Clinical psychologist Anthony E. Wolf addresses this question in his recent Globe and Mail article, “How to answer your teen’s touchy question.” Dr. Wolf gives excellent suggestions about being straightforward and honest while at the same time being respectful and not lecturing. I agree wholeheartedly with Dr. Wolf’s ideas.
Reading this article has spurred some other thoughts that I would like to share. At Family TLC we have helped many parents of teenagers respond to questions about difficult topics. Here are some additional ideas on what to say and do when your teen asks for your opinion.
First, be conscious of your body language. Turn towards the person, make eye contact, touch them or just think about relaxing your body (you will feel your body follow your thoughts). All of these body movements will quietly demonstrate that you heard them and you are open to hearing more.
Restate their question and ask for more information. Say something like, “You want to know if I think you are fat?” or “You are looking for my opinion?” or even better, ask “What made you think of that question?” Not only does this show that you have heard them, but it also gives you time to think.
This sometimes, but not often, may lead to your teen saying more about what is going on for them. While it is important to remember not to answer the question immediately, at the same time do not take too long to answer.
Normalize the question and acknowledge their courage for asking. You could say, “That is something I ask myself every time I walk past a mirror. I wonder to myself what other people think but honestly I don’t have the guts to ask.”
If you think your answer might be hard for them to hear, try the sandwich technique. That is when you say something positive, give your opinion, then say something else that’s positive.
Make sure when sandwiching answers you use the word “and,” avoiding the word “but.” You could say, “I admire the fact that you asked me. I do think you are overweight, and I think what you think is most important.”
As Dr. Wolf says, “Once you give your initial response, wait for their reaction. They will react. You may end up in a possibly emotional discussion.” Remember that expressing emotions is a good thing as it helps your teen feel better. Under the surface, they may know they need to deal with their emotions and they are talking to you about the situation because they trust you and they know you love them unconditionally.