20 questions for getting to know your teenager
In elementary school, kids look up to their parents. But during adolescence? Not so much.
“Teenagers rebel because they want to be different from their parents, plain and simple,” says Sean Grover, LCSW, author of “When Kids Call the Shots: How to Seize Control from Your Darling Bully and Enjoy Being a Parent Again.” “As teens struggle to establish their own unique identity, they often reject their parents in the process. This is healthy and necessary for them to develop a strong sense of self.”
The teen years don’t have to be all eye-rolling and slamming doors, though. When parents approach adolescence from a healthy place and listen with an open mind, it is possible to maintain a positive and strong relationship with your teen.
Here are some tips to help facilitate that:
Tip #1: Don’t wait until it’s too late
Start open lines of communication early. If you wait until your child has entered full-on rebellion mode, it’ll be much harder to get things under control.
“Establishing a family culture of mutual respect and keeping communication open from an early age will help with the teen years,” Grover says. “Don’t lean heavily on punishments, as a top-down parenting model will backfire in adolescence big time.”
Grover suggests modeling mindfulness and including your child in decisions that involve the whole family from when they’re young.
Tip #2: Practice what you preach
Modeling the behavior you hope to see in your child speaks louder than any lecture ever could.
“Parents who act as good role models for their children are secretly teaching them how to be a good friend,” says New York City-based psychotherapist Liz Morrison, LCSW. “This, in turn, can help teens choose healthy, positive friendships where they will get a reciprocated relationship with their peer. Additionally, when parents encourage open communication, it can provide a safe space to talk about peer influence.”
Tip #3: Give your teen some control
Want to connect with your teen? Switch roles.
“A great way to facilitate connection with your child is through teen-led family time, where your teen gets to pick the activity and the parents oblige, which is a change in experience for everyone,” says Lindsey Golomb, a family counselor at Arbit Counseling in Washington, D.C. “Teens want independence, and parents should foster this by giving them control when possible.”
Tip #4: Listen and be open
Of course you have a lot to say, but listening to your child will yield much greater rewards than talking.
“It’s important to listen more than you talk and maintain a healthy curiosity,” Grover says. “Don’t be quick to judge, talk about yourself or share a cautionary tales, as that will come across as not trusting your kid or having confidence in them.”
20 questions to ask your teen
So where do you start? If you feel like your teen has drifted from you or you want to start opening lines of communication early on, try asking these 20 questions that will get your teen talking and build your relationship in the process.
Ask them about their friends
It goes without saying that you want to know who your child is hanging out with, but military-style interrogations are a guaranteed way to get your teen to shut down fast. Instead of coming from a place of suspicion, be genuinely curious about your teen’s world and the people who inhabit it.
Some questions to ask:
1. Why are you friends with so-and-so?
2. Do you feel good about your friendship with him or her?
3. What kind of things do you like to do together?
“These questions will help parents get a better understanding of whether or not their child's friendship is a positive or negative influence in their life,” says Morrison. “If you determine that the friendship is more of a bad influence, you can then ask follow up questions.”
Two follow-up questions Morrison suggests are:
4. What will you do if this person makes you do something you don't want to do?
5. How do you think this person will impact your life?
Ask them about school
Teenagers are spent when they come home from school, so expecting them to give you a dissertation on their day after a generic question is unrealistic. Instead, get specific.
“I’ve learned that I’m rarely going to get much of a response when I say to my daughter: ‘How was school?’” says New York City mom Rebecca Owens.
So, instead, when speaking to her 16-year-old about her day and school in general, Owens asks more detailed questions, such as:
6. Who is your favorite teacher this year?
7. Who is your least favorite teacher this year?
8. What’s your all-time favorite class?
9. What’s your least favorite class?
10. Did anything funny happen with [friend] at school today?
11. What’s your favorite lunch to have at school?
“When all else fails, I always ask my daughter what she had for lunch, if she bought, or about her all-time favorite school lunches,” says Owens. “It isn’t super probing, and I get a small peek into her day.”
A good chunk of many teens’ lives revolve around pop culture and frivolity, so why not ask about that? Not only is your child more likely to talk if it’s about something they’re genuinely interested in (and don’t feel put on the spot), you may just remember what it’s like to be in their shoes.
“It’s so important to keep a sense of humor when talking with your teen,” says Grover. “Be playful and open, and your child will reward you with the same attitude. Getting information and providing strong leadership doesn’t have to be done so through a dictatorship.”
Light-hearted questions to bring up:
12. What’s your favorite app?
13. What’s your favorite filter on social media?
14. What’s your favorite TV show?
15. Who’s your celebrity crush and why?
16. What’s your favorite band/singer?
17. What’s your favorite song of all time?
Sometimes the time and place is ripe for getting your teen to really talk. The important thing is to be cognizant of these rare situations, and, still, to allow things to happen organically.
“I had the best talk with my son recently on a long car ride,” says Keri Peterson, of Wheat Ridge, Colorado. “I was hoping we’d get to talk more than we normally do, but I didn’t want to force anything. We covered so many big topics — marriage, death, family — and to be honest, I’m not even sure how it happened! My son was in the mood to talk, so I just sort of followed his lead.”
Big questions to consider:
18. Do you want to get married one day?
19. What do you think happens when we die?
20. Do you think you have enough support at home? If not, how can we change that?
And if your child is the one-word type, don’t worry; other forms of communication exist.
“If your teen doesn’t like talking, think about other ways to communicate,” says Golomb. “Some kids will ‘talk’ more through art or through writing journal messages to each other. The important thing is that you’re listening in every way you can.”
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