Building a Better Relationship with Your Teen: Probe- Free Communication

Are you on a quest to know your teen better? Do you feel compelled to work toward having a closer relationship with your teen? Often in an effort to build relationships with our teenagers, we develop the habit of over- questioning them so that we have all of the information we think we could possibly need to know about them.“What did you do today?” “What are you going to do later?” “Do you need help with your homework?” “Are you sure you took out the trash?”  This over- questioning behavior is referred to as “probing” or “20 questions” and it is a relationship breaker. To the person on the other side of your questions, you sound like a machine gun shooting off rounds. In many cases, you’re probably asking the third question without having heard the answer to the first question. This invasive questioning strategy does not strengthen relationships, it makes the teenager on the receiving end feel agitated and violated. 

If your conversations with your teen usually include a series of questions back to back like a machine gun, more than one or two questions, you are probably guilty of probing them. These interrogations may seem like an innocent effort on your part to build a better relationship with him or her, but more than likely you are overcompensating because you probably assume that the more you know, the stronger your relationship will become. This theory, while adopted by many, could not be more inaccurate. Probing is actually a relationship breaker. Not only is it an unnatural way of communicating, but it also makes one feel as though it is a one-way conversation. The motive of probing is the need to have intimacy but not knowing how to do that. Intimacy will never happen unless it involves two people.  Jesus said, “Depart for I never knew you” to the guy that said, “Lord, Lord did I not do great things in your name” Obviously God knows our very name long before we were even in our mother’s womb. He has every hair on our head counted. What he meant was, I know you but you never took the time to get to know me. “Knowing” another involves two people sharing each other’s feelings, beliefs, thoughts, and experiences in full freedom without fear of repercussion, judgment, rejection, or condemnation. 

It is silly to say, “God loves the sinner but hates the sin.” God never said that nor will he ever say that. If anything he may say “I love the sinner and I don’t remember your sins”, and “I only see righteousness and beauty.” His thoughts toward us are good and not evil to give us hope and an expected end. One parent I know told her gay child, “I love you but I hate your sin.” It is human nature to only hear and perceive the negative. The daughter only heard, “I hate you.” If you tell someone “I love you but I am angry at you,” All they hear is “I hate you,” or worse they hear “This is what love looks like, so accept my love.” The most dysfunctional people will be deceived into thinking that is the most love they will ever deserve or get from anyone. As a matter of fact, they may even identify it in others and assume, “Oh that person loves me, let me get in that relationship since I am familiar with that and I know that is what love looks like”   

What parents often see as simply being inquisitive for the purpose of having a deeper understanding of their teens, actually is viewed by teens as aggravating pressure aimed straight toward them. If you want to engage in a conversation with your teen, start simple and keep it short. Sometimes teens are shy, feel anti-social, or have personality types that keep them from being as talkative or as open as you would like them to be. In fact, sometimes teens simply lack the content or vocabulary to carry on a fruitful conversation.

Before you can build a stronger relationship, you will need to make them feel comfortable. This can take time and be a very slow and gradual process. Try to set a tone within your interactions that sends the message, it’s okay to be together without talking. Engaging in activities they enjoy while allowing an amount of communication they are comfortable with is a wonderful way to practice this. Watching T.V. And bike riding are two examples of activities that can be enjoyed without constant verbal interactions.

 There will most likely be times when you absolutely have questions in which you feel are urgent. When this occurs, simply warn them or ask their permission. “I have several questions, do you feel ready for me to ask them?” Often times, this will allow them to feel respected. Usually, they will consent to initiate such a discussion. This is a relationship builder because this shows respect for their heart. Once this kind of pattern is established, they will really like you and like communicating with you. They may actually begin to look forward to your conversations.

Another key to building a relationship with those that are harder to get to communicate with you is to keep conversations short and to end them quickly. When they don’t feel the pressure of you probing them, they will feel relieved; this will allow them to develop a closer bond with you and this will promote more positive interactions. 

At the beginning of this process, less is more. Have your entire family take personality assessments. Then, when you know each other’s personality styles, it will be much more clear as to how you can best approach communication. When you stop probing and start communicating, you will see the fruits of your labor and patience.

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