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Ask the Right Questions

Asking the right question (like “What do you think?”) during the right moment can help spark a great conversation with your teen. It can also demonstrate your interest in them and their lives. Here are a few tips and reminders, followed by a variety of questions by topic to help you get started. Remember, every teen is different so make sure to use the questions and approaches that will work best for you and your teen.

1. Unconditional love

Whatever happens in life and in your relationship with your teen, it is critical they know you love and care about them unconditionally.

2. It’s a two-way conversation

It’s important your teen doesn’t feel like they’re being interrogated or they don’t have your trust. While asking questions is a great way to prompt conversation, you’ll get the most out of it if you also contribute to the conversation and share your own ideas, thoughts and experiences. Just make sure to avoid dominating the conversation, lecturing or providing unsolicited advice.

3. Give them control

There is value in offering your teen some control in their lives, and that applies to conversations as well. For example, have your teen decide where and when to talk. If you’re planning an activity together, ask them what they’d like to do or offer a choice of options.

4. Timing is everything

Make sure you and your teen are both comfortable and in the right frame of mind before talking. Avoid starting a conversation when either of you are upset, angry or distracted.

5. Park your emotions at the door

It can be challenging but it’s important not to let your emotions get the better of you. It’s normal to feel frustrated, but don’t take it personally. It is critical that the conversation be non-confrontational.  Becoming angry or overreacting to a question or mistake can upset your teen, or worse, silence any hope of future dialogue. Instead stay calm, listen and ask open-ended questions.

6. What’s your goal?

What is the one thing you want to communicate or learn from your teen? It’s tempting to want to cover a number of topics, or for your teen to bring up something unrelated to throw you off course. Be singularly focused on the information you want to relay to (or receive from) them.

7. Stay firmly planted

Make sure you’re not perceived by your teen as needing their attention or co-operation. If this happens, it puts you as the parent or caregiver in a vulnerable position, as your teen does not need to give you what you’re looking for. And the more you seek these things, the more defiant they may become. If, for instance, your teen is screaming or being disrespectful, choose instead to walk away and not engage. Let them know you won’t engage with them until they are more respectful and civil.

8. Have lots of discussions

Your goal isn’t to deliver a lecture, but to build a rapport and trust with your teen over time. Talking with them is an ongoing process. Depending on the subject, they may only feel comfortable talking for a few minutes, and sometimes not at all. Don’t get discouraged. When it comes to important topics, teens want to hear from you and know that you care. Accept that the dialogue will unfold over time in bits and pieces.

Download the full Right By You: A Guide for Parents and Caregivers PDF