Bear with me while I share a quick personal story. The other day my son’s teacher called me to tell me that he had been wearing his hat in school. He’s only in first grade, and it’s not a hard rule that hats can’t be worn. She called him to her desk to ask him to remove his hat. However, rather than the typical, “Please remove your hat,” she had the consideration to ask a very important question: “Why are you wearing your hat in the classroom?” He confided in her that other kids had been making fun of his hair (I know I’m his mother, but he has great hair, so it makes no sense) and hence, an important discussion about bullying commenced in the classroom and at home.
That simple question can open up many doors. As parents, we often let our moody teens brood alone. If they come home grumpy from school, we may chalk it up to typical teen pouting. And, our first attempt at getting them to talk is typically met with resistance anyway, so what’s the point?
Well, there is an important point to getting your teen to open up and it’s well documented. Teens need to talk; they need to be heard. There is so much going on in their heads that they may not even know how to respond to a simple, “How was your day?” So, you have to dig. Don’t give up. Keep trying.
“Sarah and I broke up.” “Oh, I’m sorry, why?” “My teacher hates me.” “Why do you think that?” “I didn’t make the volleyball team.” “Why?” And, if they shrug their shoulders and don’t want to talk about it, tell them you will ask again later. Keep trying. It’s important.
As it relates to the college process, it’s easy to accept, “I don’t like that school,” but I always try to follow up with, “Why?” It gives me a chance to learn more about the qualities a student doesn’t want in a college (thereby providing insight about what they do want), correct any misconceptions they may have about that school, and/or validate that that particular school may not be a good match for them.
Take this example, student: “I won’t get in to any colleges.” Parent: “Why would you think that?” “I don’t know, I just do.” “Well, there has to be a reason; why would you say that?” “My grades are terrible, my friends all did better on the SAT’s than I did, and I’ve never been president of a club.” Okay, now here’s an open door (or three) where parents can step in to help.
But you won’t know if you don’t dig. Having teens is like digging a hole where your shovel is constantly clinking against rocks. But, get those rocks out of the way and you will uncover a lot, help your teen, and form a lasting, essential relationship with them.