From Monologues to Questions

In the future, when your son asks you, "What is the meaning of the stipulations, decrees and laws the LORD our God has commanded you?" tell him: "We were slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt, but the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. Deuteronomy 6:20-21

A fool finds no pleasure in understanding
    but delights in airing his own opinions. Proverbs 18:2

How do you measure your effectiveness at listening to your children? Besides the self-conscious concern to implement Proverbs 18:15, there is one tangible way to confirm that you are on the right track. You can gauge the effectiveness of your listening by the questions your children ask you. That’s right—good listening on your part will encourage good questions from your children. You want to be asked good questions. This is an important goal of parenting that is often overlooked.

Allow me to illustrate. When you have the opportunity to meet with someone that you respect how does the conversation go? Do you immediately start making statements and pronouncements to this person? Or do you think of questions that you want to ask because you value this person’s opinion? If you had the opportunity to spend some time with a famous Bible teacher, would you use all of the time to tell this teacher about your personal insights into various topics—or would you think of questions to ask so that you could learn more? When you need help with a problem, do you look for answers from any random person? Someone next to you at the gas pump, perhaps? The answer is obvious. You ask the people whom you trust and respect.

One more illustration. Young children ask parents seemingly endless questions. They do this, in part, because parents are the center of their world. There is no one that means more to them than mom and dad. Asking questions is a sign of respect and appreciation. Be thankful. As a parent, you want to keep the questions coming. I have seen too many parents get exasperated with the questions of young children. While parental exasperation will eventually diminish the questions (bringing short-term relief), it may also result in a diminished relationship with older children and teenagers.

The active, aggressive listener that Proverbs 18:15 talks about will recognize the types of questions that are asked—and the questions that are not asked. If your teenagers are asking logistical questions, such as can I have the car, or when is dinner, this should warn you that the important questions are going to someone else. Your goal is to have your kids ask you about the hard things in life. But like you, your teenagers will reserve those question for the people whom they respect and trust.

Suppose a friend from church calls and asks you for advice on some relational issue. You immediately tell her that she must not have been listening to the sermons because the pastor just spoke on that very issue. You go on to say that if she were not always late to church she might be in better shape to actually listen to the sermon. You then remind the caller of several other areas where she has failed, and you question if she is really serious about being a Christian. You suggest several books for her to read and you finish by telling her you hope you have been helpful. Over time you wonder why she has never called back for more “help.”

This example illustrates the danger warned about in Proverbs 18:2. The fool delights to air his own opinions. When your child asks you a question it is an indication of trust, at least to some degree. When the questions don’t come, it is also an indication of a lack of trust to some degree.

How do you rectify this? Simply telling your teenager that he must ask you questions about things that bother him won’t get the job done. You need to create a relational climate in which your teenagers want to come to you. Listen carefully to your children and observe the things that they struggle with. Take an interest in the things they seem to be interested in. Ask them genuine questions about their interests. If you have been insensitive to them, ask their forgiveness. Look to build—or possibly to rebuild—your relationship. Pray for compassion and concern for your children. This may take time, but if you pursue your teenagers as you would a valued friend or colleague, things will begin to change. I understand that you must still give instruction and direction to your teenagers. I am not suggesting that you abdicate your authority as parent. But as 2 Corinthians 13:10 teaches, you want your authority to be seen as building up rather than tearing down.

As you practice this biblical model of aggressively listening, monologues will give way to hearing and answering good questions.

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