Excerpts from Chapter 10

Keep the Conversation
Going in the Right Direction

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Our temptation, and here I am speaking of both parents and teens, is to be problem-centered in our follow-up discussions. When our teens only partially follow-through with the plan they developed and slip back into their former patterns, that’s what they expect us to see—where they blew it. In the past, that breakdown is what we or other adults in their lives have usually drawn their attention to. Their strong temptation, like ours when our weaknesses or failures are pointed out, is to cover up their errors or excuse themselves with defensive and often angry words. That’s the way both adults and teens have handled these follow-up conversations in the past. Our opening questions have often encouraged this self-defeating approach by emphasizing points of failure.

Therefore, the opening question of these follow-up conversations is absolutely crucial in setting the tone and direction of the conversation. Left to our own devices, the questions we would typically ask would open the door wide to a primary focus on problems, failures, and sin.

“How did things go today with your friends?” “What has happened this past week between you and your teachers?” “Have you made any changes this week?” “Did things go any better this week in school?” “Did you get to put into practice any of the plan you came up with the last time we talked?”

Questions like these may sound harmless enough, and they certainly come naturally. But such questions are itching for negative responses. This is especially true if the young adult has recently experienced a difficult encounter, an aggravating set of circumstances, or anything at all like what led to the two of you to have these conversations in the first place. When it comes to angry teens involved in the LCLP process, you should avoid questions like these. The problem lies in the phrasing. Such questions will tempt a young person to think in terms of the problem and “how bad things are.” They divert a teen’s attention away from the solution he wanted to implement, and away from what went well when he did put his plan into action.

With teens who have been angry, we need to ask a different set of questions. These are questions that invite them to think differently about us, about themselves, and about how to get what they wisely want. We can ask questions that spawn hopefulness and put criticism and a sense of failure—whether ours or theirs—in the background.

Stay Focused on Exceptions and Solutions

Questions that are phrased positively focus on the value and the promise of the teen’s plan, not the challenges and difficulties of the teen’s problems. With just a small shift in your thinking, you can ask questions that encourage hopefulness….

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The fact is that, no matter how badly the week went, there were some things that went better than other things. Your job is to focus your teen on the things that went better. This gives you the opportunity to see how she has managed better with these other things. “What have you done that made things better than the worst part of the week?”

Follow-up conversations are great opportunities to keep your relationship going well. As your connection strengthens, you will be able to talk about your teen’s struggles on a more and more personal level. At all times, however, remember to keep the conversation focused on solutions and exceptions. By accentuating what your teen has done well in spite of his challenges, you can avoid the natural tendency for your conversation to drift toward a focus on problems. Taking this approach with a young adult who has been angry or disinterested can open up a depth of communication that may be new territory for both of you. Your ultimate goal is to move to the most serious topic of all—the gospel. This is the theme to which we turn our attention in the next and final chapter of this book.

Read excerpts from Chapter 11

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