Written by Mark Gregston.
Most grandparents can agree that talking to a teenager sometimes feels like pulling teeth. You try to engage in conversation with your grandchild, and all you receive in response are grunts, eye-rolls, or one-word answers. You try everything you can to drag information out of your grandson or daughter, but the harder you pull, the deeper they dig in their heels. The conversation becomes a stressful game of tug-of-war, and after ten minutes of trying to pull words out of your grandchild’s mouth, you’re exhausted and ready to quit.
Have you been there?
Can I suggest a different strategy? The power of a good question is remarkably effective in the hands of a grandparent. Think about it from your own point-of-view. When someone asks for your opinion, you feel valued. You feel appreciated. You feel like you’ll be listened too. When asked in a non-condemning and non-prying way, a good question conveys a sense of worth and relationship that is unparalleled by any other action a grandparent can make. When you ask your grandchild what they think, you’re letting them know you have an interest in them and that their opinion has significance to you.
A good question can also act like an x-ray into the heart and mind. Most kids in high school will not voluntary give insights into what they’re thinking or doing, especially if they feel like they’ll be judged or criticized. But ask a question aimed at understanding your grandkids thoughts and feelings about a subject, and you’ll naturally draw out an honest report on where they are spiritually, emotionally, or mentally. As grandparents, it’s easy to observe what’s happening to our grandkids on the outside, but to see what’s happening on the inside, we need a good question. If we don’t ask questions, we could be missing serious, hidden situations in the life of your grandchild.
But maybe you’re not so good at asking questions. Perhaps when you ask questions it feels like an interrogation rather than a conversation. Or maybe your questions seem to fall flat, instead of furthering discussion. Let me offer a few tips for asking good questions:
- Avoid simple “yes” or “no” questions. If your teen could answer with “yep”, try to find a way to phrase the question that makes a complete sentence necessary. Try to ask “who, what, when, where, or how” questions that inspire further thought. Find out what your grandson thinks about an issue, how your granddaughter would do something differently than you, where he would go, and why she thinks a certain way. Talk about controversial subjects as you would a friend or co-worker for whom you have respect. I can almost guarantee you’ll be pleasantly surprised by what comes out of your grandchild’s mouth.
- Ask questions, but don’t give answers until you’re asked yourself. Stop lecturing and start listening. A Sunday school teacher once asked the ten-year-old in her class, “What’s wrong with grown-ups?” A boy responded, “Grown-ups never really listen because they already know what they’re going to answer.” Your grandchild won’t be ready to listen until they become the initiator of a discussion, so just hush and get out of the way and let them take the lead. As grandparents, we want our grandkids to carefully think about their decisions before they act. You can help them along by stimulating their developing minds and hearts. Ask good questions that stoke their thought process. For example, take the recent trend of young female musicians pushing the envelope. Ask your granddaughter about her thoughts on the issue. Are these young artists simply being creative? What message are they projecting? Do their actions help or hurt them? When you sit down to watch a television show with your grandson, engage his mind afterwards. It could be something as simple as, “What do you like about this program? What don’t you like?” Then sit back and listen, without judgment, correction, or condemnation. As your grandchild answers, the synapses in their brain start to fire, and connections begin to be made. It might take a while for them to see the logic (or illogic) in their thoughts, but you are starting them on a path that will help them see the world in a critical and discerning way. You’re preparing them to approach situations and ideas with a wise heart and mind.
- Watch your body language. Whether your question succeeds or not depends not only on what you say, but how you say it! What is your face, your hands, your entire demeanor telling your grandchild? Are you inviting them to open up, or is your body language shouting, “keep quiet”? A good way to prevent hostile body language is to avoid asking questions when you’re overly angry, disappointed, or upset. When you’re in a bad mood, what comes out are phrases like, “Do you know how stupid that was? What were you thinking? Or “How could you?” Instead, take time to cool down and find a nice, quiet place to engage your teen in conversation. Stay relaxed and aware of the messages you are sending through your tone, posture, and volume of your voice.
- Ask questions that develop your kid’s opinions, and not your own. Our job as grandparents is not to recreate our minds and beliefs in our grandchildren’s lives. While this might be appropriate when they are young, as teenagers we need to train them to start thinking critically, to apply what they have been taught to the situations and circumstances in their own lives. They need to develop their own thoughts and feelings and learn to process them. Sometimes you empower teens to apply the values you taught them just by asking questions. Your questions might also encourage your teens to ask questions of you. And if they do start asking questions, they might be inviting you to a dark and shameful corner of their world. Don’t be afraid to go there! Once in the secret places of your grandchild’s heart, you’ll have more of an influence when you withhold judgment and ask more questions.
Teens just want to talk and have someone listen to them. Most of the time when your grandchild says something to you, they’re not trying to communicate valuable information, they’re simply trying to process life. They don’t need a response or a judgment, they don’t need an opinion or a solution, and they probably aren’t really asking for anything. They just need a listening ear. So take time to listen – slowly.
If a grandchild shares what is on her heart, but you’re more concerned with fixing her problems or telling her how to act than with listening, that teen will eventually quit sharing. If your grandchild is in the shutdown mode, there is a reason—either you’re not asking the right questions, or you’re not listening to the answers.
Most grandkids want to say, “My grandparents listened to me, and they heard me and they valued me.” If you are willing to ask good questions and listen, you might touch the heart of your grandchild and convey a sense of worth. If you’ve had trouble asking good questions, keep working at it, and share your desire to be a better listener. Find opportunities to let your grandchild talk, even if they seem a bit forced at first. Eventually, with diligence on your part, your grandchild will again learn to trust their dreams, thoughts and questions with you.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a residential counseling center for struggling teens located in Longview, Texas. He has been married to his wife, Jan, for 40 years, has two kids, and 4 grandkids. He lives in Longview, Texas with the Heartlight staff, 60 high school kids, 25 horses, his dog, Stitch, 2 llamas, and a prized donkey named Toy. His past involvement as a youth pastor, Young Life area director, and living with over 2,700 teens, has prepared Mark to share his insights and wisdom about parenting pre-teens and adolescents.
You can find out more about Heartlight at www.HeartlightMinistries.org. You can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.