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Best Ways to Talk to Teens
Is there a teen in your life who you wish would open up to you more? Whereas little kids are often quite chatty, sometimes it seems that as children get older they become more guarded. The truth of the matter, however, is that teens usually have a lot to say, as well. The trick is getting them at the right moment, not being judgmental, and asking the right questions.
Whether you’re the parent, family member, or friend of a teen, or you're a teen yourself who’s trying to get to know one of your peers better, this list of conversation starters should be a great resource.
Conversation Topics for Teens
- Interests and activities
- Friends and family
- Romantic relationships
- Future goals
- Possessions and money
- Emotions and dreams
- Memories and life events
- Hypothetical and existential questions
Once we've covered all of these conversation topics, we'll turn our attention to general tips for talking to teens.
School, Interests, and Activities
Questions About School
- What is your favorite class in school? What do you like about it?
- What is your least favorite class in school? What don’t you like about it?
- Which class are you learning the most in?
- Which class are you learning the least in?
- Do you like going to school?
- Are you a part of any clubs at school? Which ones?
- If you were made a teacher for a day, which subject would you want to teach?
- Are there any bullies in your school? If so, how do you deal with them?
Questions About Interests and Activities
- What do you usually do after school?
- What are your hobbies?
- Do you play any video games? Which ones?
- Do you play any sports? Which ones?
- Do you collect anything? What is it?
- Do you play any musical instruments? Which one?
- What do you like to do most during the weekends?
- What type of music do you listen to?
- What is your favorite song at the moment?
- Do you like reading books? What’s the last book you read?
- What is something that you like to do when you're bored?
- Who is your favorite actor/actress?
- What is something that you feel passionately about in life?
- How would describe your perfect day?
- What talents or skills do you have?
- Do you speak any other languages? Which ones?
- Where is your favorite place to hang out? What do you like about it?
If you could marry any celebrity in the world, who would it be?
Friends, Family, and Romantic Relationships
Questions About Friends
- What makes someone a good friend?
- What makes someone a bad friend?
- Do you tend to have just one or two good friends, or do you have a large group of friends?
- Is there anyone at school that you would like to get to know better? Who is it?
- Would you be willing to die for your best friend?
- Do you have any friends that you’re worried about right now? Why?
- What traits do you look for when you’re trying to make a new friend?
Questions About Family
- On a scale of 1 to 10, how strict are your parents?
- Are you closer to your mom or dad?
- Do you have chores at home? What are they?
- Do you have siblings? Where are you in the birth order?
- Do you get along with your siblings?
- What was the last disagreement you had with your siblings about?
Questions About Romantic Relationships
- Is there anyone you have a crush on right now?
- What do you look for in a boyfriend/girlfriend?
- At your school, are there a lot of people who are in romantic relationships?
- If you could marry any celebrity, who would it be?
- Are you dating someone right now?
- Would you rather date someone older or younger than you?
- Do you think you might like to get married some day?
Personality and Future Goals
Questions About Personality
- Would you consider yourself to be more of a shy person or an outgoing person?
- Have you ever wanted to be popular?
- What would you say is one of your weaknesses?
- Are you more of an indoor person or an outdoor person?
- Are you a cat person or a dog person?
- What joke never fails to make you laugh?
- Who are your heroes and what qualities do you admire about them?
- Is there someone who you think looks up to you? Who is it, and what do you think they look up to about you?
- What is something that you really like about yourself?
- If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be and why?
Questions About Future Goals
- What is your ultimate goal in life?
- What scares you the most about the future?
- What is your dream job?
- What are your plans for the future?
- Do you have a bucket list? What are the top two or three things on that list?
- Do you have any role models? Who are they, and why do you look up to them?
- What do you plan to do after you graduate from school?
- At what age would you like to live on your own?
- What do you think your life would look like 10 years from now?
- What do you think the world will be like 25 years from now?
What is the weirdest food you have ever eaten? Would you eat it again?
Food, Possessions, and Money
Questions About Food
- What is your favorite food?
- What is your favorite dessert?
- What is your favorite ice cream flavor?
- What do you usually eat for lunch at school?
- Which is your favorite meal of the day?
- What is your favorite restaurant?
- If you could have an unlimited supply of any food for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?
- What is the weirdest food you have ever eaten? Where and when did you eat it?
Questions About Possessions
- Where do go shopping for your clothes?
- What is your favorite item of clothing? What do you love about it?
- Which possession do you cherish the most? Why?
- When you were young, did you have a favorite stuffed animal or toy?
- Do you like to keep your room neat and organized, or do you like it to be messy?
- If you were stranded on a desert island, which one possession would you want to have with you?
Questions About Money
- What was the last thing that you bought with your own money?
- What do you usually buy with your allowance money?
- Do you think it’s important to save for a rainy day?
- If someone gave you $1,000 and said you had to give it to charity, which charity would you choose and why?
- If you won the lottery, what would you do with the money?
Emotions, Memories, and Life Events
Questions About Emotions and Dreams
- What was the first thing that made you laugh today?
- What makes you thrilled and excited?
- What is the best part of your day?
- Do you ever feel lonely or left out?
- What scares you the most?
- What is your biggest worry in life?
- What helps you feel better when you’re upset or stressed out?
- Do you ever feel sad? What do you do to feel comforted?
- What are three things that you are grateful for today or this week?
- What hurts your feelings?
- What is your biggest fear?
- What is the most difficult thing in your life right now?
- Do you care about what other people think about you?
- Do you have any dark secrets?
- What's the best thing about being a teenager?
- What's the worst thing about being a teenager?
- What is the weirdest dream you’ve ever had?
- Do you have any recurring nightmares?
Questions About Memories and Life Events
- What is one of your earliest memories?
- Where did you go on your most recent vacation?
- What’s your greatest achievement so far?
- What’s your biggest regret in life so far?
- What is the most adventurous thing you have ever done in your life?
- What is the most embarrassing incident that has ever happened to you in your life?
- What is the most dangerous thing you have ever done?
- What is the weirdest or craziest thing you have ever done in your life?
- What is the best thing that has ever happened to you?
- Do you live by any life motto?
If you were given the chance to become immortal, would you take it?
Hypothetical and Existential Questions
- Would you rather be five years younger or five years older?
- Would you rather burn to death or freeze to death?
- Would you rather have no arms or no legs?
- Would you rather live on the beach or in the mountains?
- Would you rather have no hearing or no sight?
- If you were invisible for a day, what would you do?
- If you could be any animal, which one would you be?
- Is it ever okay to lie?
- If you only had one month to live, how would you spend your time? With whom?
- What would your weapon of choice be if you were in a zombie apocalypse scenario?
- If you could have any super power, which one would you choose and why?
- How many second graders do you think you can handle in a fight before you’re overwhelmed by them?
- If you could travel anywhere in the world, all expenses paid, where would you go?
- If you died right now, is there something that you would definitely regret not saying or doing?
- If you were given the chance to become immortal, would you take it? Why or why not?
- If it were up to you, how would you change the world?
- If you could live anywhere in the world, where would you live?
- If your life had a theme song, what would it be and why?
- If you could watch only one movie for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?
- What would you want to be famous for?
- What would you like people to say about you after you die?
- Do you ever wish you could go back in time and be a little kid again?
- What do you think is the meaning of life?
- What do you think happens after death?
How to Get Teens to Open Up: 8 Tips
I hope you've found some good questions in this list that will help spur your next conversation with the teen in your life! Now let's talk about some general tips for talking to teens.
1. Step Back and Stop Talking
Yes, we've just listed 120+ conversation starters, but sometimes direct questions aren't the best way to get teens talking. Sometimes you just need to give them the time and space to come to you. You may find that this happens when you're driving in the car together, or when you're both in the same room doing different things. Out of the blue, your teen may mention something—something that happened that day or something that's on their mind—and this could be the start of a good conversation.
2. Listen for the Emotions
Is your teen describing something that made them upset? Are they telling you about a situation they don't know how to handle? Listen for the emotions and validate them. Don't minimize their feelings and tell them they shouldn't feel that way. Say, "yes, that does sound frustrating" (or whatever the emotion is), and then stop talking. Leave space for them to hear your validation. If they feel you are really listening empathetically, they will likely tell you more about the situation.
3. Don't Solve Their Problems for Them
Even if you went through the exact same situation when you were younger, or even if you think you know the best way to solve the problem, now is not the time to jump in with your solution. One of the most important jobs of being a teenager is becoming more independent and learning how to navigate life's challenges on their own. The last thing teens want to hear is their parent's (or another adult's) quick fix. On the other hand, if your teen asks you directly for your advice, you can certainly give it, although you should be mindful of not being too didactic. Make it a conversation rather than a lecture.
4. Share Your Experience (If It's Relevant)
This can be a fine line to walk—because you don't want to sound like you're trying to solve their problems for them—but if you did happen to go through a very similar experience when you were a teen, by all means share your memories. Just make sure it's welcome (i.e., your teen is interested), and be sure to frame it in a way that's personal to you (e.g., this is what happened to me, and this is how I felt about it at the time). You don't want your teen to hear the story as a thinly veiled lecture about how they should handle their own situation.
5. Hold the Judgment
The teen years are a time of increased independence, new experiences, and occasional experimentation in different realms. It is normal for kids of this age to try different ways of being in the world, and with this comes the inevitable mistakes. Try to hold the judgment and keep your emotions in check. Chances are, your teen realizes they made a mistake—and they're feeling pretty bad about it already. Your first order of business should be to make sure your teen is safe; after that, talk to them about how they feel and what they think they should do. Problem-solve together and make this a learning experience.
6. Explain Why
If you have to lay down the law and tell them they're not allowed to go to the party at their friend's house after the football game, explain your rationale. They might not agree, and they almost certainly will not be happy about it, but at least they'll know you made your decision thoughtfully. No one likes to feel like their lives are being controlled, but if you explain why you're worried or why you don't think it's a good idea, they'll (hopefully) appreciate that at least you're not being capricious. And you never know—it's possible that they're secretly glad you came to the decision you did. Perhaps they also had concerns about the party but didn't want to let on with their friends. Sometimes it's handy to have the old "my stick-in-the-mud parents won't let me" excuse.
7. Notice the Good Stuff
Sometimes we're so focused on what we're worried about or what we think our teen is doing wrong that we forget to notice the good things. Did they clear their dinner dishes without being asked? Help their younger sibling with homework? Improve their grade in one of their classes at school? Take a moment to tell your teen you noticed, and that you appreciate their actions or accomplishments.
8. Carve Out Family Time
Whether it's regular family dinners, weekly game or movie nights, or fun weekend outings, try to create rituals around family time. Yes, everyone is busy and the calendar is jam-packed, but spending relaxed time together on a regular basis will help maintain and strengthen the family bonds. If you're regularly enjoying meals together, laughing at silly TV shows together, or doing other activities together, chances are that your teen will feel more comfortable talking to you when those thorny issues come up in their lives.
We all want to have healthy relationships with the teens in our lives, and sometimes it can also be just as important to consider the things we shouldn't be talking to them about as it is to figure out how broach the conversations you do want to have. I hope that this article has given you some good ideas for conversation starters as well as general tips for talking to teens. Good luck, and keep those channels of communication open!
Akilla Praise Olamiposi on August 22, 2020:
Wow such a wonderful article, so inspiring. Thank you for this
Estera Grigore Cernat on May 18, 2020:
Fantastic article..I find it extremely useful ! Thanks for sharing !
Mandy Soren on January 19, 2019: