How to listen so teens will talk

Getting teens involved in conversations is an art. Follow some simple guidelines to find ways to make talking more enjoyable and rewarding for both parties.

Sometimes it can seem like teens spend most of their time building up walls, and putting as much distance as possible between themselves and the adults in their lives. Some of this is normal, and part of establishing critical independence that helps launch them into adulthood. Even though it might appear that a conversation with you is the last thing on their minds, most teens truly want more connections with the adults in their lives.

Unfortunately many busy adults may not appear to be interested in or have the time to connect to teens. In her book “Conversations on the Go”, author Mary Alice Ackerman sites research from the Search Institute in Minneapolis that states only one in four adolescents feels parents are approachable and available to talk. As adults, we need to find ways to intentionally engage young people in conversations on numerous topics. Along with several suggestions for conversation starters in her book, Ackerman has some tips to make talking with teens easier.

  • Stretch it out. Don’t just wait for an answer and then stop. Ask for more details like; “Why do you feel that way?”, “How long have you felt that way?”, “What lead to you think about it that way?”
  • Lighten things up. Conversations don’t just have to be about goals, dreams, and life plans. You can initiate conversations about what music they like, their favorite TV show or favorite actor - all good ways to get to know each other.
  • Expect the unexpected. The object is to engage in conversation, not to win arguments. You may hear things you don’t agree with. Try not to judge, but ask more questions to get to why they feel that way.
  • Do more listening than talking. You only have one mouth and two ears. When you can just listen, you are not only showing them you really care about what they have to say, they are also getting the message that you really do care about them.
  • It’s okay to pass. If you both aren’t in the mood to talk, because of whatever life is throwing at you in the moment, save it for later. Quality of conversation is more important than quantity.
  • Play and replay. It’s okay to ask the same questions in a couple of weeks, a month, or a year from now. We all change over time, and it can be an interesting way to see how your teen is growing and developing.
  • Feel the joy. Connecting with our kids through engaging conversation gives us some wonderful insights to their developing personalities, passions and interests.

Building strong, successful young adults involves connecting with caring and responsible adults. Finding time to have meaningful and fun conversations is a great way for any adult to make those connections and build healthy relationships in families and communities. The more caring adults in a young person’s life, the more successful that young person’s future will be. So, whether you are a parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, coach, teacher, or youth group leader, take the time to really talk with and listen to teens. It’s a great investment in the future of young people and the communities where we live.

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