Getting A Teenager to Talk

BoyTapedMouthDear Annie,

Dear Perplexed Dad,

Wouldn't it be nice if we lived in a land where teenage boys were dying to talk with us old folks for hours and hours about their day? nice. Your complaint is a fairly common one. How to have real connection with a teenager, especially a less verbal one. So here are some steps to getting there.

Step 1: Look in the mirror - think timing, technique, tone:

clockTiming: A good time for you, may not be a good time for him (like right when he gets home from school). Some kids need to decompress. Some like the end of the night to open up a bit. When and where does he open up better? (See Step 3 for some ideas)

Technique: Use open-ended conversation starters
  • What did you learn in school today?
  • What good things happened today?
  • Can you tell me about your day?
  • What's the strangest thing that happened today?
Use relevant questions
  • How did that science test go? (If he was concerned)
  • So did you hang out with Joe today?
  • What fun things do you have planned for this weekend?
  • Did you get to that movie you wanted to see? How was it?
Tone: Does it feel like an interrogation? Does he feel badgered? Do you enjoy his good news or do you under- or overdo it? When he tells you something challenging do you have duct tape ready? Or do you criticize, point out problems, hijack, or give 'unasked for' advice? Do you appreciate the boundaries of his life vs yours? To some extent, it is his developmental job to separate from his family at this age. Do you honor that?

Step 2: Talk to him ABOUT talking.

Ask to bring up your concerns (makes it hard to stay connected, something may be going on that you should know about),
your reasons (want to check in about how things are going, think it's important to practice this skill, could possibly give information or pointers on tricky stuff) and then your request for a change (hopefully something specific - can you give me 5 minutes or 5 sentences). When my sons were younger, I told them they had to include 3 details. It was a bit forced but they did practice sharing.

And be open to hearing why he might not be into giving you details (see Step 1). With some boys, doing a pleasant activity while having this discussion can help. Driving somewhere, tossing a football, doing a home improvement project, or getting a bite can give you the opening.

Step 3: Look for, and create opportunities for conversation.
DadSonMechanicMuch of life is about being in the right place at the right time. Take a class together, play tennis, participate in common interests - often the trip there and back is a great opportunity for spontaneous sharing. Don't underestimate the value of family dinners. Do a joint project together - great time to teach useful skills too. Create a father-son tradition and commit to it (P.S. A special tradition for each child can create lasting memories).

I know a mom who would start an interesting jigsaw puzzle and wait for her teenage boys to stop by and add a few pieces. It often developed into some fun and revealing conversations. A few years ago, when my one son asked what I wanted for my birthday, I told him I wanted him to take me to lunch and actually talk to me about what was really happening in his life. (FYI - It was a great and memorable lunch where I was able to hear that he felt I pushed him to talk too much. So I sincerely agreed to back off - and lo and behold - he opened up.)

Hope that gives you ideas to start.
Good luck - Annie