I just googled the search term ‘why parents can’t understand teenagers’. The results were interesting. First of all, Google wanted to make sure I didn’t mean ‘why parents don’t understand teenagers’. I didn’t. But searching for the reason why parents can’t understand teenagers, I only came across reasons why they don’t. And in the top ten of search results, there were also some sites with complaint from teens that their parents ‘just didn’t understand them’.
But you see, it’s not just a matter of not wanting to understand, or not trying hard enough. It’s also a matter of not being able to. And that has to do with our emotional memory.
Everyone who has ever lead a small group will have run into this: a small group that is eerily quiet with too long periods of uncomfortable silence. Questions keep lingering in the air, without anyone offering an answer, or the answers are of the one syllable kind. For a leader, a small group that won’t talk, that won’t share, can be a real struggle. One of the reasons for a small group to keep quiet can be that the leader is asking the wrong questions. Because asking the right questions will get your small group to talk!
You know what it’s like. You’re about to start with your small group with teens and you are sincerely interested in how they are, how they have been these last week or two since you last saw them. But the standard question ‘how have you guys been?’ will result in only one or two kids answering and even their answers will be shallow (unless you’re blessed with one of those over-sharing types in your small group, in which case you may have a different challenge all together). So what question can you kick off your small group session with to really get them to share open and honestly? Here’s my advice: ask an awareness question.
What is an awareness question?
An awareness question is a question you ask, that makes your students aware of a specific emotion or experience in a certain time period, usually the last week or two. Each session you can focus on a different emotion or experience, and as the group gets more open, you can make them more personal.
It’s important that you let each member of the group share his or her experience and that you determine a time limit to prevent long winding stories (2 minutes per person usually works). If you have a group of young teens or if you have a few kids that have a tendency to respond negatively to people’s weaknesses, you might consider telling them not to react to each other’s story with questions or remarks. Just make them listen to each other at first.
Awareness questions can help your small group to share and become closer