an energy outburst (stomping off).
Teenagers attention can be difficult to capture at the best of times especially for a parent, so avoid long and multiple-type questions for example:
• “So, when did you find out that Johnny wasn’t going – when you were over in Sally’s house or at school? Any idea why he’s not going?”
This can be overwhelming and confusing. Again, with this type of question, they may feel interrogated. Ask only one question at a time. Put yourself in their shoes. Remember when you were a teenager how you would baulk at the thought of entering the front door knowing you were going to be bombarded with questions about what you had been doing all day. You probably rolled your eyes and attempted to sneak in without being noticed to avoid being interrogated.
Keep questions simple: They should be short & They should start with “what” “who” “how”
• “What homework have you tonight?”
• “Who went with you last night?”
• “What was your favourite class today?”
• “How tired were you today?”
These types of questions usually require more than a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. They have no agenda, no suggestions, no judgement. They simply are creating a dialogue, an interest, a concern, and your teen knows you are available to listen.
They should avoid starting with “I”
• “I thought it would be a good idea if ………”
• “I want you to ………..”
Instead perhaps starting with:
• “Maybe/perhaps It would be helpful if ……..”
• “Is it possible for you to ………..?”
The teenager will feel like we recognize that their time is valuable, and we are respectful and considerate of it. We are speaking and respecting them as young adults and are allowing them to step up and be more independent by finding their own solutions to some of the questions.
You cannot change others, you can only change yourself, but as you change, it changes the communication and the relationship for the positive.
This communication style is helpful with teens and works equally well with adults.
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