In the past two weeks we passed along a program idea called “3 Questions,” promoting an evening of unscripted family discussion. If you missed it on our Facebook page or in our email, you can check out the details out here: 3 Questions : Parent & Teen Program February 1, 2011
As a follow up to that article, I promised to share the answers and discussion that came out of our first run through the program. So off we go!
Youth Question to Parents #1 (from all of the youth)
“What kinds of things do you hide from us and why do you hide things from us at all?”
I was in the room with the youth (we made sure not to have any youth parents in there and I’d designated two adults as moderators in the parent room to keep things moving). This question took the longest, probably because it was first. The parents’ answer was thorough:
“We hide things we deal with in our marriages because a) it’s our problems not yours and b) often it’s things that would be too heavy for you to deal with at your age.
We hide extended & origin family issues (like abortion, divorce, money, etc.) because they are parental issues that we are trying to deal with and we don’t want to add anxiety to your lives. Also, we are sometimes ashamed and we are having a hard time dealing emotionally with the issues ourselves and don’t want to extend that burden to you.
Sometimes the problems in marriage are sexual in nature and therefore not appropriate to share with you.
We hide: the depth of financial issues, our own sexual issues, marital strife, anger, hurt, illness, how we really feel about our own parents, and our past.
We struggle with how much and when to tell you this stuff. Sometimes it depends upon how old you are.”
Parent Question to Youth #1 (from all the parents together)
“What are some things that make it hard for you and your parents to talk to each other and how can each of us make that better? Please give examples.”
A lot of looking around prevailed for a moment, but the youth launched in pretty quickly. I and another non-youth-parent adult did help bring some cohesion to the youth answers, but the thoughts expressed were theirs entirely:
“Certain subjects like sex, relationships in general, what friends are doing, etc.
Our perception of how you react based on how you have reacted in the past.
The fear that what we say can and will be used against us.
To make it better: we need to feel “safe” (safe defined as not overreacting, not yelling, not trouble—listening, let us finish).
We’ll say what we want to say for right now—don’t feel like you have to resolve a subject entirely within the first conversation. We can cover some ground and then let it rest (in fact, sleep on it) and then you (the parent) can bring it up again. If we’ve indicated that we’re willing to talk about something, we’re willing to talk about it again; we just don’t want to do it all at once.
We need to come up with some version of “immunity” for bigger issues, as defined by our family unit. Either exceptional understanding in exceptional situations or an intermediary “safety adult,” a person also agreed upon by the family that can act as a “middle man” for difficult conversations.”
Youth Question to Parents #2 (from just the girls)
“Do your past dating relationships affect how you look at my relationships? If so, are there things I can do to convince you to trust me in regards to dating?”
“Yes. We know that being a “good” kid does not mean you are not a “normal” kid with temptations. But we also feel like the current technologies you have add a different dimension to dating that we did not have.
Pornography is rampant now.
Many times we trust you but not others or the situation.
The way you act with your girlfriend/boyfriend in front of people is important; we realize it is just a glimpse of how you act when you are alone.
We want to meet your boyfriend/girlfriend; it is a must to help build trust.
If you tell me the truth about other things I will trust you more and more.
We don’t want you to be put into a situation that is dangerous. There are boundaries that we set that you may not like that are not due to our trust level of you. Some things are not appropriate.”
Parent Question to Youth #2 (from just the moms)
“What do you appreciate about us as a mom and what can we do differently?”
This question drew a lot of groaning. “Whatever…” was exhaled unrestrained by one of the guys. When the question from the dads was read later, the room joked that the moms must have told the fathers what to ask so that the moms could get away with asking for nice things about themselves. BUT, the rules had said nothing about asking hard questions, only stipulated that they could ask “anything.” So we persevered. One big point about all of the “nice” things listed below—the youth were clear that they were saying “when” in every answer intentionally. To clarify: the youth aren’t saying that they appreciate that their moms are always supportive; they appreciate their moms when they are supportive. Got it?
“We appreciate it when you keep dad off of our back.
We appreciate when you… (“basic domestic services” sounded horrible, but it was the best way to sum up all of the “clean our laundry,” “make my lunch,” “keep the house clean” answers we were writing down)
…when you’re easy to talk to.
…when you sacrifice your time to drag us around to all of our sports/events/activities, especially ones we know you don’t like/can’t stand.
…when you save the “little stuff” from our lives (girls yes, guys no)
…when you support us
…when you take care of me when I’m sick
Stop asking so many questions about everything.
Don’t cry all of the time.
Stop stalking my Facebook.
Don’t yell or nag.
Save anger for the big stuff.
Don’t criticize my appearance.”
Youth Question to Parents #3 (from just the guys)
“What would you do if I was gay?”
Your reaction to this question will probably depend upon your ministry context and its openness to the subject of homosexuality. In the context of northern Georgia, I felt it necessary to relay to the parents that the question was not asked sarcastically (our rural/suburban corner of the southeast isn’t always the most open minded, to be gentle). The youth that presented the question was initially greeted by a burst of snickering, but he was quick to rebut them. “I mean, haven’t you ever wondered that? I mean, what if you had to tell your parents something that you knew they wouldn’t want to believe was true about you?” The room fell silent and the question was written down.
The parents’ answer:
“We’re not dodging the question, but before we answer it, we want one thing to be clear. No matter what you ever have to tell us about anything, we love you. Nothing can change that; our love for you is unconditional. There is nothing we can hear from you that can keep us from loving you.
To not dodge the question:
We would share any thoughts, emotions, opinions, or concerns that we may have. Opinions around our circle of parents varied greatly, but consensus around the circle expressed a concern about societal acceptance of your behavior and possible consequences of that acceptance.
We did also agree that we would want to know.”
Parent Question to Youth #3 (from just the dads)
“What temptations do you find present in your life about which you find it difficult to talk with your parents?”
The answers came fast:
“Drinking. Drugs. Sex. Friendships that are bad influences. Cheating on our schoolwork.”
So I wouldn’t send my parents home clutching at their chests with shortness of breath, I extended the dads’ question to include, “and why?”
“Because we can’t ignore your authority. We talk about ALL of this stuff with our friends because they can’t DO anything to us.
Your authority makes it hard for us to talk like friends—but it’s why we respect you.
There’s probably a balance.”
I can’t describe the feeling in the room at the end of the evening. I can’t immediately recall a more present sensation of the body of Christ. They were absolutely hungry to talk to each other. A repeated phrase I heard from parents as they left was, “We need this so much.”
It wasn’t a magic trick. We just needed to sit down and talk.