Guest Blog Post by Bri McCarroll
You ask your teenager, “Did you drink alcohol last night?” It’s a simple enough question but the answer is surprisingly complicated.
As a Parent, You Want Honest Communication With Your Teen
You want to hear the truth, yet there will be emotional repercussions to the answer, whether it is ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Your teen knows this, and is immediately put into a communication bind with this question. She can answer honestly and risk an emotional impact on the relationship (and consequences), or she can give the answer you ‘want to hear’ and have to manage her internal feelings about lying. She is stuck in a corner, with no good choice. You have just asked her what I refer to as a ‘cornering question’.
‘Cornering questions’ are questions with a ‘yes/no’ response, but where that response has emotional repercussions and possibly consequences. As parents, you want the truth, yet these type of questions often create more family conflict than shared honesty.
‘Cornering Questions’ Limit Communication Between Parent & Teen
When you ask your teen a ‘cornering question’, she only has two choices; neither one is ideal. She can be honest with you and give you an answer where you will feel disappointed, angry, or sad. These emotions impact your relationship and your teen. Or she can be dishonest and have to manage the guilt of lying, fear of being caught, and sadness of lying to her parent.
Because these type of questions can literally cause your teen to feel ‘trapped’ in a corner, they often lead to family conflicts. Once your teenager is caught in this situation of two bad choices, she will often react defensively with anger or sarcasm or withdraw emotionally and shut down or decrease interaction with you. This doesn’t work for you or for her.
Open-ended Questions Open Communication and Improve Your Parent/Child Relationship
Open-ended questions are consistently a more helpful way to interact with your teenager. These questions are the ‘wh’ questions, “who”, “what”, “where”, “why”, and “how”. By asking these, rather than two choices, you have now opened up so many possibilities for answers!
Asking, “Did you have sex with that boy?” is a valid question, yet “How are things going with Eric?” will allow your daughter to share so much! She may then speak about what they have in common, what they talk about, and that he tried to kiss her. Rather than shutting down communication, you have just opened up your communication and deepened your relationship!
Parenting and Communication Always Takes Practice
You know that parenting is an art and a skill that takes practice. Incorporate this new idea. as you can. but be kind when you accidentally ask a ‘cornering question’. If a conflict comes up with your teen, reflect afterwards to see if one of these questions came up. Lastly, next time you are ready to ask one of those ‘yes/no’ questions, slow down, think of those ‘wh’ words. and use one of them instead!
You will never be a perfect parent or a perfect communicator. The good news is, your teen doesn’t need for you to be either. You just need to be there and keep trying. You have this!
About the Guest Author
Bri McCarroll is a therapist with a counseling practice in Springfield, MA. Additionally, she owns New England Hold Me Tight where she helps couples reconnect through marriage workshops and couples retreats.
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