Communicating with teens can be tricky. Keep them tuned in with these tips and questions about everything from the song they currently can't stop playing to what they would do if they were President.

By Christin Perry
May 28, 2020
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By the time your child approaches the teen years, conversation can begin to feel less like a picnic and more like a roller coaster. Alas, those sweet days where they regaled you with tales of Pokemon and slime have drawn to a close, and now you're likely met with more eye rolling and attitude than any sort of excitement to chat. While those less-than-pleasant things are normal hallmarks of teen life, that doesn't mean your teen doesn't want to connect with you.

"Teenagers are typically itching to spill the beans but often are looking for the right time to do it, which is why timing and approach is everything," says Mia Rosenberg, a licensed clinical social worker with Upsider Therapy in New York City.

Not only does that tough teen exterior tend to hide their desire to share, but teens can be particularly susceptible to suffering in silence if life throws them a curveball. When it comes to checking in with your teen's mental health, experts recommend a direct approach rather than beating around the bush, which teens can find annoying and irritating. "Teens especially want direct communication," explains David Grammer, a licensed family therapist with Grammer Family Therapy. "So don't be afraid to just ask straight questions, like, 'How are you feeling?' or, 'I've noticed you seem down or depressed lately, want to talk about it?'"

Here are more tips from our experts that'll help navigate the murky waters of communicating with your teen, plus great questions to kick off conversation.

Know the cues.

It may take some sleuthing, but try to pick up on the subtle clues that your teen is up for a convo rather than when you're more likely to get shut out. "You may see your teen 'test the waters' by talking about some of the minor things going on in their life," says Rosenberg. "When they do this, they're often waiting to see how you react. This is a great starting point for parents."

Provide a judgment-free zone.

If you want your teen to continue opening up to you, resist that knee-jerk reaction to freak out at the slightest bit of surprising news or life details. "Because teens are looking for a judgement-free environment, one of the best ways for your teen to open up to you is to provide that environment," says Rosenberg. So instead of rushing to judgement, consider asking questions to learn more about the situation, and more importantly, what your teen thinks about it.

Practice active listening.

When it comes to talking with teens, don't be dismissive, but don't be overly eager, either. We know, it's no easy task. But practicing active listening techniques is a good way to encourage your teen to share details about their life. "The most important element to encouraging a teen to open up and talk is to listen when they are talking and reflect it back to them," says Grammer. "As you get better at reading between the lines of what your teen is truly saying, even when it seems like they're just complaining or being grumpy, they will start to feel more heard and understood, which leads to opening up further and learning the emotional vocabulary they need to share their thoughts and feelings."

Avoid direct eye contact.

Achieve #teenparent superstar status when you practice this sneaky trick. Since teens often avoid eye contact when talking about something that feels difficult to express, provide a setting that allows them to do just that. "Take your teen's cue and use a time that you can't make eye contact back. For example, when you're driving, your eyes are on the road and your teen can look out the window and chat. Or, invite your teen to take a walk, where you're both looking ahead and not able to constantly look at each other. Holding this space for teens can help them engage and open up about what is going on for them," says Rosenberg.

Questions to Ask Your Teen

Once you're finally engaged in what feels like a healthy but safe conversation with your teen, what do you say to keep it going? Below, we've listed some great questions you can use to help get—and keep—your teen talking.

  1. If you could live anywhere in the world, where would you live?
  2. Do you still use TikTok, or has it been replaced with something else?
  3. What is your idea of a perfect day?
  4. I've noticed you haven't seen (a particular friend) much lately. What's going on with him/her these days?
  5. What are your thoughts on (a particular current-event news story)?
  6. What would you do if you were President?
  7. What are you most afraid of?
  8. What's your favorite beauty/grooming product?
  9. How would you describe me as a parent?
  10. Name something that makes you truly happy.
  11. Are there any good new shows I should be checking out?
  12. Do you ever feel alone?
  13. What makes you feel better when you're feeling down?
  14. How do you handle it when a friend asks you to do something you don't want to do?
  15. What's your favorite class this year?
  16. What's your favorite song?
  17. What's one of your fondest memories of growing up?
  18. What would you do if you couldn't have (something they treasure) anymore?
  19. Do you prefer the city or the country? Why?
  20. What do you think I like most about you?

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