Ask some teens how school was and you’re lucky to get a grunt or a mumbled ‘Ok’ in response. If that sounds familiar, try these tips to get the conversation flowing.
Try more interesting questions
If you ask your teen the same question every day, you’re likely to get the same (minimalist) response. Try varying the conversation with some more interesting questions, such as:
- What did you enjoy the most at school today?
- What is your easiest class? What is your most challenging class?
- Which class has your favourite group of students in it?
- What do you think there should be more of at school? What do you think there should be less of?
- What part of the day do you look forward to?
- If you had to go to only one class every day, which class would it be?
- If you were a teacher, which class would you like to teach? Which one would be the worst to teach?
- If your day at school were an emoticon, which one would it be?
Note: some teens find questions about ‘the best / worst / easiest’ difficult because they feel they have to think through all the options before answering. If this sounds like your teen, try changing the phrasing – ‘an easy class’ instead of ‘the easiest class’, ‘enjoy’ instead of ‘enjoy the most’. It works for some!
When you were a teen, did talking with an adult about school sometimes feel like an interrogation? That can happen when the adult asks all the questions, and the teen does all the answering. Make it a two-way conversation by first sharing something yourself, and then asking your teen a related question, for example:
- tell your teen something funny that you saw, then ask if anything funny happened to them today
- share something that you learned, then ask your teen if they learned anything interesting they could teach you
- mention a new word or abbreviation that you’ve come across and ask your teen what it means (most teens enjoy the chance to tease their parents about being out-of-date!).
It might take a little time, but this approach help you to have much richer conversations with your teen, and develop a better understanding of each other’s lives!
Talk about the rest of life
It’s easy to fall into the trap of focusing most of our conversations with our teens on school. We don’t know what they’ve been doing all day (and how we can help), so naturally that’s what we want to ask about. Taking an interest in school is important, but we also need to remember that our teens still spend more time outside school than in it.
So make sure you’re still having conversations that have nothing to do with school – eg about their interests, your plans, what’s happening in the family, and what’s happening in the wider world. Conversations like these are important to your relationship, your teen’s feeling of value, and their sense of place in the world. Sharing family stories and histories also builds your teen’s sense of connection, culture and belonging.