How to Get Your Teen Talking...or At Least Thinking
It is roughly 37 days until my daughter turns 13. Although we enjoy much more one-on-one time than most parent-teen relationships, I am aware that her words have become much more selective and few over the last year or so.
And I am aware that if I'm juggling too much, and allow myself to "manage" her in a "fire prevention" sort of way, that I tend to focus on the outcomes, the "bottom lines." And, then she responds with as few words as possible!
If I desire to stay connected with her over the next decade of her life's journey, then I will need to be consciously aware of the types of questions that I ask.
Many of the questions we often ask our kids are really just polite ways of asking for reports or executive summaries:
How was school? Did you finish your English paper on time? How did you do on your math test? Did you win the soccer game? How many goals did you score?
If your teen is like most teens, then 90 percent of the time all you'll get is a one word response to any of these questions:
Good. Yeah. Okay. Yeah. Some. A few.
From a teen's perspective, the less information they provide to their parents, the better. When in doubt, they stay vague, especially if it pertains to anything related to parental evaluation.
If you want to encourage your teen to think, and possibly even respond, you'll need to shift your focus from the outcome toward the process.
If you take another look at the list of typical questions from above, you'll realize that they're all outcome-based questions that require nothing more than a one-sentence response at best.
Although nothing is wrong with these questions (and please understand that I'm not suggesting we not hold kids to certain goals and achievements), they will rarely start the kinds of conversations that will strengthen or develop a strong connection to each other.
To illustrate the difference, I'll share the following conversations:
Mom: Hey hon, great job today!
Child: ...but I didn't win.
Mom: No, but you ran a good race.
Mom: Hey, I really enjoyed watching your races today. Every time you run, I notice that you really accelerate around the 2nd and 3rd turns - are you aware that you're doing that?
Child: No, what do you mean?
Mom: Well, for about half of the race, you hold about the same distance from the others, but then, all of a sudden, you start visibly narrowing the gap, usually around the 2nd/3rd turn, and you seem to hold that pace while the others drop off. What are you thinking then?
Child: I don't really know...hmmm
Mom: It's really exciting for me to watch you do that!
At first glance, and just word count, it may not appear that these two conversations yielded much difference from the child. But in looking closer, you may see that in the first, the child resisted the parent's opinion - she still felt down because she didn't win. In the second conversation, the parent shared her observations of what she observed, and inquired about her thoughts at the time.
At this age, it's common for kids to be completely unaware of their thinking processes (don't be surprised to hear "I don't know" initially) and yet, if we leverage such opportunities, we can get them curious about them, and help them to develop their awareness. Helping them to develop that awareness in the "easy areas" could give them the ability to call on that process when faced with the "hard areas" where they'd otherwise react impulsively!
It's hard to tell whether or not it was a correlation or coincidence at the next meet, but the mom shared that her child seemed to pour it on even more in the 2nd & 3rd turn - and won her first race!
A little while later on their way home she shared this conversation:
Child: Hey Mom, remember when I was little how I used to run around the backyard pretending that I was "Stripes?" (from a movie of the same name)
Mom: (smiling and remembering) Yeah hon - what made you think of that?
Child: I don't know, ...but don't tell my friends!
For those unfamiliar with the movie, "Stripes", the hero is an unlikely, come-from-behind winner!