4 Steps to Asking Well-placed Questions
You’re watching Netflix with your teenagers, and you can’t help but notice one of the main characters in the show constantly engaging in irresponsible behaviors… with no consequences whatsoever!
You remember one of the most important principles in parenting today: Don’t freak out.Don’t overreact to the situation, cementing in your kids minds, “I better never share any of my struggles with Dad because this is how he’ll respond.”
One step better, you remember to replace lecturing with listening. You know this is where you want to ask a well-placed question helping your kids think through the ramifications of their choices.
The problem is… you have no idea what to ask?
I know I’ve experienced this situation countless times. Something happens—a teaching moment—and I know I probably should ask a really insightful question… but nothing insightful comes to mind.
Maybe our kids tell us a story about a friend at school who is spreading rumors about another student. Is this one of those teaching moments?
Maybe you’re running errands with your kids and a questionable song comes on the playlist. Your kids say, “I love this song!” and crank it up. As you listen to the lyrics you realize the song is misleading. In fact, the song blatantly promotes reckless behaviors.
Again, you wisely choose not to freak out. Good choice. Sometimes our kids aren’t really even paying attention to the lyrics. Sure, they might “hear” them. They might even be able to sing them back to you word for word. But they’ve never processed the lyrics and pondered them.
If only you could ask them questions that would help them think through their entertainment choices.
The world provides us plenty of teaching moments each day. It’s our job as parents to use these every once in a while (I say every “once in a while” because our kids would quickly tire of discussion-time every time the radio gets turned on). The key to springboarding these good discussions is well placed questions.
Since most of us don’t have time to jump on TheSource4Parents.com or grab the newest book of questions we bought when driving down the road, it’s probably a good idea for us to think through how to come up with well placed questions on our own.
Here are four practical tips helping you ask well-placed questions on the fly.
4 Steps to Asking Well-Placed Questions
The first step to helping our kids think through situations is getting them to pause for a moment and simply observe what they just encountered. This can be achieved by merely asking, “What did he just say?”
This simple question nudges young people to actually stop and truly look at something.
Today, as I write this, the top song on iTunes is Lana Del Rey’s, High on the Beach. A few lines into the song, the listener quickly realizes that this song is about a breakup, and the way Lana is dealing with this breakup is escaping to the beach to get high. Hence the chorus:
All I wanna do is get high by the beach
When parents hear this song, the first question we can ask is, “What did she just say?”
The next natural question is, “What does she mean?”
Yes. Play dumb.
Basically, we’re making our kids actually process the content… maybe even for the first time. This question subtly hints, lyrics matter. We’re not merely shrugging our shoulders and saying, “Who cares!” We’re taking notice.
Be careful of tone. Approach this question with curiosity, not judgment. The whole purpose of these questions is to open doors, not slam them shut if our kids smell a trap. Our purpose is to steer kids towards truth and let them discover the answers for themselves. A condemnatory attitude will jinx this whole process. So tread carefully!
So simply ask, “What does she mean ‘get high by the beach’?”
If you read occasional articles about parenting and youth culture, you might have access to some other relevant content. For example, if you subscribe to our free Youth Culture Window articles, you might have just read the article, Smoke Screens, highlighting recent studies about teen marijuana use and providing you with some engaging questions to ask teenagers about the subject. So in this case you could add, “What did these studies actually find?”
These questions lead to the next natural step…
Ask them their two cents. Ask:
“How’s that going to work out for her?”
“Has she thought this through?”
This provokes our kids to offer insight based on their own personal values. Instead of telling our kids how to think, we are asking them what they think.
Back to the example of our kids sharing about a friend who is spreading rumors at school. The temptation would be to get up on our soapbox and begin lecturing about gossip. Resist this temptation. Turn your lecturing to listening… with a well-placed question. Simply ask:
Was she right?
And as they’re stumbling through their own values, ask them one last question to steer them towards truth…
Direct them towards scripture. Ask:
“What does the Bible say about this?”
If our kids don’t know the exact chapter and verse, then be ready to direct them. Yes, this requires us to be in the Word ourselves so we know where to point. Don’t worry; if you don’t know a scripture off hand, don’t be afraid to admit, “Let’s look this one up later when we get home.” You could even pop onto TheSource4Parents.com when you get home, click on the Music Discussions page, sorting by topic. Maybe you’ll find a similar discussion and look at the scripture we used.
When you open scripture, go through the same line of questioning outlined above.
- What does that scripture say?
- What does it mean?
- How does this apply to our situation?
- How can we live this out this week?
Well-placed questions open doors to meaningful conversations. If you’re like me—prone to lecture—questions help you replace monologue with dialogue.
So let me ask you:
- What did this article just say?
- What does that mean?
- How does this apply to you?
- How can you use these principals this week?
Jonathan McKee is the author of over twenty books including the brand new The Bullying Breakthrough; The Teen’s Guide to Social Media & Mobile Devices; If I Had a Parenting Do Over; and the Amazon Best Seller - The Guy's Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket. He speaks to parents and leaders worldwide, all while providing free resources for parents on his website TheSource4Parents.com. Jonathan, his wife Lori, and their three kids live in California.