Getting Teenagers Talking
It’s not always easy to engage a teenager in meaningful conversation. If you’re a parent of a teen, you know exactly what I’m talking about.
“How was your day?”
“How was school?”
“Same as always.”
This seems a little counter-intuitive. Teenagers are “know-it-alls” who have opinions about everything. How come it’s so hard to get them to engage in a meaningful dialogue?
Probably because we are talking to them about the wrong thing.
Think about it; what teenager wants to talk about their homework or their plans for cleaning their room? Often, when our teens are silent, we’re talking with them about the wrong stuff!
When I engage teens I utilize two simple tools: discover and provoke.
A good lawyer or a good cop knows how to draw out testimony from a person by asking good questions. If parents put a little effort into their questioning they would be amazed at what they discover. Forget the axiomatic “how was your day?” Ask something a little more creative.
“If you could text anyone in the world and you know they’d text you back… who would you text?”
“What would you text them?”
“What would you hope they’d reply?”
That line of questioning will actually tell you a lot about your kid. Or how about:
“What is your ‘go to’ song you play whenever you’re feeling sad?”
“How does this song make you feel?”
“If this song were in a playlist, what would you call it?”
What would you discover if you asked your teens these kinds of questions?
Provoking teenagers probably isn’t on your to-do list today, but if you’re a parent of a teen… then you would probably give your left arm for a recipe to provoke meaningful conversations with your son or daughter.
Teenagers aren’t quiet because they don’t have anything to say. Far from it. Most teenagers will talk your ear off… if you can stir them to express themselves about something they’re passionate about. That’s why the first step of this process was discovery; we need to discover what it is that our kids want to talk about, then provoke them to talk about it.
Let’s say we discover that our daughter loves music by Katy Perry. Ask her questions about Katy’s music. Tread lightly. Don’t appear like you’re trying to collect dirt on Katy. Approach the conversation with a genuine curiosity and see where the conversation takes you. For example:
- What do you think of Katy’s new album?
- Which is your favorite song?
- She got pretty honest about her depression in her song By the Grace of God. Do you think a lot of young women can relate to her feelings?
- Can you relate to those feelings?
From Katy Perry to suicidal feelings in five questions (with a little knowledge from my recent blog post about Katy’s music).
Notice that you didn’t start by scaring them off with something like, “Have you ever felt suicidal? Because I’m thinking of having you committed!!!” Instead, you began with a subject they are interested in, and then provoked them to share their feelings about it.
If you have boys, then they probably won’t want to talk about Katy Perry. But how about these ready-made discussions about The Walking Dead?
This “provoke” methodology takes a little bit of forethought. Keep your eyes open for “conversation-provoking topics” when you read the newspaper or listen to the radio. Subscribe to free youth culture newsletters or blogs that provide you with ammo for these kinds of conversations.
You can find a gold mine of discussion starting articles at any time on the front page of TheSource4Parents.com in the box titled, OFFSITE ARTICLES JONATHAN HAS BEEN READING. I consistently link articles of interest to parents on that page, articles and studies about pop culture, teen attitudes, and trends. As I write this, if you click on that page, you’ll see:
New Selfie Pic App Funded By Bieber That Prevents Cyber Bullying
Share a couple seconds about what you read and then ask your teen their opinion. For example:
- Did you hear Justin Bieber started a new “selfie pic” app that he hopes will prevent cyber bullying?
- He doesn’t allow strangers to comment in this app, so people won’t post cruel jabs. Do you think this will work?
- Why do you think some people are so cruel in comment sections?
- So many people are so quick to criticize others, do you think there’s a way someone caring could actually make others feel good about themselves? How?
How’s that for a nice segue to Philippians, Chapter 2.
What can you do to provoke your teen to conversation today?
Jonathan McKee is the author of over twenty books including the brand new The Bullying Breakthrough; The Teen’s Guide to Social Media & Mobile Devices; If I Had a Parenting Do Over; and the Amazon Best Seller - The Guy's Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket. He speaks to parents and leaders worldwide, all while providing free resources for parents on his website TheSource4Parents.com. Jonathan, his wife Lori, and their three kids live in California.