Get Your Teenagers Talking

“How was your day?”

“Fine.”

“How was school?”

“Same as always.”

“Much homework?”

“Nope.”

“Anything exciting happen?”

“Naw.”

“Nice talking with you.”

Is it just me? Or do our kids have PhD’s in one-word answers?

I just got back from Southern California where I had the privilege of teaching the parenting track at the FAM Conference hosted by my friends Doug Fields and Jim Burns. On Saturday I launched a brand new training workshop titled “Get Your Teenagers Talking.” For those of you who weren’t able to make it to SoCal last week… I thought I’d give you a taste.

After giving parents a quick tour of today’s pop-youth-culture, I wanted to provide them some practical ways to dialogue with their kids. Here’s two of my “5 Tips to Get Your Teenagers Talking.”

1.    Don’t Ask Dull Questions
Parents always complain to me that they can’t get their kids to talk with them, but often they don’t put any time into formulating the questions they ask.

Don’t ask dull questions like “How was school?” My daughter Alyssa told it to me straight one day. She said,

“Dad, stop asking me how school is day after day. School’s always the same. It sucks, it’s boring, and it seems like a waste of time. I could cram all 7 hours of what they teach me into about 90 minutes. So stop asking me the same question, you’re just gonna get the same answer.”

Wow. I guess I should give her credit for being honest!

So instead of asking something like “How was school?” How about asking something like this:

“If you could ditch all your classes tomorrow except one, which class would you choose to actually attend? Why?”

This question is much more attractive to a teenager. First, it hangs on the fun premise that they get to ditch school. At the same time, it forces them to salvage something tolerable about one of their classes.

“I’d probably go to English. Mr. Alves is actually pretty cool and we’re reading Huck Finn right now, which is actually pretty good.”

If we’re willing to put a little more thinking into our questions, we might get a little bit more from their responses. But creative questions aren’t the only tool in a parent’s belt. We can also…

2.    Use Controversy.
If you want to talk to your kids about “parental guidelines” you could approach it one of two ways. You could say, “Hey kids, wanna talk about parental guidelines?” Be careful if they have fruit or muffins in their hands when you ask this, they are liable to throw them at you. Honestly, what kid is going to respond to that kind of proposal?

Instead, try this. “Hey kids, did you see the YouTube video where the redneck dad got so sick of his daughter’s disrespectful antics on Facebook that he pulled out his 45 and blew holes in her laptop?”

I tried that with my daughters and they both demanded to see the video immediately. After watching the video, I asked, “So do you think the dad was unfair?” It resulted in a 45-minute discussion about “parental guidelines.” (I blogged all about that and linked the video here.)

Wanna talk with your daughters about the pressures they’re gonna face at school dances? Again, you could try your luck asking them to sit down on the couch so you can discuss it… or you could rent the new version of Footloose, watch it together, and then ask some well placed questions about what you saw (My article about using that movie for discussion, and questions here).

Pop culture offers plenty of creative discussion starters through songs, movies and even newspaper articles. Just pop onto the front page of www.TheSource4Parents.com and glance in the box titled OFFSITE ARTICLES JONATHAN HAS READ THIS WEEK. I constantly am reading and linking articles about technology, celebrities, entertainment media, drugs and alcohol… all can be used as discussion springboards to get your teenagers talking.

What about you!
What are the best ways you’ve found to get your teenagers talking?

About Jonathan McKee

president of The Source for Youth Ministry, is the author of over a dozen books including the new Get Your Teenager Talking, The Guy's Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket, The Zombie Apocalypse Survival Guide for Teenager, and youth ministry books like Ministry By Teenagers, Connect: Real Relationships in a World of Isolation, and the 10-Minute Talks series. Jonathan speaks and trains at conferences, churches and events across North America, all while providing free resources for youth workers and parents on his websites, TheSource4YM.com and TheSource4Parents.com. You can follow Jonathan on his blog, getting a regular dose of youth culture and parenting help. Jonathan and his wife Lori, and their three teenagers Alec, Alyssa and Ashley live in California.
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