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9 Tips for Talking to Teens

Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson


At age four or five your child talks your ear off. But then, when she hits the teen years, she clams up. How can you keep your kid talking to you? Here are nine tricks to try.

  1. Ask questions that can’t be answered with a single word or just by “yes” or “no.”  Instead of asking “How was your day?” (and get “fine” or just a shrug),  say, “Tell me about your day.”
  2. Ask her opinion about something (and don’t argue about  what she tells you). Ask, “How do you think I should vote on the plastic bag tax?” or “What color should we paint the family room?”
  3. Ask for help in solving a problem.  This can be a simple decision, “Should we call out for pizza or have Chinese tonight?” or it could be something more engaging: “Can you hold this end while I measure this? The measuring tape keeps falling off…”
  4. If you get no answer, answer your own question, as if talking to yourself, and leave a space for your child to chime in. “Tell me about your day” (no answer). “Let’s see, it’s Tuesday so that means you had English. Are you still reading The Old Man and The Sea?” (no answer). I remember reading that… I had trouble getting into it…” (by now you should have got some response, but if not, try again later).
  5. Avoid asking personal questions or personal questions about her friends. Teens count as personal questions anything about which parents are too old and too out-of-touch to be qualified to discuss. So don’t try to demonstrate your knowledge of popular culture. Just keep it neutral.
  6. Try striking up a conversation when you’re both in the car or doing something together. Talking in the car is great because your child can’t get away, the conversation has a natural end-point when you get to your destination, and neither of you can strangle the other. But keep it casual. Avoid trapping your kid in the car for a serious heart-to-heart.
  7. Don’t shout or rush things. Use short sentences and leave spaces so your kid can also talk. And listen. Please listen.
  8. Avoid saying anything about her refusal to talk or your frustration with this or how hard you’re trying. If you don’t get a response when you talk, let it go and try again another time.
  9. Smile. Be pleasant and supportive no matter what.

Eventually, your child will want to talk with you, maybe about something important to you both. Knowing you are ready and eager to listen will encourage her. So keep the door open, avoid argument and hassle, and treat her with respect. Your little chatterbox is a bit more reserved these days, but together you can find things to say.

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Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson

Dr. Patricia Anderson is a nationally acclaimed educational psychologist and the author of “Parenting: A Field Guide.” Dr. Anderson is on the Early Childhood faculty at Walden University and she is a Contributing Editor for Advantage4Parents.