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Conversation starters for teens go down a two-way street. On the right is the talking lane; on the left, the listening lane. If one lane is stuck, communication comes to a standstill, much like how a stalled vehicle creates a traffic jam. Having both lanes flowing freely is crucial to forging a strong and honest relationship between teenagers and their parents.
“The most protective force in our children’s lives is the connection they have with family,” writes Ken Ginsburg for the Center for Parent & Teen Communication. In fact, a study done by researchers from Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia found that teenagers who have a strong relationship with their parents are healthier (in all aspects) compared to teens whose family ties are somewhat flimsy.
But like many things that are worth attaining, a secure relationship with your teen doesn’t just fall onto the family lap. You have to strive for it. There may be days when you would feel this to be an impossible task. A surly teenager wearing headphones sitting across from you at dinner would trigger such a feeling.
Stay the course, though, Mom and Dad. The work you are doing is the work of heroes. By persistently trying to come up with conversation starters for teens, you are demonstrating to your child that they are loved and valued. You’re also setting the foundation for their self-affirmations, which will boost their confidence.
You will eventually breach the brick wall. And then find that beyond it is a young adult who is really just waiting for your warm hug.
The reality of teenage-hood
I once thought that raising toddlers was the litmus test of parenting. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
The teenage years bring with them an avalanche of confusing feelings, contradictory thoughts, and bewildering physical changes. And it isn’t just your teen navigating this complicated time. You are right there with them, guiding them, just like you were when they were just learning to walk. In fact, a toddler goes through similar changes. The difference is, to three-year-olds, you, their parents, are their world. In the constantly widening world of teenagers, mom and dad have been relegated to being merely supporting characters.
This period of intense change is a natural development; it’s no one’s fault. While we, as parents, may feel blindsided by the suddenness of it all, it shouldn’t take away from the love and care you give your teen, and vice versa. To make sure your family bond stays strong, you have to get to know your teen where they are and connect with them.
What’s your teen interested in?
My 13-year-old son likes to play horror-themed video games. He’s also into animé, martial arts, dogs, listening to music by independent artists, and watching videos of people trying not to laugh. My 16-year-old daughter adores musicals, fantasy animé, avant garde fashion, Dungeons & Dragons, and sleeping in as much as she can.
We didn’t instantly come up with this relatively comprehensive list of our teens’ interests, my husband and I. Because we wanted to find out organically—i.e., we didn’t want to have to ask directly out of the blue—we became like mom-and-dad versions of Sherlock Holmes. Through daily conversations, regular one-on-one dates with our kids, and by becoming keen listeners and observers, we put together this ever-evolving list of interests over a period of seven years; going on eight now.
Our weekends are spent doing activities our kids like, but tempered by my husband’s and my interests, with family traditions woven in. It’s always an eclectic mix.
What are your teens into? How do you find out? Youth mental health site ReachOut has a few suggestions on how to initiate a deeper relationship with your teen: actually listen when your teens talk to you, speak to them like you would to a grown-up, and acknowledge their feelings.
Discussion topics for teens
Most teenagers, just like grown-ups, have varied interests. The thing is, some teenagers, just like some grown-ups, don’t readily volunteer this information. Sometimes, you have to worm it out of them.
That’s why we’ve come up with these conversation starters for teens. Use these as a guide to help your teen open up to you. Just remember, timing is everything when you talk to your child. Don’t take it personally if sometimes, they prefer to hole up in their room over having a stirring conversation with you. This is normal behavior for teens.
For the culinary teen
Who doesn’t like to eat? Talk to your teen about their favorite food or a memorable meal they recently had. If your child is interested in cooking, even better! Work these questions in as organically as you can while you help your teen prepare a dish (or a whole meal!). After all, your child may feel uncomfortable when you ask them this or that question for teens while you’re just sitting facing each other. Busy hands can quickly dispel any awkwardness.
Food questions to ask your teen
- What would be your dream meal? What dishes would be included in it, where would you eat it, and who would you share it with?
- Want to make a random dish with me? (Use these recipes by Martha Stewart to help break the ice.)
- What’s your stand on putting ranch dressing or ketchup on everything you eat?
- If you could, which cuisine would you want to eat every day for the rest of your life?
- Would you still eat your favorite food every day even if it’s all in a shade of green? (The color won’t affect the taste.)
- Do you prefer your fries fat and chewy or thin and crispy?
- How do you like your eggs?
- If you could cook a dish that expresses your personality, what dish would it be?
- How much would you pay for a dish touted as the “best in the world?”
- What’s your favorite breakfast food?
- How adventurous an eater are you?
Does your teen have hobbies?
When you take an interest in their interests, it makes teenagers feel valued and seen. Aside from driving them to soccer practice or subscribing to their YouTube channel, ask them direct questions about what they’re passionate about. One brilliant conversation starter for teens can unearth a gold mine. Kids normally love to talk about their passions, especially if they feel your interest is sincere.
Conversation starters for teens about their interests
- How was soccer/ballet/debate/your gig today?
- Which video games do you like to play? Can you teach me how to play one?
- What’s your favorite song? What type of music do you listen to?
- Do you like to collect anything? Want to see my stamp/mug/sneaker collection?
- What skill would you like to develop more?
- Can you explain to me the difference between techno, house, and trance music? (Because they all sound the same to me.)
- What’s the best book you’ve ever read?
- Can you draw for me the perfect outfit for you?
- Which animation style resonates best with you?
- What is the most exciting place you’ve ever visited?
- Do you see yourself opening an animal shelter when you grow up?
For the athletic teen
Questions for teens can also cover topics that athletic kids will find interesting. Is your teen into Football? Baseball or basketball, maybe? You don’t have to be an athlete yourself to be able to connect with your sporty teen. All you need to be is their number-one fan. That includes being sincerely interested in whatever sport they’re playing. You want to keep encouraging your teen to stay in sports because this gives them a host of physical, mental, social, and emotional benefits.
Sporty conversation starters for teens
- Who is the athlete who inspires you the most?
- If you could play a sport other than the one you’re in now, what would it be?
- Some athletes have pre-game rituals that they absolutely have to do. Do you follow any rituals of your own? What are they?
- What’s the proudest moment you’ve ever had playing your sport?
- Describe a game you watched live. How did it feel being around so many passionate fans?
- What would you do to become an Olympian?
- If you could design an athlete’s house, what would you put in it?
- Would you be excited to try an extreme sport?
- Do you enjoy watching martial arts matches?
- How old were you when you learned to swim?
- When do you feel your body is at its strongest?
For the movie buff
Sunday night at our house is movie night. It’s a big deal for our family. If it’s not raining, we set up the projector in our yard and lay out some blankets and pillows beside lounge chairs. We order pizza. I make popcorn.
The one preparatory task we take too long to complete is picking the movie because we all have different tastes. My husband likes sci-fi and superhero movies; my daughter likes fantasy and musicals; my son likes anything based on an animé; and I like horror and romcoms. More often than not, the film we pick is a compromise.
Whatever we end up choosing, my husband and I make sure to pay attention to the chatter between our kids during the movie. Because that’s where the essence of movie nights with teens lies.
Movie questions to ask teens
- What’s your favorite film of all time—the one that can always lift you out of any bad mood?
- What do you think is the movie genre that’s superior to all the rest?
- Are you a chatty film goer or do you prefer complete silence from your friends as you watch?
- Which element makes a film great: the direction, cinematography, acting, script, or music?
- If they make a movie out of your life, who would you like to play you?
- Also, would this movie be a comedy, romance, horror, or action flick?
- Have you ever walked out on a movie before? What made it impossible to finish?
- Do you prefer watching Hollywood blockbusters or are you more into obscure European art films?
- If you could have a career in the film industry, what job would you like to have?
- Some art films are eight hours long. Would you sit through that if it were good?
- What’s the best food to eat while enjoying a movie: popcorn, pizza, a sandwich, a candy bar, or something else?
Got a teen with a sense of humor?
Psychologist and comedian Matt Bellace writes that one of the most effective ways to catch a teenager’s attention—and keep it—is by using humor. To this end, let’s have a little biology lesson. The hippocampus (the part of the brain that retains memory) is just behind the amygdala (the region that processes emotions). This means people can better remember experiences that are high on the emotional quotient. And what better emotion to use with your child than happiness through laughter? These silly conversation starters for teens is perfect for your purpose.
Don’t worry; it’s completely alright to appear silly in front of your teenager. They will appreciate the fact that you don’t take yourself too seriously. Besides, a wholesome sense of humor is always appreciated (even if your teenager pretends to react otherwise).
Hilarious this-or-that questions for teens
- For a day, would you want to be a short-sighted but powerful rhinoceros or a sneaky but flatulent fox?
- At the pet store, would you pick a unicorn or a dragon?
- If someone dared you, would you speak only in barks or squawks for one whole day?
- Who would win in a fight between a clumsy ninja and a cross-eyed sniper?
- Would you sign up for a class in “Eating Chilies 101: Don’t Sweat It” or “Memorizing Useless Ads on TV”?
- For a million dollars, would you give up video games or music?
- Which super power would you like to have: the ability to constantly make hysterical jokes (even when you’re supposed to be serious) or the power to communicate with raccoons?
- Pick one: talk to your crush with a piece of lettuce in your teeth or show up in school in just your underwear?
- Would you invest three million dollars in a snack company or a soda company?
- What sounds like a better way to spend a weekend: having no wifi (and your downloads won’t work) or not being able to talk to anyone?
- If it were down to these two adventure sports, would you choose to go bungee jumping or whitewater rafting?
Let your conversation starters for teens be extra interesting
Authors of the research study say that when kids enter their teen years, parents generally pull back on the quality of their parenting. They spend less time with their teens but also impose harsher discipline. This is perhaps because parents believe their teens are old enough to know better and are more independent.
It’s time to think differently, Mom and Dad. “Parents [who] were able to maintain positive parenting and involvement [throughout the teen years] laid the foundation for a close relationship when their teens became adults,” says Greg Fosco, one of the study’s principal investigators and professor of human development and family studies at Penn State.
So at the dinner table tonight, how about you leave the phones off and keep the talk going? Tap into your child’s interests and take it from there. It may take some trial-and-error questions. But conversation starters for teens are easy to figure out once you zero in on what your child will respond to. Then it’s all a matter of mindfully sustaining it.
Which questions do you think will make for a stimulating conversation with your teen?
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