How many of you parents have ever had this experience? You pick your teen up from school or if he or she drives to school, when they get home, they walk in the door and you say to them “How was school today?” and that teen of yours mumbles back “fine”. You then inquire “What happened at school today?” and you get the next routine response “nothing.” I think if we are honest all parents could be raising their hands right now. As I have stated in an earlier blog, I in no way claim to be an expert on parenting and teen issues but since our youngest is eighteen and our oldest is soon to be thirty this August (wow, I feel so old ), I have learned a few tricks to get our teens talking to us and thought that my readers may find some of these tricks helpful.

      First, instead of asking general questions such as “How was school today?” or “What happened at school today?”, get specific instead. I used the “high-low” approach many times during my kids’ teen years. When they would get in the car after a long school day, I would give them a minute or two and then I would say “What was your high today?”  That would give them a specific moment or incident to think of…perhaps it was a good grade on a test, perhaps it was that they had a conversation with a certain someone of the opposite sex who they had an interest in, or it might be something as simple as not getting into any trouble that day ..which was always a pleasant surprise and big news for a Hastings kid! After talking a minute or two about their “high” then I would ask “What was your low ?”  Sometimes I would get a lengthy complaint about how a teacher handled a certain situation that day in class or something that a friend had said to them that rubbed them the wrong way or many times they really could not think of a “low” which was always a good thing. The great thing about the “high-low” question is that it gets your teen talking even if it is only a little snippet of information about something small…that is at least better than the mundane one word answers of “fine” and “nothing.” There are also various other options for specific questions such as " Tell me something hilarious that happened today " or "Anything happen today that just shocked you?" or any other number of specific questions. Having specific questions to respond to is more conducive to getting a response than just the general " How was your day?" question which most kids loathe. You may also be very surprised at how these specific questions can sometimes give you a window into some real hurts that your teen experienced that day that otherwise they probably would not have thought about opening up about. I remember one particular day in which I asked one of my children the “low” question when they were at the tender age of about thirteen, that awkward middle school age period in which every kid is just trying to figure out who they are almost every day of their life. On this particular day, when I asked the “low” question, some real hurt and emotion came pouring out about a certain remark that had been made to her that day. We were able to talk it out which helped her tremendously to get another perspective on the whole issue but I couldn’t help but wonder if I would have ever heard about what was troubling her if I had not asked the specific “low” question.  I would also like to offer a word of caution here….you might have a smart alec who has his own way of answering  specific questions as such was the case with my third son Matt . One day when he was about fourteen , as he got into the car after school,  he obviously was anticipating the “high-low” question because he had one of his trademark answers ready for me...when I asked him what his high and low was, he looked at me with a smirk on his face and fired back “My high was when I got out of your car this morning and my low was just now when I got back in.”  Thank you Matt!  If nothing else, he gave me a huge laugh that day instead of mundane conversation.

        Another trick is to offer a direct, sincere, and unexpected compliment. This might sound crazy but it absolutely works. All of us like to be thought well of and complimented , even us parents. Our children are no exception but so often we as parents are so focused on what our children have not done correctly or not been responsible about that we tend to hardly ever compliment them like we do other people. It is just easy to fall into a typical conversation such as this one “How was the History test today?”  ..your teen responds with “I don’t know, we just took it today, the teacher hasn’t corrected it yet.” Then the parental instructive mentality kicks in and before you know it, you are saying something like “Well, I didn’t see you studying very much last night so I hope you did okay.”  At that point, your teen glares at you , looks away out the window …end of conversation. I have been guilty of being careless like this many times. How hard would it have been to just steer the conversation in a different way by offering a compliment but also get the point across. For example, we could say “How was the History test today?” and when they respond back that they don’t know because the test has not been corrected yet, we could reply “ Well one thing I know is that you have a sharp mind for History..you can seem to remember dates and details like nobody I know so I will be surprised if you didn’t do well.” You will be amazed by your teen’s reaction to their parent saying something like this. They will feel very good about themselves that you think so highly about them first off, but if they truly have not studied and not done well on the test, they will experience a twinge of guilt about their irresponsibility instead of anger or resentment towards you for pointing out their negligence. They will also, almost always without fail , say something back and therefore continue the conversation with you because after all, you have noticed something positive about them and you just shared that with them and believe me, that carries a lot of weight. I saw this happen time and again with my kids...not that I was diligent and successful in offering compliments every time, but when I was…my, what a difference it made. All that I am saying is that way too often as parents we are so very careful to be kind, considerate, encouraging, helpful and complimentary to other adults, our friends in our lives, but not to our teenagers. I think the reason for this is because let’s face it…teens do make a lot of mistakes, act irresponsibly and willfully disobey us. This is what the teenage era is all about…testing one’s parents and other authority figures to a degree as they are becoming more independent and formulating their own opinions , thoughts about things and so forth. This is a natural process of maturing but sometimes we as parents can get so frustrated with all that they are seemingly doing wrong that we do not notice all that they are doing right. We unintentionally can fall into the trap of negative tunnel vision with our kids and before we know it, it’s been about six months since we have paid them a genuine compliment. When we have fallen into this type of rut, be assured that your teen will be clamming up. They are just like us and we do not want to be talking to folks who are only instructive or negative with us, do we?  Please understand that I am not advocating the notion that we always need to be our child’s “friend”. In fact, I am against the misguided mentality in today’s world that promotes being your child’s friend to the extent that you become a lousy parent. When my four children were in the peak of their tumultuous teen years and we were in the midst of some heated situation, I would repeatedly say to them “I could care less about being your friend right now…I am called to be your parent. Do you know when I want to be your friend?...when you are thirty-five, a responsible person, married to a Godly spouse and raising three Godly kids!”.  I just want to be clear that I am not saying to put yourself on your child’s level as their friend in which you have no authority, but what I am suggesting is to begin to communicate in a more considerate manner with them that will spur them on to talk to you, to open up and clue you in on their world, their thoughts, their life.  Folks, I am going to be completely honest…I have very dear friends who are precious to me, but if I am gut level honest with you , I have to say that none of my friends are as precious to me as my children and I believe that if you are truthful, you would say the same . So why then are we so much more careful about how we communicate with our adult friends than we are with our own kids? Perhaps if we were as careful, our teens would be chatting away with us. Think about making a real effort to talk to them as carefully as you do to some of your peers. You may be very pleasantly surprised at what a chatter bug your child may become. You might even be so successful in getting them to open up , that you can not get a word in edge wise!  It’s worth a try, don’t you think?