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How Open Ended Questions Can Revive Relationships with Teens

Asking open ended questions is something I have had to really learn about and practice. They don’t come out naturally for me and I think a lot of us suffer from using closed ended questions as parents.

With prom and graduation season upon us, important conversations should be had. I’m happy to offer some valuable tools to your toolbox so you can tackle the situation successfully.

I participated in an Ambassador Program on behalf of Influence Central for Anheuser-Busch’s Family Talk About Drinking Program. I received a promotional item to thank me for my participation.

Family Talk About Drinking – #ABFamilyTalk

Did you know that Anheuser-Busch has been sharing this program for over 20 years!? They are truly dedicated to helping parents communicate with their families about drinking.

In fact, research shows that parents have the greatest influence on teens’ decisions about drinking alcohol; and there has been a 24% increase in that influence since 1991. So despite our feelings that our kids don’t care what we think, they do!

I recently shared 10 tips for talking to your teen about drinking that were inspired by certified educator and parent coach, MJ Corcoran.

However, I’d like to take this opportunity to emphasize the importance of taking on the role of the Coach. For children 14-21 and up, the parenting role we should be in is the coach. Here are four tips from MJ:

  • Find Windows of Opportunity to Talk
  • Connect with Your Teen
  • Ask Open Ended Questions
  • Encourage Accountability

You can find a whole bunch more here.

Keywords for closed and open ended questions.

Open Ended Questions

I recently took a counseling class as part of my bachelor’s degree in nutrition. While the focus was on nutrition counseling, I took away much more.

We learned a lot about open ended questions and how important they are for really connecting with someone.

It was in this class I realized I almost never use open ended questions with my kids. I immediately started using them and the result was unbelievable. My kids opened up to me without hesitation. I hadn’t even realized how much I was missing.

So you might be wondering what the heck an open ended question is. Well, it’s one that inspires thought and cannot be answered with a simple yes or no.

It promotes conversation and personal reflection. The structure of the question and your tone upon delivery are the two most important components.

Closed ended questions are those that can be answered with yes or no or simple/short responses. These can be great for gathering information, but not for furthering the conversation.

Avoid “why” questions whenever possible as these can come off as judgmental especially if your tone is off. 

Why did you do that? Can put one on the defense, but what made you feel like that was the best way to handle that situation? leaves more room for honest explanation.

Tone is crucial. If you are too upset to control your tone, take a deep breath or even a short break from the situation to calm down and then restart with a cool, calm, nonjudgemental, tone to your voice.

Here are some examples of closed and open ended questions.

Closed and Open ended questions.

Try using open ended questions the next time you’re coaching/talking to your teen and let me know how it goes!

For more great parenting tips, especially for summer party season, check out the FTAD Website and their Facebook Page.

Tiffany Dover

Friday 5th of June 2015

This is a fabulous post! Teens don't ever open up willingly so asking them the correct questions are perfect!!

nicole dziedzic

Monday 1st of June 2015

I love the idea of open ended questions, awesome way to promote conversation and personal reflection with your kids.

Sarah L

Thursday 28th of May 2015

Open ended questions are good for talking to anyone: child, spouse, friend.

Debbie Welchert

Thursday 28th of May 2015

I love your advice of using an open ended question. I am already going over in my mind on what questions I want to ask. I'm so ready to try this. Thanks!

Julie Wood

Thursday 28th of May 2015

First off, if there is a party with kids that are underage, they need to have parents there to chaperon, and parents need to make sure that there is no alcohol on the premises so no underage child drinks it. I would make sure to talk to my teen and tell him or her not to drink anything that someone offers you at a party because that is how kids can die. There have been so many situations where kids drank something that someone gave them, and they thought it was harmless and they died from it!!