Several weeks ago I wrote about using the Socratic method. And while I stand by what I said in that post, I realized through talking with several parents that I need to include a caveat: the Socratic method only works if you are in a completely calm and open place. It only works if you are really, truly open to whatever course of action your teenager decides on. Because even with the best questioning, and even after considering all of the view points and possible courses of action, your teenager may still decide on a different course of action than you had hoped for.

So, if you are not in a very open place, you need to steer clear of the Socratic method. (Be honest with yourself!) In the event that you are not feeling very open, here is a different rule-of-thumb for you: You get one question. So make it a damn good one!

Here are the kinds of situations where this rule of thumb is the most critical:

  • You walk in on your child having sex/doing drugs/sneaking out/etc.
  • You hear through the grapevine that your child has done one of the above
  • The teenagers next door has an all-night, raucous party while their parents are out of town.
  • Anything else that just makes you angry
  • Anything else where you think that the young person in question needs to be punished, told that they were wrong, or in any way lectured to

In these situations, you get one question. So take your time thinking about it – bounce your question off your therapist, your spouse, your best friend, your mother. Get the wording just right so it will really get to the heart of the issue, and leave very little wiggle room for a non-answer. You have 5 – 7 days, at most, to figure out your question.

Then find a relatively calm time when no one is rushing off, and ask the question. Then stop talking. Do not elaborate. Do not rephrase the question and ask it again. Do not qualify it with something like, “Do you know what I mean?” Just wait. If the silence gets awkward, that’s okay. Let it be an awkward silence that the teenager feels the need to fill.

So, to paraphrase this rather longer-than-I-had-intended post: The Socratic method works very well when you’re feeling centered. Otherwise, use the One Question Rule.