3 Questions is a family-based program developed by Youthworker Circuit that is geared toward generating genuine conversation between parents and youth. It works through a process of parents & youth working separately to create, with anonymity, 3 questions for the other room. The questions cross the hall and are answered while still in separate groups (maintaining anonymity for the answers as well). You can download this resource for FREE from the Youthworker Circuit website. If you’d prefer, you can arrange to have YWC moderate a 3 Questions session at your church by contacting Kevin at email@example.com.
Here are the questions from the most recent session, followed by reflection from Kevin and the responses from both groups.
Questions from the parents:
- What scares you?
- What is your definition of commitment?
- What would shake your faith?
Questions from the youth:
- How do you decide which of my passions you’ll let me follow, and when you say “no” to something, what goes in to that decision?
- Why do you respond to things in life with fear, worry, and stress, & why do you sometimes take that out on us?
- Why do you not distinguish between our individual character and general teenage stereotypes?
Many, many kid fears are rooted in things that could easily be answered or at least alleviated by conversation with their parents. With that in mind, it’s remarkable how often in these sessions the parents seem to be finally asking what’s troubling the minds of their kids. Two of these parent questions go directly to the doubts and insecurities of the kids.
In the responses from the parents and in the conversation at the end, there was a slight edge of unwillingness to let the parental guard down. Totally understandable. They managed to avoid the old standby, “because we’re the parents,” but just barely in a couple of moments. I maintain that “because we’re the parents” or any attitude in that ballpark isn’t healthy for either side. For the kids it’s unhealthy because it shuts down a vulnerable request from them for transparency from the parents. For the parents it’s unhealthy because it tries to too quickly put a lid on the open jar of the parents’ own insecurities. The truth is that parents largely don’t have any idea what they’re doing and they know it. Life moves at a pace that keeps them in reactionary mode at all times, trying to keep water out of the family boat. What they’re really saying is, “we don’t have time to figure that out right now; we have to rely on deferring to whoever is mostly likely to succeed at leading our family, without further explanation.” Usually, the parents. In some difficult family dynamics, that role indeed falls to the children.
What the kids are trying to do in most cases isn’t to challenge the authority of the parents, but rather to gain some understanding of the parents’ process. If the parents can get over their own insecurities for a moment and engage the kids in honest conversation about how parents are daily learning how to parent they’d be miles ahead both in terms of parent/child relationships and actually getting to parent their child. I think it is something that can be learned together.
It’s not, as some fear, a laying down of parental authority. It’s not. At the end of the day, it is “because we’re the parent.” Not as a right or privilege, but as a matter of fact. At the end of the day, the responsibility falls to us. “Because it’s our responsibility” would probably be a better answer. You don’t have to give up parental authority in order to bring your kids in a conversation that could help you faithfully carry our your responsibility as a parent. Your kids don’t want you to have an answer for everything; they want to understand your answers.
There is, of course, an unfair balance. The parents have to be willing to offer an honesty and transparency that likely won’t be reciprocated. The kids are still learning how to throw themselves at life, and their learning fast and in large doses from parents who are clinging to some semblance of order and control. So instead of learning how to deal with life’s stresses, they’re learning how to mask that struggle. And they’ll pass some version of that down to their own kids. How much better if you could pass down helpful ways of facing up to many of the heartaches and difficulties of adult life?
In order for them to reciprocate, they have to learn what transparency and honesty looks like in your family dynamic. Your special-snowflake disaster of a family situation has its own fingerprint that can’t be fully worked out anywhere but from within. Is it fair that you have to give of yourself beyond what your kids can give back? Heck no. Do you have to? Absolutely. Why? Because you’re the parents, that why.
Answers from the youth:
1. What scares you?
Uncertainty about the afterlife; worrying about what’s next—as a high school kid, preparing to move from a completely controlled home & school environment to one of absolute freedom on all fronts; scared about the completely unpredictable nature of global violence (in the news at the moment is the abduction of over 200 kids from a school in Uganda, now being sold & traded, some reported already dead and others sick), global warming and environmental change; scared of not fulfilling parental expectation/letting people down in general; scared of change and/or new things; afraid of straying from expectation & fear of imperfection
2. What is your definition of commitment?
Trying your hardest; being willing to give up other things to pursue “this thing;” doing something to the point that we’re (parent & child) are both proud of it; doing things that you don’t want to simply because you know they must be done or are expected of you; sometimes doing things that you value over what we value; in faith, being willing to stand alone; willing to speak up in an intimidating situation
3. What scares you?
That there are other very real people in the world that are good people, just like us, that believe very, very different things; higher education seeming to challenge things about faith & scripture; that there are other people that claim a Christian faith that are carrying out their faith in very, very different and sometimes offensive ways (example was given of Christians that view non-Christians as “projects” instead of people); encountering other Christians that make (the kids present) leery about associating themselves with the label “Christian”; scripture itself can be faith-shaking; enough continual negativity from others about their faith can wear their faith down
Answers from the parents:
1. How do you decide which of my passions you’ll let me follow, and when you say “no” to something, what goes in to that decision?
We do not decide your passions for you, but when you present a passion to us there are the things/thoughts that we use/have to factor into allowing you to pursue your passion: a) money, or cost of the passion b) safety c) your level of commitment and mine d) time involved e) how will this passion affect your faith f) will this passion put you in the wrong crowd g) what we feel or hear from God through prayer
2. Why do you respond to things in life with fear, worry, and stress, & why do you sometimes take that out on us?
As a family we share everything; that includes our fears, stress, and worries (this was quickly called out as smarmy BS in our end conversation; parents recanted). We have more people that we are responsible for and therefore more responsibilities. When we can’t handle things then our stress tends to carry over to our children. We know we have a lot of tangible things to lose, like houses, cars, etc. We also like to be in control and when we don’t have control then we tend to stress more and take that out on those closest to us, unfortunately. We should not take this out on you—we are wrong.
3. Why do you not distinguish between our individual character and general teenage stereotypes?
Sometimes it is fear that you will become the stereotype. We have been there and done that. We don’t think that we stereotype you. We think that we treat you as individuals. Maybe you stereotype us as parents.
Photo courtesy of Jennifer Flora