How to Have Conversations with Reluctant Teens

Adolescents are not always the easiest people to talk to. They might mumble, roll their eyes, give one word answers or simply shrug when you ask questions. Rather than volunteer to talk, they might bury their nose in their cell phone. Parents often struggle in trying to draw out their reluctant teen into a conversation.

Here are a few tips to try to get those conversations started with the teenager living in your home:

Talk about neutral things first. Parents must establish open lines of communication on less important topics if they have any hope of having conversations about more difficult subjects. Before you try to dive into tricky topics, make sure that you are talking daily with your teen about topics that interest them. And that leads to the next two tips…

Meet your teen where their interests are. Your child inherently has passions and interests that are unique to them. Ask your teen about those things that excite them the most! If your son loves skateboarding, ask him questions about how he sets up for a new trick. If your daughter loves art, ask her what she uses to inspire her latest creations. Open these conversations with genuine curiosity and listen attentively. You will find your teen to become a more enthusiastic talker.

Use pop culture and social media. Teens love their pop culture and social media, so use it to your advantage. Ask them to teach you about Instagram or to create a TikTok video together. Take a quick scan of the latest trends or news surrounding their favorite platforms or icons and ask your teen’s opinion. Note that it is very important to never put down their opinions or trash their favorite celebrities. They are allowed to think differently than you, and you will only create animosity if you open a conversation and then tear apart what they say. You don’t have to agree with their thoughts; simply ask questions to understand their viewpoint.

Ask open-ended questions. Teens are infamous for the “I don’t know” or one-word (“yes” or “no”) answers. Get around that by asking questions that require a longer response. Don’t ask, “how was your day?” Instead be more specific, “what did you do in chemistry today?” Additionally, when you see something that you think your teen should be doing, try asking them their plans rather than telling them what to do. For example, instead of saying, “You need to study — I can see that you haven’t started your homework,” it can be more effective to ask, “How are you planning to prepare for your test?” When you tell teens what to do, they’ll usually push back. However, when you ask, you’re sending them the message that you respect them and their ability to make the right choices.

Have group conversations instead of one on one. Sometimes reluctant teens are more likely to speak up in a group. Whether it’s with a group of friends hanging out or with family at the dinner table, try asking a question to the entire group and taking turns offering perspectives. This way no one feels on the spot.

Don’t judge. The fastest way to shut a teenager down is to offer criticism, judgment, or lectures. When you have any form of conversation with your teen, listen attentively without judgment. You are trying to create dialogue; this is not a time to scold, critique, or offer follow up. Teens feel judged all the time, whether it’s by their friends, teachers, or college admissions officers. They don’t want their parents piling on, so be careful to keep the lectures out of your conversations.

Final thoughts…

Opening lines of communication takes time and patience, so go slow and don’t let setbacks derail your efforts. You will see slow changes over time. If you’re not seeing any progress, start by taking a good look at how you act and react when talking with your teen. If a teen’s communication is deteriorating fast, talk with a professional and get some help.

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