Alice and her son, Ryan (16), were having a difficult time. Normal conversations erupted into screaming matches. Ryan, in particular, became extremely aggressive. He called his mother terrible names and would literally tune her out. Alice did not help matters with her criticism, her lectures, and her barrage of questions. “Where are you going? Have you done your homework? Did you empty the garbage? Is your room clean? What time will you be home?” She rarely got an answer willingly and without a dose of attitude.
Alice is a single mother and works full time. She wants to provide a good home for Ryan but needs his help and cooperation. Ryan is at an age where he desires more independence and he resents the lists of chores and the daily “interrogation” from his mother. Both feel attacked and unsupported. Alice wants Ryan to attend counselling with her to resolve their differences but Ryan will have none of it. It’s his contention that if his mother would simply get off his case then all would be well. Alice decided to attend counselling alone.
After hearing of Alice’s frustrations and concerns, it was suggested that she try an experiment. This would involve a three week period during which Alice would avoid asking Ryan any questions. None at all. Alice did not see how this would be possible. She needed to find out what was happening, how he was doing, when he’d be home, and a million other daily concerns that needed answers. She had to stay informed or he’d simply do as he pleased.
It was explained to Alice that many of the best radio and TV interviewers make statements rather than ask questions and they seem to glean a great deal of information from their subjects. Instead of asking “Where are you going and what time will you be home?” Alice could say “I need to know where you are going and what time you’ll be home.” Or instead of “Have you done your homework?” she might say “I was wondering how things are going at school.” Or rather than “Have you taken out the garbage?” she could try “I’d appreciate your help with the garbage before you go out with your friends”. This confused Alice somewhat because the statements didn’t sound all that different from the questions. She was assured that they would sound quite different to Ryan and besides it was just an experiment. She agreed to give it a try.
Three weeks later Alice reported a tremendous change in their relationship. Their confrontations had subsided significantly and Ryan was becoming a great deal more open, respectful, and cooperative. He had even started offering information before she had to ask for it. When asked what had prompted such a change Alice admitted that trying to formulate a statement instead of a question made her stop and think about how to best word it. It was tricky at first but the result was usually softer and less accusatory than a similar question would have been. She was amazed that such a simple strategy could have such a positive impact.
The lesson we can learn from this “true story” is that teenagers will generally respond in a respectful manner if they believe they are being treated with proper respect themselves. As Alice discovered, simply approaching her teen in a gentler manner proved to be a key strategy for improving their relationship.