Getting Your Teens to Talk: Tips for Parents

Parents of teens know that it can be difficult to get them to talk. If they’re not in the mood and you ask how their day was, the likely answer is a monosyllabic, “Fine.” It doesn’t have to be that way. There are many things parents can do to get their teen to talk. Here’s what experts suggest:

Ask open-ended questions

Ask questions where a simple yes or no response won’t suffice. “By asking questions that can’t be answered with only a yes or no,” says Sue Scheff, founder and president of Parents’ Universal Resource Experts, a teen advocacy organization, “you’re opening the door for your teenager to say more than a couple of words in reply to you.” Instead of asking your teen how their day was, Scheff suggests saying, “Tell me about your day.”

If you want specific information from your teen, ask personal and fun questions that trigger deeper conversation. For example, you could ask questions like, “What was an interesting thing that happened at school today?” or “Why do you think your friend wanted to talk to you?”

Respect their privacy

Whatever your teen chooses to share with you, assure them that you’ll respect their privacy and not share the content of the conversation with others. “To earn our kids’ confidence, we’ve got to respect their privacy and keep our promises.” says Joanna Teigen, author. “Consistently handling their ideas, emotions, and stories with care goes a long way to keeping communication open.”

Listen well

Listen to your teens, and listen well. “Listen, listen and continue to listen without interrupting,” says clinical psychologist Dr. Barbara Greenberg. “Once you interrupt, your teens are likely to shut down. Just let them talk and vent, and they’ll be so appreciative.”

A great way to show that you’re listening, according to clinical psychologist Dr. Laura Markham, author of Positive Parent, is to “backchannel your teen’s words occasionally— not repeating everything they say, of course, but repeating some key phrases here and there, with a questioning intonation to make sure you’ve got it right.”

Look at the world from

their perspective

Another strategy to get your teens to talk is to make an effort to look at the world from their perspective. “Teenagers think that their parents and caregivers don’t understand them,” says Scheff. To counteract that, “really try to imagine how you’d feel if you were in her shoes.” If your teens are sharing something that’s making them angry or sad, show that you understand what it’s like.

Offer advice sparingly

If you feel the need to offer advice (an  almost irrepressible parental urge), be careful about blurting out what you think they should do. Instead, ask your teen what options they’re considering.

Clinical psychologist Dr. Elaine Reese agrees that parents should only give advice sparingly. “More than likely, if your teen’s disclosing it to you, they already know what they should do. Heavy-handed advice will only make them less likely to disclose in the future.”

Talk about yourself

As Joe White, author of Sticking With Your Teen, says, “Model what you want your teen to do.” Clinical psychologist Dr. Darling agrees. If you want your teen to talk about their day, talk first about yours, like “things you enjoyed, something funny that happened at lunch, a movie you loved, a great meme you thought was funny on Facebook. And while you’re still laughing, ask them about their favorite YouTube video.”

Using these easy-to-implement principles, you’ll have the adolescent in your life go from being reticent to a fountain of sharing.