Communication Tip for Teens and Children

Parent: “Roy, all I get are one word answers when I ask ‘How’s your day?'”

Roy: “Let me guess…it is ‘fine’, ‘ok’, or if its a middle school boy “some unintelligible grunting noise”?

Parent: (wide eyed) “EXACTLY, and it’s so frustrating.”

Roy: “I hear ya. What other questions have you tried?”

Parent: “How was school? How was your day? Hi-Low?

Roy: “Try this…it will feel awkward at first but try it anyway. Ask “On a scale of 1-10 with 10 being your best day ever and 1 being your worst day ever, how was your day”

Parent: “OK”

Roy: “Here’s what they’re going to say on most days: ‘Five'”

Parent: (laughing) “Probably so…”

Roy: “Then ask them this: ‘What would have made it an 8?’ then wait for them to answer. Half of the time they’s say/grunt “I dunno…’ When you hear that, hear this instead “That’s a hard question (which it is for a preteen and teen). Give me more time to think.’ Then, count to seven slowly and by the time you get to seven, the vast majority of teens will have answered.”

Parent: (nodding) “OK”

Roy: “Then ask this: ‘Why wasn’t it a 2 or a 1?’ Count to seven and wait for the answer”

Parent: “I’ll do it!”

Roy: “Great. Just don’t do it everyday or it will get stale and formulaic and the answers will reflect that.” Mix it up a little bit. The next day, ask “How was your day? and the following ask “what was good about your day?”  and so on…Then three days later, ask the 1-10 question again.

This principle is called “scaling.” I first learned this from Dr. Bob McCarty 12 years ago in a youth ministry course and have used it everyday since. Today I understand why this works so well and have added to it, modified it and added other questions that are based on the same principle, which is–children and most teens do not have the capacity to think abstractly like you. Scaling makes abstract questions doable, and concrete.” 

More on this principle tomorrow, or the day after. And way more in my book, What Teens Want You to Know (but don’t tell you). 

Thanks to everyone who reads my meanderings. I appreciate you!


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LA Congress Presentation–UPDATE

For some reason I was not able to upload the presentation to my Blog. If you would like this presentation, please email me at and I’ll send it to you right away!

So sorry for the inconvenience

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The Terror of Being Yourself

10873388_10152907288147910_4720149628553749294_o“Its awful to have to be yourself.” ~Florida Scott-Maxwell

In my work as a therapist and speaker, I’m often helping people to realize their “blessing”, the ways in which God has uniquely created them. Like many others who do this work, I’ve discovered many are reluctant–even resistant to accepting this truth much less working to uncover what it means for them. If this is a message you are communicating to people of any age, it might be helpful to consider some of their reasons for resisting. Here are a few I’ve encountered:

I risk being let downagain.  If I believe you (and/or God) and it turns out to not be true, I set myself up for a fall, for disappointment, and I’m already plenty disappointed enough. People have let me down before, promised me things they couldn’t or even just wouldn’t deliver. Why are you any different? Why is God any different? As one person told me “If I expect to be disappointed, I’m less disappointed. I know that sounds bad, but its true.”

How much uniqueness is acceptable? As one teen told me, “I know people who are uniquely gay, and it seems to me that its not OK in many Church circles to be unique in that way. So, is it only OK to be unique in certain, Church approved ways?”

Past experience causes me to doubt you.  As one young adult told me reflecting on her teen years, “I tried it—And it didn’t work. People didn’t accept me. They hated me, rejected me and ignored me. Just because I wasn’t like them, I guess.”

I’m afraid of what being myself might mean. What will I have to live up to? Will I have to do something with my life that won’t make me happy? A teen relative of mine told me recently “You guys, speakers, teachers are always telling us ‘You have so much potential! Why are you wasting your potential when you could do so much with your life?’ But, when they say that I’m thinking “yeah, OK, but what if, I try and I don’t live up to my potential? I’ll be disappointed in myself. And what if I reach my potential and I cannot sustain it? If this happens I’ll let people down, including myself. And I’ve been let down before and I never, want to do that to someone else!”

I’m not convinced its worth the effort.  An adult once told me. “I respect you for being honest with me Roy, about how hard it is to discover and then live out one’s blessing or uniqueness. Because I have tried, and its a lot of work. And while I’m not there yet, what If I when I get there and upon discovering my gifts and talents, feel like it wasn’t really worth the effort and time I put in? I know you probably shouldn’t look at these things in terms of a Cost-Benefit analysis, but that’s what I do.”

I’m afraid of being lonely.  A very wise, young teen once told me “If there is something about me that sets me apart from every other person, honestly, I have to ask: what will I it be like to live that? It seems like a really lonely place….And I’m lonely enough already.”

If our message is important, and I believe it is, we must always ask “What might keep people from believing, trusting me and then living out this message?” This is only a partial list.  I’m sure you can add to it. And I’d love to hear from you. What other reasons do people have for resisting believing they are “blessed”, gifted, unique and special? Leave a comment or email me at

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“Just Be Yourself” is Not as Easy as it Sounds

Over lunch with a friend recently, I shared my nervousness about speaking at an upcoming event before a notoriously critical audience. He said, “Roy, don’t worry. Just be yourself.”

From Hugh MacLeod's Gapingvoid Blog

From Hugh MacLeod’s Gapingvoid Blog

At first that was comforting.  I thought “Of course, silly. Just be Roy.” As I drove away, it became less comforting. I found myself asking “What does that mean? What does it mean to ‘be myself’ Who is Roy”?

Upon reflecting, I realized that the word “just” is misleading. It implies that being one’s self is easy and simple. It is not. For most , it will be the most complex and difficult thing they ever do-and I suspect, is the work of a lifetime.

Being one’s self assumes one knows one’s self. At 40 years old, after almost twenty years of intentional inner work, I am still discovering who I am. I once thought that as I got older, I would achieve a greater simplicity of self knowledge. I am discovering the opposite to be true.

The more self aware I become the more I see myself as a very mixed bag. I’m realizing, painfully, that much of the good I’ve done in my life has been done largely for ego reasons, mixed motives at best.

The more I pray, the less I see myself as “all” of anything, which is incredibly difficult for me who’s nickname could be “All or Nothing.”

Within me is the Roy who feels called to simplicity of life and gave away everything he owned three times in his life alongside the Roy who asked for it all back twice and loves to own nice things.

There’s the encouraging, passionate, hopeful Roy next to the Roy who has battled bouts depression and despair his whole life.

There’s the Roy who wants to be humble, “hidden in Christ with God” who has never met a mic he didn’t like and loves the attention he receives when speaking in front of others.

There’s the Roy who longs to deeply listen to others but has trouble shutting up because he loves the sound of his own voice.

There’s the Roy who loves to pray in silence and solitude alongside the Roy who is frequently lonely and looks to others to distract, entertain and occupy him.

Would the real Roy please stand up?

On any given day I desperately wish any one of those selves would be the only, real one. As God would have it, the real Roy is all of those and many more–some I’d rather not share publicly, and others I’m still discovering.

As I sit with all of my inconsistent selves, I know that I sit with them before my consistent God who holds and loves all of me. And I suspect that the Roy who sits there is the realest Roy there is.

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Of Course You Can Change Other People, But…

IMG_4028“You cannot change others, only yourself.” This self help dictum is so widely accepted, to challenge its validity, feels tantamount to heresy. Well, this won’t be the first time I’m called one of those.

Of course you can change other people.

Ask anyone who has ever been abused or bullied if they really believe that you cannot change other people and be changed by them.

At 40 years old I can still list names of the kids who “reminded” me everyday in school that I was fat and poor. I can also list the names of people in my late teens and early twenties who individually helped heal those wounds. They each changed me.

Each time my wife looks at me and touches my shame filled body, she changes me-the way I see myself, the way I feel about myself. Each time my boys smile at me and wrestle with me they change my identity, very gradually, from seeing myself as “fatherless”, to seeing myself as “father.” Of course I play a significant role in this, but so do they. And that unhelpful self-help cliche overemphasizes one to the detriment of the other.

Of course we can change other people.

The impetus of this saying is to redirect the focus of those who need others to change. When we need others to change or need to be the one who changes others we are not being motivated by the good of the other but by our ego. It is normal to appreciate the influence you have in the lives of others.

For Reflection:

How do I influence others?
How do others influence me?



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Being the Change You Wish to See

What am I willing to change in myself today so that peace is possible?10501797_10154457890780554_4681176850094917048_n

If Im not willing to be a more peaceful husband, dad, friend, driver, school uniform shopper then I cannot demand that same peace from others regardless of the violence of their actions. Road rage in Louisiana is not murdering children in Iraq, but our inability to see how they are connected will prolong and produce even more violence-in ourselves and others.

The truth is, its a lot easier to want “the world” to change than to change ourselves. But when we change, everything around us will change.

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What Teens Want You to Know but Don’t Tell You–Live Session


In 20 years of working with young people as a youth minister, campus minister and today as a counselor, I have spent many hours listening to young people. I knew they were telling me things they were not telling their parents and often thought:  “If’ parents could hear what I’m hearing from their teen, this could transform their relationships with their children.”  In this 75 minute live recording you’ll laugh alot and learn:

  • What young people really want-the answer will shock you.
  • The best time to talk with teens and young people.
  • SURPRISE! Why you may be doing a better job than you thought.
  • How to value and focus on influence rather than control.
  • Why kids respond to your questions with “fine” and “dunno” and skills effective therapists use to get  them to open up and keep them talking.
  • How to differentiate your issues from your teen’s issues.
  • How to recreate the “village” that no longer exists.
  • The difference between appropriate logical consequences and shame based relational consequences
  • How to talk about hot topic issues like, music, friends and how they dress.
  • Special communication tools that get boys (and husbands!) to open up and keep talking about significant issues
  • and much more!

Cost $12 (digital download)

Buy Now

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What Your Teen Wants You to Know (Parents UNC Newman Center-Chapel Hill)

Below is the downloadable PDF presentation for parents who were at the workshop this morning at UNC Newman Center. Also below the presentation is the question bank I mentioned.


PARENTING Share copy

PETITFILS-Question Bank

Tips for Talking to Your Child


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“Wake Me Up When It Matters”: Effectively Calling Young People to Passionate Discipleship

See the link below for my second (Sunday) presentation at LA Congress along with “The List of Questions”Screen Shot 2014-03-16 at 9.19.01 PM


PETITFILS-Question Bank

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The Question Behind the Question: What Young People are Really Asking about Matters of Faith and Life (LAREC 2014)

Click on the link below the picture to download Roy’s presentation from LA Congress 2014 Workshop 4-22 Saturday, March 15 at 10 AM.Screen Shot 2014-03-16 at 12.31.08 PMLAREC 2014 Question Behind the Question

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