By Ross Bowerman
When parenting teenagers, one of the best strategies and skills to learn is to ask good questions.
1. ASK GOOD QUESTIONS
A good question is one that gets a teenager talking about what they want to talk about. So start with something open-ended (like “How was the party?” How is school going – score out of 10?”), questions to which there is no right answer, questions that require a sentence to answer. Avoid specific questions at the beginning; you might get the information that you seek but it sounds and feels like an interrogation and nothing is guaranteed to shut down a teenager faster. Your goal is to get your teens talking about what they want to talk about.
Why is this important? Why shouldn’t you dive into questions about things that you know are important? Because – and listen carefully here – your influence will be bigger if it is a topic that matters to them. We are all more motivated to learn what matters to us. Besides, why should they be interested in what matters to you if you are not interested in what matters to them?
What if your teen is not very chatty? Then you may have to focus your questions a little – but not too much, remember you are still wanting your teen to set the agenda for the conversation. An acronym that can give you some good questions to use if they are needed is BIT H(I)M. It is easy to remember with sons when you want to know what bit him?
B What was the B est thing that happened?
I What was the most I nteresting thing that happened?
T What have you been T hinking about?
H What was the H ardest thing?
M What M ood were you in?
2. CLOSE YOUR MOUTH
If you want your teen to talk, you have to stop talking. Sometimes our teens don’t talk because they can’t get a word in. Maybe your teen cannot think as fast as you can. Give them time to think about their answer. Be patient. And when they have answered, wait a little longer to see if they want to say more. Your silence communicates respect (“I want to hear what you have to say”) and you may be surprised at its effects.
3. PLAY BACK WHAT YOU HEARD
After they have answered, you will be tempted to ask a more specific question (about something that interests you) or offer advice. Wait! There is a good chance that you will get the opportunity to do those things later if you do these things well first.
So, how should you reply? Play back to your teen what you heard them say. “Maths is hard.” “The party was boring.” “You enjoyed the day.” If you want to do this at an advanced level: listen for and play back their feelings as well as the facts. “You felt frustrated when we arrived late.” “You were disappointed when she ignored you.”
This gives your teen the chance to (a) correct you if you have it wrong or (b) feel heard because you got it right. Perhaps, because you have just proved your respect to them, they will tell you more. And isn’t that the primary aim of your conversation? Your teens sharing their hearts with you so that you can love them and, perhaps, later bring your wise guidance (although even that too is best done by questions – but that is a topic for another day).
Are there any questions that you have found helpful? Let’s share them by commenting on this article – the more the better – our combined wisdom is what we need.