Talking with Your Teen

Banging your head against a brick wall may feel like a welcome relief after trying to get a response to the question, “How was your day?” from your teenager. While “I dunno,” “fine” and the ever-popular eye-roll-and-sigh-combination may characterize your conversation with your teen right now, there is hope. So what’s the secret to unlocking the inner-workings of your adolescent? Here are five tips for talking with your teen:

Change it up! “How was your day?” and “What did you do in school?” and “Have you finished your homework yet?” are hardly exciting conversation starters. Try to surprise your teen into letting down his guard by asking something new: “Did you hear any good jokes today?” or “What made you feel happy today?” or “Which teacher gave the most homework for tonight?”

Silence can be a great conversation starter! If your teen is used to you asking questions to fill the silence – and he knows that you will continue to chatter and ask questions if he doesn’t respond! – you’ve let him off the hook. Try NOT asking questions or making small talk, and see whether your teen decides to fill the silence. Smile, make eye contact, sit quietly, and do not force the conversation.

Remove “why” from your vocabulary! Even if it’s not your intention, questions are likely to come off as accusing and produce immediate defensiveness. In most cases, “why” or “how could you” are negatively charged by your own frustrations. Instead of “How could you lose your cell phone?” try, “I’m really concerned that you seem to be so forgetful lately – what can we do to make it easier for you to remember your cell phone after volleyball practice?” The phrases, “I’m worried about” and “I’m wondering about” are also helpful in creating an atmosphere that promotes communication.

Listen and reflect! You may not be interested in ALL of the fascinating details about so-and-so’s trip to the mall or Justin Bieber’s new haircut, but it’s important to be willing to meet your teen where she’s at – when she chooses to share with you about her day, do not dismiss it or assume the role of information-gatherer. Simply listen to what she is saying and reflect on her statements with brief comments. For example, if your daughter says, “That test was so hard!” instead of asking what the test questions were or judging her for not studying hard enough, try saying, “I’m sorry, it sounds like you were pretty frustrated!” This lets her know that you were interested in what she was saying, you understood her feelings about it, and you’re open to hearing more.

Recognize your teen’s experiences as unique! If he begins to share a dilemma with you, just listen and support him as he thinks aloud about his options. Do not share your own story about a similar situation and how you decided to handle it. Empower your teen to problem-solve and work through distressing feelings in a healthy way by role-modeling such behaviors, not by telling him how you would work through it.

It may take a few tries and some practice, so remember to keep a sense of humor – and be comforted by the fact that your continued attempts are being secretly recognized and appreciated by your teen, even if all you receive is a grunt and quarter-smile.

Link of the week:A-LESSON-IN-TEEN-TALK


About Dr. Chaitra Wirta-Leiker

Dr. Chaitra Wirta-Leiker is an adoptee, adoptive parent, and psychologist who provides mental health support focused on adoption, trauma, and racial identity work. She is the author of the "Adoptees Like Me" book series.