Talking with an adolescent can be like walking through a minefield; at any moment, you could be asking what you thought was a simple, sincere question, only to find it triggering an explosive response.
Research proves our instincts: The number one antidote to risky kid behavior is a strong relationship with a parent. Believe it or not, our kids even like us and want us in their lives! The trick is how to stay involved in the right way so we don’t inadvertently push them away. Just watch how you pose your questions.
Here are seven things you should avoid asking an adolescent because they are guaranteed to be big turn-offs. Learn how to pose those trickier questions another way so you’re more likely to get a better response from your kid.
1. “So, how was your day?”
Using remarks like “Did you have fun last night?” and “How was school?” don’t go over well with tweens. They see them as “insincere” and “so-o-o predictable.”
“Watch — My Mom is going to ask, ‘How was your day?’ She always does.”
Tweens put those comments at the top of their annoying list. Besides, you’ll get nothing more than a “FINE” response from your kid.
Better: “What are your friends saying about Madonna’s 13-year-old daughter starting a fashion line?”
Asking open-ended questions that require more than a yes/no response makes it appear that you really do want to listen. If you ask questions about their world and interests, you’re getting bonus points. (“Can you tell me how to download music to my iPod?”)
2. “Why didn’t you tell the kid to leave you alone?”
Bullying peaks during the tween years and is escalating and far more vicious. Research shows tweens often don’t tell their parents that they are being victimized for fear of retaliation and humiliation, or that you’ll say, “Tell the kid to leave you alone!” A tween often cannot fend for herself. She needs help in figuring out safety options and strategies to defend herself.
Better: “Where did this happen?”
Get specifics so you can help your tween create a safety plan. The question often signals to your tween or teen that you believe her and you’re ready to offer advice. Also, bullying usually happens at the same time and place, so ask: “Who was involved?” “Where do you feel least safe?” You can then provide specific advice to help your son or daughter create a safety plan.
3. “What was she wearing?”
Materialism is huge with the tween set and only rising in popularity. This is also a time when tweens are forming identities and are most impressionable. Tween-aged kids are most likely to believe that their clothes and brands describe who they are and define their peer status and it also impacts their professional goals. Preteens with lower self-esteem value possessions significantly more than children with higher self-esteem.
Better: “What do you enjoy about her?”
Halt the comments about clothing and appearance. They can backfire and make your kid feel that’s what you care more about. It also keeps your conversation at the surface level. Instead, emphasize those traits that grow from the inside out like talent, loyalty, character, friendship or fun!.
4. “Why are you sooooo sensitive?”
Puberty is a period of intense hormonal changes. In fact, more changes are going on in your tween’s body than at any other time in their life and those changes are now occurring at younger ages! New research shows that the area of the brain that regulates emotions is still developing in tweens and teens. So, expect those mood swings and extremes. But also expect your tween to be “very touchy” and sensitive. Hint: Never tease or discipline your kid in front of a peer. You’re guaranteed to get big-time resistance and a turn-off.
Better: “You seem upset. Had a tough day? Need a hug?”
Tune in to your child’s emotions. Respect where your child is coming from. Refrain from sarcasm and taunts. Watch your non-verbal cues, such as smirks or raised eyebrows.
5. “Why did you do that?” (Even worse: “What were you thinking?”)
Expect your tween to be a bit impulsive. Neuro-imaging confirms that their pre-frontal cortex is still developing– the exact place where decision-making and impulse regulations are forming. Tweens may not always know the reasons behind their actions. And that’s one reason they may have that blank look when you ask, “Why did you do that?”
Better: “What did you hope would happen? What will you do next time?”
It’s best not to use “why” with a tween (“Why did you do that?”) Chances are they won’t know. Instead, use “what” to get them thinking and it might even help them learn what to do the next time.
6. “Why didn’t you just say no?”
The need to “fit in” is huge and peer pressure can be overwhelming. It’s tough to stand up to your peers, but even more so during these years.
Better: “It’s tough to say no to a friend. Have you tried…?”
Tweens especially say what they need are specific peer pressure techniques. So, offer strategies by brainstorming together during a relaxed time: “Let’s think of things you could say the next time your friend pushes you to do something you don’t feel comfortable doing. You could make an excuse like: ‘I have to get home and do my homework or my parents will ground me,’
7. “Why don’t you just get over it and move on?”
Peer relationships are critical and play a big part in an adolescent’s self-esteem. Tweens are discovering the “opposite sex” and have their first “crushes.” When there’s a friendship tiff or breakup with a “first love,” ah, the anguish! Though the anguish may seem juvenile, don’t dismiss your kid’s hurt and tell her to “get over it.” Their hurt is intense and real.
Better: “I’m so sorry. Want to get an ice cream?”
Show a little empathy! Breakups at this age are crushing. Be available, understanding, supportive and fill your kid’s social calendar with something to do (especially on those weekends) if they’re left alone.