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Shaping Your Teen’s Character Part 2: Growing Conversation With Your Teen

As adapted from materials from Mark Gregston- parentingtodaysteen.org

Most parents have already spent many years “telling their kid what to do.” Teens don’t learn much from parents constantly telling them what is right. That’s been downloaded many times in their early years already. Instead of parents pouring into them from the same cup of knowledge, we want our teens to develop the responsibilities of filling up their own cup and sharing back to us what they know. We transition into this type of dialogue through questions. The goal is to get our teens thinking about what we’ve been teaching them.

One way to accomplish this goal is by using a communication tool called “The Power of Asking Questions.” This tool is an invitation for our teen to enter the adult world and an affirmation that parents value their thoughts and want to hear what they have to say. This principle is at work in our everyday lives. For example, most employees appreciate it when their bosses seek their input, and the same is true in marriage relationships. Fostering opportunities for teens to share their answers helps them reveal their heart and helps the parent to gauge their current strengths and weaknesses. Following are the 5 Keys to Asking Questions, which is a good starting place. Please consider that these are some general principles for creating dialogue, but there may be times that a parent will need to step in for safety’s sake.

  1.  Think about what you want to cultivate or grow from the conversation. Especially if it involves a touchy or sensitive subject, write down some of the questions that you want to ask. Think ahead and plan for good dialogue. The more sensitive the topic, the more important the timing of the conversation.
  2.  Avoid YES or NO questions. To help generate deeper thinking, ask open-ended questions. Include wording such as “How did that happen?” “Tell me more,” or, “What do you think?” to get past yes or no answers. Most kids have learned that the “why” question is like a trap. When they have responded to a “Why did you do that?” question in the past, their answer has usually been wrong in the adult’s eyes and chastised or corrected. It’s not wrong to ask our teens “why” on occasion, but use it gently.
  3.  Ask the question – but don’t answer it! If you ask a question, let your child grow in the process of giving a response. We spend more time answering for our kids and are therefore doing all the talking. Yes, we may have a better answer, and they might not have all the pieces of the puzzle in the right order, but we are giving them and their brain a chance to see what their answer and thoughts sound like. Learn from their answer, and don’t give your thoughts unless they ask for them.
  4.  Let kids’ answers be a spring board for further questions. We set aside the police officer interrogation scene and replace it with enthusiastic second graders asking their teacher questions after a lesson. If our teen is talking about driver’s education class and brings up a new safety device in some current vehicles, we would spring board from their response with a question like, “Tell me more about this new thing – it sounds interesting.” There is no substitution for genuine interest and attention!
  5. Don’t shut down their responses. Most experts say that 80% of what we communicate comes through our body language and voice tone. Your teen will say things that are not fully factual, wise, or in alignment with Mom and Dad’s ways. Check the body language of eye rolls, huffs, newspaper or laptop/cell phone up to face, etc. at the door! What is the goal? To get teens to practice dialogue and get their thoughts out of their head verbally. Be prepared. They may tell you more than you want to know and sometimes things you wish you didn’t know. They may try and evoke a reaction from you or push a button, or maybe they’re just sharing the realities of their world. Either way, we want them to try and learn to think deeper.

To view the entire resource, Shaping Your Teen’s Character, please click here.