What I Wish You Knew Conversations is a deceptively simple way of launching conversations though the voices of others. It can help parents get to know their children a lot better without being “in their face.” It can also help students initiate communication with their parents about important topics. Too often “a talk” means a parent lectures and a teen rolls his eyes. The pages that follow help families move beyond that and enable parents to take the “emotional pulse” of their child. I advise parents to do this often and not wait until something is wrong. Students agree.
“Parents shouldn’t just wait till their child gets pregnant or quits school or is arrested.”
When parents ask, “How do I get my kids to really open up to me?” my response is to stop talking AT your children and begin to spend more time talking WITH them. Use the pages that follow, not for “The Big Talk,” but rather just as openers for frequent, easy, conversations. It is a lot easier to have Big Talks if you have experience talking about a variety of other things with each other. Note WITH, not AT each other.
Directions couldn’t be simpler. Each section of this book includes opportunities for initiating important conversations, either by discussing some of the writings or by answering the Starters questions in the Introduction.
Some of the quotes are very short, but like a good New Yorker cartoon, the point will be obvious. Just choose a page and share it with your child. Or let your teen look through the book and pick a page about an issue that interests him and ask, “What do you think about this?” There are no right answers and there is no right order. Each page is simply intended to be a talking point.
Your child may tell you that the writing on the page is stupid, but most kids will respond if you ask them WHY they think it is stupid. He won’t get defensive because the writing is not about him. It’s about what someone else expressed. Discussing someone else’s problem or opinion takes the focus off your child and makes the issue easier to talk about.
You and your child might have the same opinion about the issues presented and you might not. But having the same opinion is not the goal; the goal is to just talk about the issue on the page, not AT or about each other. The goal is simply to practice communicating respectfully. The process is easy and a surprisingly effective way to get to know each other better.
Listen to your teen as he tells you his response to what he is reading as if he were talking about his response to an image in a Rorschach Test.
Reply to what he has to say with respect and curiosity. Don’t interrupt or offer advice or try to change his mind.
Listen with patience and respect, the way you want him to listen to others, the way you want him to listen to you. You are letting him know that you are interested in HIM and what he thinks.
Give him time to answer. There are not right answers or wrong responses, just the sharing of opinions.
Respond to what he has to say as you would to someone else - someone you don’t love.
Ask your child about what topics he thinks are missing, subjects that should have been included.
Ask him what he thinks of the student who wrote the quote. Can he relate to the writer? Does he know anyone who has a problem like that?
Ask your child what she wishes she could tell the writer’s parents?
Share (briefly) how the page makes you feel and what you would like to say to the student who wrote it.
Wonder (to yourself or aloud) if your child might have been someone who contributed to this book.
Talk about just one page or more than one. Each of you can respond to the same writing or choose different pages to think about. You can involve other members of the family in these discussions, or not. There is no right or wrong way to use this book. Just do whatever works for you.
Another option is to use some of the writings in the book to journal. You and your child (or just one of you) can write your thoughts and opinions about some of the writings in the book. Then share your responses with one another if you choose.
Remember this is not a “how to” book, but rather just a guide, so that you can practice having frequent, easy and respectful conversations in your family. That’s it, just a simple (and maybe new) way to talk with your child and learn more about her and what she thinks in a non-emotional and non-judgmental way.
Most teens feel pleasantly surprised that you aren’t “imparting wisdom” or “grilling” them. When they get used to it and begin to trust that you are simply interested in what they think, most kids like sharing their ideas and opinions with their parents this way. At the same time, they will hear your opinions without having it sounding like a lecture. It can be fun to “open some of those communication doors” and when you are comfortable talking with each other in this way, it will certainly be easier to keep them open.
Through safe and respectful dialogue, each of you will practice talking with and really listening to one another. You will get to know each other better, the basis for an improved relationship. This is the goal. If you or your child would like to let us know how What I Wish You Knew Conversations works for you, or if you have ideas about topics to include in our next book of Starters, we’d love to hear from you. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.