The best 2 questions to ask your teen

Remember when your child was an infant? All of the sudden you heard a squalling coming from the bassinet. (Amazing that such a loud, obnoxious sound could come out of such a little body, huh?)

You approach the flailing, red, bundle of screaming and in the process of trying to figure out the reason behind the unhappiness, you join the millions of parents around the world in the universal search for the reason for the crying.

Are you hungry? Chances are this is it. But if you just finished a feeding, the answer is probably no.

Then it’s onto, “Maybe you have “gas””. You do the burping, the pressing the little legs toward the chest hoping to squeeze some of the air out…nope. That’s not it.

Do you need a diaper change? If you don’t smell anything, you do the ever popular but always stupid put-your- finger-in-the diaper (That split second where you are not sure what you will end up on your finger when you pull it out is not for the faint of heart)…or, you do the universal hold-the-baby’s-butt-up to-your-nose sniff test.

All clear? Yes?

Well, maybe they’re “overtired” (this was one of my grandmother’s favorite ones. Not sure what “overtired” means.  Maybe it was her way of saying “effing tired” before the F word became so mainstream.)

And on and on it goes, until you hit upon the magic answer, usually signified by an end to the screaming.

If only could have asked that little butterbean: WHAT DO YOU WANT?



But you can ask all you want; you won’t get an answer. So you have to play detective. And sometimes end up a detective with poop on your finger.

Fast forward 14 years….

Your teen is yelling. Slamming doors. Or crying. Or failing all her classes. Or getting into fights. Or drugs.

Maybe you think it’s because of her hormones.

Or because he has ADHD.

Or because she is hanging out with bad kids.

And in my line of work, my experience has shown me that these above things may in fact be true. But they often aren’t the real underlying reason. Often there is something else going on.

The only person who knows the real reason is your teen.

So, just like all those years ago, you have find the answers to the same questions:

What do you want?

What do you need?

And then shut your mouth and open your ears and listen.

Because unlike that infant, if you sit still across from them, electronics put aside, dishes put aside, homework forgotten, and just ask, they will tell you.


This article previously appeared on Huffington Post.