Do you remember those first early weeks with your newborn—when you were trying to understand what each and every cry meant? Does she need a diaper change? Is he too hot? Bored? Tired? Sick?
Eventually you got it down and figured out more than just what your baby’s cries meant. You also knew that when she rubbed at her face a certain way it was time for a nap or that when he needed a fresh diaper his faced turned a strange shade of red as he cried out. You got to the point where you knew the difference between boredom and irritation, hunger and tiredness.
Then came the two’s and three’s when your child could speak in words but still couldn’t express themselves. Instead of verbalizing to you that she was feeling disappointed or frustrated or over-tired, she threw herself on the floor in the middle of the grocery store.
Or maybe that was just my children…
Fast forward a few years and it seems like you are back to square one. Your child is taller and has more life experience under his belt. His voice isn’t the high-pitched scream of an angry two-year-old, but the deep voice of a soon-to-be man. Your daughter talks and communicates all the time now—just not with you.
You’ve hit the teen years and it’s like you have a different person living under your roof. Someone so new, it’s like you need to learn all over again how to communicate. Just what do those eye rolls mean? Why does he always mutter, “Boomer” under his breath? How can you get your teen to respond to you with more than just “Good” or “Okay” when you ask about his day?
Ten Ways to Engage Your Teen in Conversation
Ask open ended questions: It’s easy to ask your teen “How was your day?” It’s a common greeting we use with most people. But closed questions invite closed responses. When you ask a question that can easily be answered with a one-word answer, that is a closed question. Instead, ask open-ended questions that require your teen to respond with a full sentence, or more. Examples include: What was the best thing that happened at school today? What’s one interesting thing you learned in science/history/English, etc.? What do you think about what everyone is saying about _____? Why do you think _____?
Rose/Bud/Thorn: Make this a regular dinner-time activity. Have everyone share their Rose/Bud/Thorn for the day. Rose: something good that happened. Bud: something you are looking forward to. Thorn: something hard or difficult you encountered. Then talk about those things.
Talk about TV shows: In our house, television makes good fodder for discussion. You can talk about the worldview presented in the show. You can discuss why a character made a certain choice or had a particular emotional response. You can help your teens explore issues of morality in the show and then help them compare/contrast it with what the Bible teaches.
Engage in what interests them: What are your teens into? When you enter their world and experience what they enjoy, it provides opportunities for conversation. Watch them play video games and ask them to teach you how to play. Ask them to share their favorite YouTube video with you and explain why it’s their favorite. Listen to their music and learn about why they enjoy it. Shop at their favorite store together. Read a book they love and talk about it together.
Plan an event together: Invite your teen to join you in planning a family event together. Whether it’s a backyard barbeque, a vacation, or some other activity, working together on a project provides opportunities to talk.
Side-by-side activities: Some teens talk more when they are not looking you directly in the eyes. My kids talk the most when we are in the car driving around town. Take advantage of side-by- side activities. You might be surprised how much your teen will have to say.
Use their lingo: You may hear your teen using unfamiliar words or phrases. Research that lingo and occasionally insert it into conversations with your teen. It will surprise them and may even elicit a smile. I occasionally call my boys “Bruh” just to throw them off guard.
Take turns being in charge of family devotions/prayer time: Have each person in the family participate in reading aloud the Bible and devotional or leading family prayer time. This helps your teen develop familiarity with talking about spiritual things and can help foster communication as well.
Ask what they think about current events: There’s always something buzzing on social media or a news story on the radio or television. Ask your teen what they think about it. Ask him what his friends say about the current event. Help your teen think about the event through the lens of Scripture.
Listen to your teen: The last but best communication technique is to listen to your teen. They don’t want to be spoken at but listened to. Hear what they are saying behind the words they speak, their unspoken confusion and uncertainties about life. Listen without interrupting, correcting, or making assumptions. Wait for them to ask you what you think. Listening is the best open door to communication there is.
No matter the age and stage of our children, communication can be challenging. You can put in the effort and your teen may still shrug his shoulders and mutter one-word answers. Growth and change are confusing and hard for all of us, including our teens.
Pray and ask the Lord to take your seemingly awkward attempts and use them to communicate your love.
Pray for greater understanding and insight.
Pray that the Lord would take the seeds you’ve planted and bring a future harvest.
Above all, trust in the Holy Spirit’s work. He is the great Counselor and Encourager, the one whom Jesus sent to be with us always. He is the ultimate communicator, speaking truth to our hearts. May he be at work in both us and our teens, bridging gaps to greater understanding and communication.
Also check out Why Is It So Hard to Get a Teen to Talk?