"You are so annoying!" "Stop asking me so many questions!" " Stop texting me every 5 minutes!" Any of these sound familiar? I'm guessing that at least once a day, after another "interview" with your teen that has gone awry, you feel the door being metaphorically shut in your face. The college students who I surveyed last week, and countless teens I have counseled and talked to cite the "nosiness" of their parents as being their most irritating quality. The irony is that as your kids move into adolescence, and their lives become more complicated and complex, the more you need to know so you can keep them on track and safe, the less they want to talk to you. And it seems that the less they want to talk to you the more questions you ask? it is a vicious cycle in which no one wins. You don't get any information, and your teen gets bombarded with a million questions.
Sometimes you ask questions when you are worried. Maybe your teen walks in after school with their head and shoulders drooping, and you just know something is up. You ask how their day was and you get the grunt "it was fine". Your antenna goes up, hm mm doesn't sound fine. So you go a little further: "Did something happen?" " Did you get your project back?" Did you have a fight with one of your friends?" And you keep on going, hoping one of your questions will be the right one, and your teen will spill. Unfortunately it goes the other way, and your teen stays silent, or screams, "leave me alone," and bolts to the safety of his/her room. You are left with your anger at their attitude and silence, while simultaneously racked with fear that something is up and you don't know what it is and therefore can't fix it. In this scenario it may be that a million things are wrong, nothing major, but all together feel like crap. So when you ask the questions, they really don't have the answers because it may be an accumulation of things that started at 6:30 that morning with a bad hair day, followed by a an embarrassing gaffe answering a question in English, followed by..... Get the picture. In this situation, you are much better off asking no questions when you first get the 3 word answer. Leave them alone to recoup and sometime later make a statement or observation like: " You seem like you had a tough day today. Anything I can do to help?" Maybe there is nothing you can do to help, and you will just have to leave it alone, as hard as that is. Sometimes your teen just wants to figure it out for themselves, or just get over it on their own. That's how resilience is built.
Now for the information gathering questions. "What do you have for homework?" "Where are you going?" "Who are you going with?" "When were you planning on doing your homework, your chores, your SAT review?" Or you text them all these questions when they are out with their friends, and of course get no response which infuriates you. Or maybe your questions tend toward the: " So what's going on with your boyfriend/girlfriend?" "What's going on with your friends?" You see these questions as just being interested in their life, they see these questions as you being nosy. The trick with these kinds of questions is timing. You have to be attuned to your teen's mood. If they are giving you very obvious, don't talk to me, body language, this is not the time. You will only be disappointed and feel rejected, which eventually turns into anger. Don't barrage them with questions as soon as they walk in the door. Give them their space and in a more casual way after some time has passed, you might say "so what's up for tonight?' For questions about weekend time spent out of the house, you might make a statement:" Before you leave I will need to know the usual information, or a casual, so what's up for tonight?". Most teens will want to share information with you, but will withhold when they feel your desperation. It is just another power struggle for them to win. The bottom line is you can't make them talk, you want them to want to talk with you, and that takes finesse, humor, and patience.