If you’re the parent of a teen or work with young people at all, I’m sure there are days when you wish you could get inside a teenager’s head. I’ve heard more than one frustrated parent wonder aloud, I just don’t know what she’s thinking!
The good news is that, in the right setting and when asked by someone they know they can trust, most teens will actually tell you if you ask. Most of them aren’t as complicated as we adults, and they’re self-centered enough to actually enjoy the attention of an interview. Now, before you just go ask away, please consider the following thoughts.
The Perfect Time
Let’s face it: Asking, “What were you thinking?!” in front of your teen’s friends or siblings isn’t likely to get you an inside view of your teenager’s heart and mind. A private, neutral, natural setting is key, as is a time void of conflict. You shouldn’t be rushed yourself or keeping your teen from something important to her.
Of course, the best way to find out if it’s a good time is to actually ask, “Hey, is it a good time? I wanted to ask you about some things.”
The Way To Ask
While your teen is not your peer, this kind of conversation is something that should be approached as a caring friend or even as a student ready to listen to important words. Your tone can’t be demanding or degrading in any way, or you won’t receive honest responses.
If you remember that your purpose is to try to understand your teen, not to argue your viewpoint or offer your perspective, you’ll probably be able to stay on the right track.
If an area comes up that just begs for your opinion, ask first. “Do you mind if I explain why I did that?” will come across far differently than an argumentative or defensive, “Well, I only did that because I love you.”
The Starter Questions
Any good interviewer has a set of starter questions in mind before the interview takes place, as well as follow-up questions waiting in the wings, depending on the answers that come.
If you feel like you don’t understand your teen at all, you might want to start by asking some of these questions:
• What’s the best part of your life, right now?
• What’s the hardest thing you’re facing?
• If you could change one thing about your life, what would it be?
The Right Response
Even if some of the answers are hard to hear, try your best to bite your tongue. Remember, your aim for now is to discover your teen’s perspective, not to try to change it or point out how flawed it is. When you show courtesy and trust, you’ll set the stage for future conversations in which your teen will allow you to say your piece and actually listen back.