by Dr. Steve Wilke, clinical psychologist

It’s common to hear that conversations with youth and young adults should be non-judgmental. But what does that really mean and look like?

A non-judgmental conversation has one major goal—understanding what the other person is thinking and feeling with minimal interference.

What to say, and what not to say

Judgmental comments such as “That would never work,” “You don’t want to do that,” “That is stupid,” or “I can’t believe you would say something like that,” are all ways to stop the conversation or send it into an unhelpful direction. The young person will either shut down or will turn defensive and combative.

Non-judgmental responses in a conversation might look like “I can understand how that would be appealing,” “I’d like to hear more about what you mean when you say…” and “Tell me more about why you feel that way.”

Your tone matters, as well. Try not to let emotions come through too strongly in your voice.

Being in a non-judgmental conversation does not mean you do not have an opinion. It does mean you hold back from sharing your views until requested, and when you do comment, you are careful to note it as your opinion.

Set yourself up for success

Non-judgmental conversations are best when the urgency of a decision is low. Often these conversations take place over long stretches of time. This is especially true when young adults are discerning who they are and what they want to do.

Good discernment conversations are possible when the parent/mentor and the young adult trust each other. It should be understood by both parties that the content of the conversation would not be acted on impulsively or shared with others.

The importance of options

In a non-judgmental conversation, room is made to share both good ideas and bad ones, real possibilities and long shots. Remember, the goal is to explore and prepare the young person to make an individualized choice that is best for them.

Most importantly, understand that the young person you’re listening to is baring their heart and mind to you.  Even if you don’t like what they’re saying, their emotions and thoughts are valuable and deserve to be treated with respect.

To provide the support a young person needs, ask questions, be a co-explorer, and hold back on opinions and judgments. Surround this time in prayer for you, for the young person, and for God to provide clarity and opportunities.


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