Curiosity almost killed our family feline a few months ago. My daughter provided a simple invitation by leaving the dryer door cracked open after retrieving an item to wear to church one Sunday morning. My husband walked through the mudroom on the way to start the car and latched the dryer door shut, unbeknownst to him that he was securing the cat in the dryer, which had begun her morning nap. We all went to church and came home for dinner. While the others were cleaning up, I started the dryer to fluff a load of clothes before folding them. I heard a “t-thunk, t-thunk” and remarked to my husband in the kitchen that it sounded like someone put a pair of shoes in the dryer. I also simultaneously looked in the dryer window to see the cat spinning with the clothes. Of course, I immediately opened the door and relieved the cat from her “Sunday ride.” She was unharmed thankfully.

Curiosity likely took one of our cat’s nine lives that day and has been blamed for stealing many or all the nine lives of cats for centuries. There’s even a proverb “curiosity killed the cat” that is a warning against being curious about other people’s affairs because it might lead to trouble.

But curiosity is life-giving to the parent-child relationship.  Genuine interest is foundational to building a relationship with a real connection. We are born and created with an innate desire to be known.  Curiosity helps us move from unknown to known relationally (This is the character structure of Bonding in our CRA Growth Model).

However, there is a paradox that we must embrace uncertainty to get curious. There is a sort of “unknowing” in which we set aside our judgments, experiences, desires, and power as parents to get curious with, and about, our children.  It takes strength and security on our part as parents to be uncertain- to let our kids teach us about themselves, to let them fail, and to let them define who they are apart from us.

Here are some tips for getting more curious with your teen:

  • Slow down- one or two thought-provoking questions can be much more insightful than interviewing your teen like a news reporter (TableTopics Family card sets have some great questions if you need help getting started). And if your teen isn’t used to being pursued relationally like this, it may take multiple attempts to engage them. I find that the car a great place to try this out because family members can’t just leave, and yet defensiveness is lower naturally because parents and teens aren’t facing each other.
  • Explore multiple perspectives before assuming yours is the correct one- when we have more understanding, we earn more influence in problem-solving.
  • Remain tentative- nobody likes a “know it all,” and your teen will undoubtedly protest if that is the stance you take. Share your wisdom and experiences humbly and ask for your teen’s response to what you share. That will help you determine if they are accepting or protesting you, your ideas, or both and if your relational pattern needs work.