I once read an article about raising teenagers which suggested that while parents believe asking questions is a sign of interest, teens find it annoying, an intrusion of privacy. It felt like a lose-lose situation. If I ask questions, I am not respecting my teenager’s right to privacy. If I don’t ask questions, it shows a lack of interest in them. Does anyone else long for the days of tiny hands and squishy faces? Life was much simpler then.
Not knowing what to do, I decided to go directly to the expert on teenagers in my house—my 14-year-old son.
“I ask you questions because I care about you and I want to know what’s going on in your life.”
“I know, Mom. I actually don’t mind your questions. It’s just annoying when you ask too many. It feels like an interrogation.”
(Truthfully, it kinda is an interrogation. It’s so strange to be on the periphery of your child’s life, not knowing the ins and outs of every moment of his day.)
My son and I worked together to create some ground rules so that my questions are less overwhelming. It’s a game we have affectionately named “Mama Gets to Ask You Three Questions”. Here’s how you play:
1. My son has the right to pass on a question, if he feels it violates his privacy.
2. Answers must be truthful.
3. I only have 3 questions to ask but may request permission for clarification questions if necessary.
Let me illustrate how this works. Recently, in casual conversation, my son mentioned the name of a girl at school. This name was new, one I had never heard before, so I asked him about it.
“It’s a girl in one of my classes. We’re hanging out.”
Now I initiate the game, with his permission. “Can we play Mama Gets to Ask You Three Questions?”
“Sure,” he answers, with less enthusiasm than his mama, who is trying to harness her curiosity.
First question… “How did you approach this girl?”
My son went on to share that he walked up to her in the hallway, after class one day. He saw the girl standing with her friends and asked to speak to her for a moment. Then, he proceeded to tell her that he thought she was beautiful, smart, and funny and wanted to spend more time with her. (What a ballsy move! I love that he complimented her personality and brains as well as her looks. I am raising a good, confident man!)
“I have some follow up questions about that, but I don’t want them to count towards my 3. Is that okay?”
With his permission, I proceed to ask how he felt about being so forward. Was he nervous? What was her reaction? I also compliment him on approaching her in person, instead of just texting her.
He laughs, “Ya. That threw her off! But I don’t think you should ask a girl out over text.” (Again, proud Mama!)
Second question… “I am happy that you are hanging out. If, at some point, it starts to feel more serious, will you be comfortable sharing that with me?”
My children and I have spoken a lot about sex. We’ve spoken of the emotional complications of sex, the possible consequences of, different kinds of sex. I began that dialogue years ago, in hopes that we could remove the discomfort and normalize the conversation. I was wrong. It’s still awkward for all of us, but regardless, I think I have created an environment of honesty. (Side note: Talking about awkward topics in the car is helpful because the driver must keep eyes on the road. It removes the discomfort of intense eye contact. I’ve also invited my kids to text me any questions they have. It works!)
I wanted to use the second question as a reminder to my son that I am always here for him if he needs to talk. Chances are that he will not take me up on this offer, but I feel the need to make it, just the same.
I preface my third question with a disclaimer. “The next question is going to make you roll your eyes and say ‘Jeez, Mom!’ but I am going to ask it anyway. What is your understanding of consent?”
As predicted, he did roll his eyes, however, after he answered, this question led to a conversation about consent within the dynamics of marriage and marriage in general. And, it wasn’t just me doing the talking! My son was asking questions and sharing his reactions.
Here’s the thing, this game works for us because my son feels has control of the conversation. He has the right to pass on a question or limit the number of questions I ask. (He can turn down my request for follow up questions.) To this day, he has never passed on anything I ask and, more often than not, the game leads to a bigger conversation, one he may not have been open to if I just started peppering him with questions. I have used this game to talk about sex, parties, drugs, pressure of school and sports. You name it, we’ve talked about it!
This game works well for me and my son. I’m not saying it’s a sure-fire way to talk with your teenager, but it may be worth a try.