Telling vs. Asking

No one likes to be TOLD what to do. Think of a time when someone told you what to do or told you that you had to do something. Notice how it conjures up a negative feeling.

I grew up with a friend who, when told what to do by a parent, would find an excuse NOT to do it. Even if it was something he wanted to do, such as going outside to play, he would find an excuse to stay indoors just because he was TOLD.

Depending upon the other person’s mental frame at the time, when we tell a person what to do—regardless of how admirable our intentions—the message is often PERCEIVED either as an attempt to control or as a criticism that what the person is doing is not good enough.

Young people are in the process of asserting their independence, and they perceive TELLING as an attempt to control them. In this regard, young people are like adults, who also dislike being controlled.

Besides, teenagers know everything! Mark Twain articulated this when he said, “When I was fourteen my father was so ignorant, I could scarcely stand to have him around; but when I turned twenty-one, I was amazed at how much he has learned in seven years.”

Rather than TELLING, consider phrasing your idea as a QUESTION or state it in a curious mode. For example, if you disapprove of what your youngster wants to do, ask, “What would be the long-term effect of doing that?”

In the situation with my friend, the parent could have had more success by asking, “What’s the weather like outside? I’m thinking of going out later.” After checking the weather, my friend most probably then would have asked to go outside and play—exactly what the parent desired.

  1. I have a 15 year old daughter that is unwilling to discuss any of her behaviors and blames her mother and I for all the problems. We have given her choices and even asked her to come up with some consequences for when she acts up. She either says “I dunno….” or suggests something that she acknowledges will not help herself grow. How do you get un unwilling participant to become a willing participant?

  2. Reflect on how you are communicating with her. Ask yourself how she will perceive your communications. If there is any feeling of coercion, change your communications.

    She is reacting to your attempts to control her.Teach the levels of social development so that she will reflect on how she is behaving and continue to talk to her with positive terms assuring her that you have confidence in her ability to be responsible.