Most parents worry about what time their daughters should come home at night. They focus on the time, making IT the focus, as well as the bone of contention they gnaw on with their daughters.  The time is really the last thing a parent should look at when making a curfew. Here’s why. The mom’s I coach tell me that they are worried about what their daughter’s are doing at night.

When I ask mom’s what would make them feel safer, answers fall into similar categories:

  1. I want to know my daughter knows her limits with alcohol if she chooses to drink
  2. I need to know she isn’t going to get intoxicated and be assaulted/raped*
  3. I want to know my daughter to have a plan to get safely home
  4. I need to know her friends will “have her back” if she gets into a bad situation
  5. I want to know she isn’t taking drugs that can hurt her
  6. I need to know she isn’t going to steal a car, or joyride with friends

Of course there are more issues on the table, but most are about safety. Mom’s don’t always feel comfortable talking to their daughters about these topics, so they set and early curfew and hope that their daughter “won’t find the time” to explore them. Daughter’s revolt, mom’s defend the time limit, saying they are keeping their daughter “safe.” However, the sense of safety is an illusion unless moms roll up their sleeves and do the hard work of exploring their fears about what goes on in their daughter’s life at night. Moms need to talk to their daughters about these issues. One way to get the conversation going is to ask Strategic Questions. As part of good listening skills, Strategic Questions can help your daughter find her own truth about delicate topics and help you create a richer, more intimate relationship with your daughter.

Strategic Questions have a number of elements that set them apart from the run-of-the-mill, everyday questions. Developed by San Francisco-based activist Fran Peavey, Strategic Questions are asked with the intention to open up fresh options for exploration.

Strategic Questions can be tough to ask and hear the answers to, because they break through the facade of false confidence and reveal the profound uncertainty that underlies all reality. Nevertheless, Strategic Questions empower people to create strategies for change in their lives.

There are eight key features that distinguish a Strategic Question. First, a Strategic Question is a helpful, dynamic challenge that encourages movement and change. Instead of “Where do you want to go to college?” a Strategic Question might ask, “What do you want to study and experience in college?”

A Strategic Question encourages options. Instead of “What time do you want your curfew to be?” a parent could ask, “What three topics could we talk about that would help us decide your curfew?”

A third feature of Strategic Questions is that they are empowering. They ask people to find solutions for themselves. The simple question, “What would it take …?” allows people to explore their own truth. For example, “What would it take to make you feel you had more autonomy in your life?”

Two more features of Strategic Questions are that they don’t ask “Why?” and they cannot be answered “Yes” or “No.” Questions that ask “Why?” close down creative options and often generate guilt and defensiveness. Questions that can be answered “Yes” or “No” often only skim the surface or and shut down  the opportunity for your teen to dig deeper into their true sense of self.

Next, Strategic Questions address “taboo” topics. An example would be “What was itthat kept us from talking about…? Fill in any topic that has been hard for you and your daughter to face together.

A seventh aspect of Strategic Questions is that they tend to be simply structured, focusing on one thing at a time. “What one thing can you do to be safe at night?”

Finally, Strategic Questions are deeply respectful of people and their capacity to change and grow in healthy ways. Teens may not have the brain development or maturity to always answer Strategic Questions fully. However, learning to ask them and giving your teen the opportunity to think through answers, will help you and them grow. Be patient if they don’t always have an answer right away. Give your teen the time to think.

Once you begin the process of asking questions and listening to the answers without anger, distress, making your daughter wrong, or any other reaction that negates her reality or stops her from being able to tell you who she really is, the “right” time for setting a curfew and how you want to handle infractions will become more clear. Take your eye off the clock. Put your eye on what’s really important.

*Parent’s worry that their daughter will become intoxicated and get taken advantage of. Parents rarely consider that their daughter may be using intoxicants so she feels she can have sex without guilt or shame. You’ll never know unless you ask!