Teens need real-world connection. Meaningful conversations with others help them find their identity and feel a sense of belonging that’s crucial for mental and emotional health. Teens are famously not always eager to open up, but that’s not because they don’t crave connection. It’s more likely due to a lack of confidence and conversation skills. Here are five expert-approved ways to teach your teen how to have meaningful conversations and build relationships that nurture them:
1. Upgrade your own conversations.
Your teen will follow your lead, so set a good example of active listening, practicing empathy, paying attention to nonverbal cues, and asking thoughtful questions. It’s not just how you interact with them that matters– they’re also paying attention to how you talk to family, friends and complete strangers. Think about one or two small ways you could make conversations feel more meaningful to you. Is eye contact important? Authenticity? Finding common ground? Slowing down and really listening? Try a few small, intentional upgrades in your own interactions, and notice how your teen’s conversation skills grow, too.
2. Make daily check-ins a ritual.
Asking “How was your day?” is likely to get the same rote response: “Fine.” But with a little effort, daily check-ins can spark deeper connection between you and your tween or teen. Vashti is a mom of three who stumbled onto an easy afternoon ritual: after school, she makes tea for any of her teens who are home and they sit at the kitchen table and chat. She says, “The tea makes it feel special. It’s simple, but it makes us all slow down. The kids say they want a cup of tea, but I know it’s more about being together.” Rose, Bud, Thorn is another activity to encourage connection: each person shares a rose (something positive), a bud (something they’re looking forward to), and a thorn (something they need support for or feel stuck with). Or keep a deck of conversation cards in the glove box or on the dinner table to make it easy to ask more interesting questions each time you’re together.
3. Focus on the positive.
We feel safe talking to close family and friends, so that’s when we’re more likely to vent, complain or gossip. While that can feel good in the short-term, negative talk easily becomes a habit that’s hard to break. Teens need to know that it’s ok to talk about hard things and painful emotions, but it’s not helpful to get stuck in negativity. A truly meaningful conversation will help teens become more self-aware and capable of self-regulation and solving problems. Notice if conversations with your teen tend to get gloomy and practice steering them back towards silver linings, lessons learned, challenges overcome and opportunities to take meaningful action or be grateful. Listen and offer support, then empower them to find a positive perspective.
4. Build confidence with diverse connections.
Relationships shape their sense of self, so teens with more diverse connections will naturally become more self-assured communicators. If they’re only interacting with close family members and peers, they’ll be less confident when talking to anyone outside their comfort zone. Help your teen form relationships with people who come from different generations, backgrounds and perspectives. Look for extracurricular activities, service opportunities, internships or after-school jobs that encourage interaction with others and provide safety and structure. Even introverts benefit from making more varied connections; just keep the focus on relationship quality over quantity.
5. Spend quality time with them.
As teens get older, busier and more independent, shared experiences are the glue that keeps your connection close. Scheduling quality time with your teen may be a challenge, but even a little time together helps fuel your relationship. Think of your time together as an opportunity to continue (or start) traditions and make lifelong memories. Try setting aside one evening a week or one weekend day a month just for you and your teen to connect. Aim to mix activities that you both already enjoy with new ones that are a little out-of-the-box. Volunteer for a cause your teen cares about, take turns designing a “perfect” day, or do something you’ve never tried before, like going to a rage room or an improv class. Bonding over new experiences builds connection and trust and gives you and your teen tons to talk about, now and in the years to come.