watch out for questions that are actually criticisms

Are you wearing THAT?

Do you really want to do that?

Are you aware of how that looks?

You don't really feel that way, do you?

Why are you doing that?

Feel kinda slimed as you read these? Me, too.

That's because these are not really requests for information or clarification -- they are actually thinly disguised criticisms. The underlying message seeps out between the lines: I disapprove of your choice. Now I want you to justify it to me so I can show you how wrong you are.

Whoever is asking these questions has already decided that the clothing, behavior, or decision in question is wrong, unwise, inappropriate, or ill advised. Most of us, teens included, react defensively to this kind of covert attack. We're not usually eager to have an extended conversation about how stupid someone thinks we are.

Want your teen to talk to you? Try these openers instead:

I'm wondering if you might get really chilly tonight wearing a sleeveless shirt to the football game.

I see you've decided on a plan of action. Can we talk about some of my concerns?

I'm worried that the skirt you are wearing might attract sexual attention from older men. What are your thoughts about that?

I'd like to hear more about how you feel.

I'm nervous about some possible ramifications of that decision. You've probably thought about this already ... and I would feel so much better if we could chat a bit so you can reassure me that you've covered all the bases.

You'll create a much stronger relationship with your teen if you can leave disapproval out of the recipe. Assume she has good (but not always totally well informed) reasons for the choices she has made, and make a genuine request for her to share her perspective and reasoning with you.

Listen respectfully, and ask permission before sharing your concerns or opinions. Ask questions like, "How have you decided to handle any potential unexpected obstacles ... an injury ... car trouble ... or if someone you rode with starts drinking?" Bringing up contingencies this way respects our teenager's autonomy, and introduces potential pitfalls onto her radar screen without insulting her.

Strive to become curious rather than critical, respectful rather than judgmental, and you will position yourself as an ally to be consulted rather than an enemy to be avoided.

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