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Terri Orbuch, Ph.D.
Terri Orbuch Ph.D.

Getting Your Teen to Talk Requires the Right Questions

Parents and Their Teens

When my kids were younger, I comforted their fears after a scary nightmare, dried their eyes when they hurt themselves, and helped with homework and class projects. I brought birthday treats to their classroom. I would call home after school and the two of them couldn't wait to tell me about their day's adventures. They even wrestled to see who would talk to me first.

But now that my kids are teenagers, I'm lucky to get a return text that says, "K" or "C U L8TR." I seem to matter less and less to them. After years as an involved, caring parent, these can be challenging times.

I am disappointed when my teens don't share important things in their lives with me. I want meaningful conversations with them. I know that my children love me dearly. But, teens need to assert their independence and feel competent on their own. The more they love you and want you, the more they get upset at you for that fact. I know all of that, logically.

But part of the reason they don't tell me what is on their minds is because I'm not always asking the right kinds of questions. I have to remind myself to keep coming back to these four types of questions, which have been shown to help teens open up:

Open-ended. Too often, parents ask closed-ended questions to their children, such as, "Did you have a good day at school?" or "Do you have homework?" These questions require a one word answer. Parents then feel as if they are chasing after their kids to disclose or share. Instead, ask open-ended questions, which require thought, like, "What was an interesting thing that happened at school today?" "Why do you think your friend wanted to talk to you?" and "What were some of the questions on your Spanish Test?"

Specific. Ask questions that address or focus on people or events that are important to your children. Even if it isn't your favorite area of discussion, inquire about what movies, music, sports games or friends they are interested in.

Responsive. Listen to what your children say. Reflect before asking the next set of questions. You might be thinking so hard about what you will say next that you forget to listen. The best questions are ones that directly focus on your children's answers.

Personal. In my house, we often play the personal question game. Each family member thinks of an insightful question to ask everyone else, such as, "If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?" or "What super power do you wish you could have and why?" If you want your teen to open up to you, you should ask personal and fun questions once in a while. They also stimulate your teen's imagination.

About the Author
Terri Orbuch, Ph.D.

Terri Orbuch, Ph.D., is an Oakland University professor and research professor at The University of Michigan.

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