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6 Ways to Engage Your Teen in Conversation

Many parents report that one of the toughest transitions of the teen years is when a previously chatty child suddenly seems reluctant to have conversations. “My daughter used to tell me everything that happened as soon as I picked her up from school,” one mom says. “Now, she’s texting her friends and barely says hi. She’s not being rude exactly… just distant. It’s like I went from being her trusted confidant to the chauffeur.” 

Remember that, while this stage isn’t easy, the impulse to pull away from parents is a normal and necessary part of adolescent development. The Child Mind Institute says, “Children still need parents to stay connected and involved in their lives… In fact, most teens say they want to be closer to their parents but don’t know how to do that. So while your kid is doing the work of separating, you need to do the work of carefully bridging the gap.” Here are our top six tips for keeping your connection strong through meaningful conversations with your teen:

 

  1. Practice presence.

Busy lives, hectic schedules, and nonstop digital connectivity make it harder to really be there for our teens. And though it may not be obvious, teens are often more sensitive than younger children to their parents’ stress levels and moods. If you’re exhausted or preoccupied, your teen will be less likely to open up to you. If you’re relaxed and present, they’ll feel more comfortable sharing. Before talking with your teen, eliminate distractions and take a pause to get grounded with techniques like mindful breathing.

 

  1. Respect their privacy. 

Part of teens’ developmental work is individuation, or carving out an identity that’s distinct from that of their parents. Most teens will become more private as a way to protect their new sense of individuality- for example, locking their bedroom door or keeping text messages hidden. While secretiveness can be scary, it’s not necessarily a sign that parents should worry. Remind your teen that your number one job as a parent is to keep them safe. Be clear that you respect their desire for privacy, specifically outline your concerns, and tell them exactly what information you need to maintain trust. Then work together to agree on ground rules that balance their safety and privacy. 

 

  1. Make time for your teen.

Take time to do something special, just the two of you, on a regular basis. Go out for dinner, go for a hike, or play pickleball- anything you both enjoy as a no-pressure way to have fun and connect. Make your time together sacred by clearing your calendar and turning off notifications on your phone. This lets your teen know they’re a priority and builds trust over time, so they feel comfortable sharing what matters most to them. If you’re starting a new ritual, aim to schedule it at least once a month. Ask your teen what they’d most like to do and then check in: “How would you feel about making this a regular thing?”

 

  1. Get curious about their passions. 

How much do you really know about what lights your teen up inside? One of the best ways to start great conversations with teens is to express genuine interest in the things that are most meaningful to them. If they’re a gamer, have you played their favorite game with them? Do you listen to the music they love and talk about the lyrics? Have you checked out the graphic novels or webcomics they’re obsessed with? Get them to explain or teach you something about what they love, and ask lots of questions. 

 

  1. Ask interesting questions. 

Same-old questions like, “How was your day?” and “What did you do at practice?” are conversation dead-ends. Humor and silliness put teens at ease and make everyone feel more connected, which often leads to deeper conversations. Get out of the rut by asking fun, funny, or interesting questions when your teen least expects it. Pick out a family conversation card game like Quest Cards or Table Topics, or try one of the questions below:

  • What’s your favorite memory from childhood and what makes it special?
  • What’s something that surprised you or made you laugh recently?
  • If your personality were a color, what color would it be and why?

 

  1. Ask for their opinions and advice. 

One of the most rewarding aspects of parenting a teenager is catching a glimpse of the adult they are becoming. Parents who take teens’ newfound maturity into account are often surprised by how much wisdom they have to share. Ask your teen for their opinions and advice and involve them in making family decisions. Teens say that when parents are honest and transparent with them, they feel more connected in the relationship. And when teens feel respected and seen for who they are, they’re much more likely to open up and share from the heart.



Are you looking for ways to better support the tweens or teens in your life?


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