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How to Get Beyond Your Teen’s One Word Answers

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We have all been there, where we overhear our kids talking to their friends nonstop about their day, and yet when we ask but 5 minutes later the only thing they say about their day is, ‘Good.’ One word answers can be infuriating. We have spent years trying to get our little ones to quit talking so much and eat their dinner, to now be in a place where they are not even willing to complete a sentence can be frustrating, even hurtful. Here are some tips to walk through with your children when they get to that place where they seem to be allergic to talking to their parents.

First, remember it is a common phase in adolescent development.

From the beginning of their life, kids have found their identity, security, comfort, and strength in their parents. This is why those early years are so important to healthy development. However, come tween and teen years, they are starting to establish their own opinions, direction, and learning who they are and who they want to be. This means that they are separating from their parents both in identity and, in some ways, relationally. Though this could mean that they don’t confide in you as much, it could also mean that you need to change your tactics of communication. If you need help in this area, especially in regards to reaching your teenage son, here are some helpful ways to change your perspective on the daunting task.

The power of the right questions.

When our kids were little it usually only took a spark to unleash the tiniest detail about our child’s day. Now it’s like shucking oysters trying not to lose a finger in the process. Here are some sample questions to prompt conversation:

  • Open-ended questions: “What was the worst part about today?” “What was the best part of the day?” “Which class was the most boring today?”
  • Ask questions about Pop culture or latest trends: “Why do you think the Kardashians are so popular?” “Where did the dance move, Dab, come from?” If you need help looking up the latest pop culture info, ask a youth worker/pastor, go on Twitter and see ‘what’s trending’ feed, or just google latest teen trends.
  • Talk about your day, not in a complaining or gloating way. Laugh at your mistakes, and share the good things to be thankful for. Then ask if anything like that happened to them before, or see what they would have done in that situation.

They may test the waters by dropping some bombs.

Teens ultimately want to share what is going on in their life, but they fear that the information they share is going to get them in trouble or keep them from their friends. So they will drop hints or share a story that they heard about someone else to see how you respond. Instead of ‘freaking out,’ as your teen would say, in a normal voice ask them what they think about the situation, ask them what they would do if faced with the same circumstances. With teens, make every conversation a dialogue not a lecture. This teaches more effectively and encourages future conversations to happen. For more help, here is how tips for how to talk with your teenager.

Take what you can get.

Teens have their own ideas about the perfect time to talk, and it’s usually when we are making dinner, folding a load of laundry, and taking the dog out ALL at once. It’s sometimes easier for teens to talk when they are not the only focus. So whether the conversation starts by you asking questions as mentioned above, or they start mumbling something about the girl that sits behind them in math class, try to be intentional about engaging in the conversation even though you are thinking: you picked NOW to talk about this.

When do your kids talk to you most or least?

Paige Clingenpeel is a licensed teen therapist and has worked on TV, radio, and web-based media. Her passion is creating health, hope, and humor for youth and their families.


What questions could I ask, or how can I approach you, that will help you talk with me more?

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