(Inside: Communicating with your teen can be hard. If you are wondering how to better communicate with your tweens or teens, here’s a proven method that works.)
“No, I swear – I’m going to graduate! I got this!” the son said to his mom.
“So, how exactly are you going to graduate.” (She’s no dummy.) She pulls up his transcript. He’s failing all of his third-trimester junior classes, so mathematically isn’t able to earn enough credits his senior year to graduate. He’s refusing credit recovery or summer school. He insists it will all work out in the next year even though the math in front of him is showing him it’s impossible. (Another confirmation he needs to retake algebra.)
This story is not uncommon. It repeats itself in raising tweens and teens on other issues, like:
- The red flags of an over-controlling boyfriend or girlfriend.
- The confusion teens experience over why they got fired because I was only late a few times what’s the big deal?
- The teen who treats her friends like royalty and family like dirt.
- The teen who continually overcommits then wonders why he’s stressed.
- The girl who honestly does NOT think all the duck-lipped, sexy photos posted will be seen by potential employers. (“Mom, it’s fine my page is set on public. Employers who hire don’t check these things.” *Yes, they do!*)
- Teens thinking they are invincible and free from pain – despite their bad choices.
- The student who’s not organized but that’s everyone else’s fault.
And so on…
What do you do when you’re tween/teen is making poor choices?
Moms, we love our teens. So, it can be so hard when we see a piece of our hearts (walking around in the form of a tall lanky, human being with braces) making poor choices.
When our kids are self-sabotaging how do we get them to see the light? How do we talk to them so they are intrinsically motivated to take the next right step? How do we get them to a powerful “ah-ha” moment?
We start with what our gut is urging us to do…we talk to our kids…
“How do I better communicate with my teen?”
There are two ways our conversations with our kids sometimes unfold:
- Method 1: Lecturing
- Method 2: Questioning
Let’s look closer at both conversation methods…
Communicating with Teen Method 1: Lecturing
Moms, we mean well, but sometimes, like a freight train on steroids, our talks quickly go from listening to lecturing. For example, here’s how a condensed conversation might go…
Mom: I’ve noticed this problem.
Kid: Yeah, me too.
Mom: The problem is… And you shouldn’t do that because of (moms insert all the reasons and her wisdom here.)
Mom continues lecturing. The big parenting emotions convince mom that the kid hasn’t made good choices because kid hasn’t previously heard mom’s wise words that have been said a billion times.
So mom revs up her loudest voice. (Yelling is most definitely the solution. Kid can for sure hear me if I yell.)
Kid zones out what is being said because she’s getting yelled at then walks away feeling angry, disappointed, and regretful. However, kid is not focused on the wisdom yelled at her, but rather the yelling itself.
Mom hates that she had to yell and instantly feels guilty. However, the silver lining is that much wisdom was at least shared. (I said what I need to say and now, certainly, my daughter will make a change. However, why do I always have to yell to get her there?)
The next day kid repeats the poor choices.
Have you been there? Yeah, me too – parenting can be so hard.
Communicating with Teen Method 2: Questioning
But there’s another way to communicate – one that high school teachers (I am one), counselors, and other professionals working with teens have repeatedly proven effective. Let’s look at the questioning method.
In this method, the mom keeps asking questions until she is able to lead her kids to a healthy solution that the kid came up with on his/her own.
(Know this about me: I believe that all kids want to be successful and proud of who they are. I encourage moms to look for that spark in the conversation that proves this.)
Onward…here’s a short, tidy version (probably, overly tidy) of what communicating with your teen and the questioning method looks like:
Mom: I saw that your missing 15 homework assignments.
Kid: Yeah, so what.
Mom: Do you like that you’re missing that many homework assignments?
Kid: I don’t know, not really.
Mom: Why are you missing so much homework?
Kid: I don’t know, I just don’t like to do it.
Mom: What about it don’t you like?
Kid: It takes so long. I feel unmotivated to sit down in the evening.
Mom: What spot in the house do you feel most motivated to work?
Kid: I guess the kitchen table.
Mom: When do you feel most motivated to do homework?
Kid: I guess in the evening. I need a break after school.
Mom: Okay, so how can I help you make sure you set up a routine that will help you be successful?
Kid: I guess just help remind me that from 6:00-7:00 is homework time.
Mom: What should you do about all the missing homework assignments?
Kid: I’ll find out what I can make up and finish them.
Mom: Okay, when will you have them done by?
Kid: Give me two days. I’ll work in my study hall.
If your teen is crabby and uncooperative, tell them you’ll give them an hour to let this idea set in, then try again.
And if needed – again! Momma, you are a boss woman!
You recovered from a horrendous c-section.
You juggle a job and bills and highlighting your grey hair.
You will not let this teenager get the best of you.
Deep breaths – you are calm, saintly, and pure.
This is about your teenager, don’t give them any reason to make this about you – keep the focus on them. And try again.
Why the Questioning Method Works for Communicating with Teens
Tweens and teens are tricky. There they want to please their parents and do the right thing, but they sometimes get lost in the many layers of being a teen. But, still, they have pride, want independence, and crave parent approval – this method meets all three of your kids’ wants:
- They are answering the questions, the control is in their hands. (They maintain their pride.)
- Your kids are coming up with the solution. This shapes their intrinsic motivation and independence. Momma, all you are doing is asking questions and thinking of more good questions to get them to a solution. (No need to get angry. You wear a halo. Chirping birds fly peacefully around you. Deep breaths and saintly thoughts, momma.)
- You continually affirm them. “Yes, that makes sense,” but…then onto the next question. (Remember, those kids love having your approval, even when they say they don’t.)
Let me emphasize again that I gave a condensed version, but expect the conversation to be much more work.
Video: Lead Your Teen to His/Her Aha Moments
I wrote out the condensed version of how to lead your teen to their own “aha moment,” but this video models it. The counselor walks through:
- Method 1: Lecturing
- Method 2: Questioning
Watch until the end and see how the Questioning Method can be powerful and effective.
The aha moment might come, but change is slow.
If you look at the curriculum of subjects in schools, we teach and re-teach the same material (but add a little more depth) from kindergarten through 12th grade. My second grader brought home a geometry concept I was working on with my 10th graders, and I about fell over.
But, it makes sense. We need to see content multiple times to remember it. You might get your kid to the aha moment (“Now, I get why I should be responsible”), but remember he/she is continually learning the necessary behavior to support these new responsible actions.
Parents, being patient and consistent (so hard!) will help our kids relearn and remember the next right step they came up with for themselves.
Change is slow, but the work is important.
Your work is important.
Keep talking to your kids. Reteach that “aha” moment. Keep moving forward.
Moms, our work is vital. If you are willing to invest this time learning how to better talk to your kids – you are a rockstar. You kids hit the parenting jackpot. And if they don’t know it, they will.
In the future, I bet how lucky they are to have you as a mom will be one of their “aha” moments.
If you aren’t just concerned about communicating with your teen but also, raising great kids – dive into the full raising tweens and teens series
My oldest son started high school last week and I’m still in a coma because of it. Even though I’ve taught high school for over two decades, I’m confused as to how I’m actually old enough to be a parent of a high schooler.
Teaching high schoolers has always been a passion of mine, but not parenting them is as well. I could research, write, and talk about this topic until eternity. I hope you are encouraged by some of my articles.
Raising Tweens/Teens Series
The Pandemic is Shaping Kids in These 6 Powerful Ways
ENCOURAGEMENT FOR TEENS
A Simple and Effective Way to Encourage Your Teen
COMMUNICATING WITH YOUR TWEEN/TEEN
How to Get Your Teen/Teen to Their “Aha Moment”
How to Get Your Tween/Teenage Son to Open Up to You
Parenting is Hard: THis One Thought Can Help You Better Thrive
7 Reasons Why Raising Tweens & Teens is the Best
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Cheryl is a mom of 3 boys, wife, speaker, high school teacher, and author of Empowered Moms & Kids. She has a Master’s degree in Educational Leadership and is passionate about learning and teaching. On www.empoweredmomsandkids.com you’ll find inspiration and encouragement for moms raising tweens and/or teens. Read more in the “about” section of this page.