When your teenager tells you something shocking, or when you find or walk in on something shocking, or when your teenager’s friends accidentally lets something shocking slip, you have an amazing opportunity. This is your golden opportunity to get to know your kid and maybe their friends at a much deeper level. But you don’t want to blow it by reacting inappropriately in your shock and surprise.

So what to do?

Assume you have one question. That’s it. So you’d better make it a good one.

And, importantly, you don’t have to ask it right then. Depending on the situation, walk away or stop what’s going on and make sure everyone is safe and taken care of, and then walk away. You’ve got at least a couple of hours, maybe even a day to devise your one question. Write out your question, say it out loud, revise it, bounce it off your friends or your therapist.

There are two parts of this process that are most important:

  1. You’re making sure that you ask a question, and then give your teenager a chance to answer. Far too often parents who are surprised ask one question and then go right into another one, without giving their teenager time to either absorb or answer the first question.
  2. You’re choosing your words wisely. In addition to talking too much, parents often make the mistake of asking blaming or rhetorical questions (“What were you thinking!” or “Did you not realize what a stupid idea that was?”). You really do want answers, and so you need to be sure and ask the right question to get those answers.

So take your time, and make sure you get the right question figured out. Your conversations with your teenager will substantially deepen as a result.