"We have ways to make you talk….” Getting your teenagers to talk to you!

by Christine Torre and Jennifer DeVore

In speaking with David Unger, we have come to understand that we are not the only moms of 17-year old boys who find it difficult to glean even the smallest morsel of information about our teenagers’ lives. Apparently, this minimalist communication is completely normal! Unless you are the lucky parent of a talkative child (or drive a carpool containing such a child) you probably have tried many different strategies in getting your kids to talk. In a quest for “best practices,” we conducted an informal poll of moms of teenagers, both at Windward and at other local schools, looking for the answer to one simple query:

“Which questions provoke a response from your kids?”
Interestingly, we did not get back a list of questions. Rather, we got a list of times when kids are most amenable to opening up to their parents. In talking to our teenagers, it seems the most important thing is not the “what” of the conversation, but rather the “when” or the “how.”
Moms got the most success while driving, late at night, in the Jacuzzi, or even making dinner with their kids.  One mom said, “Something happens when they get to switch off from their day and put their head on the pillow. It’s time to download and share; he talks (and I just listen).”  Being in motion also seems to help. Another mom said, “I go on a walk or hike up to a good lookout point. With nothing else to distract them and the benefit of beautiful views, a little nature opens them up to talk…or at least to bitch about the walk.”
Another surprisingly good technique seems to be to ignore them.  Do a lot of talking yourself, about your day, about your interests, about the movies you want to see and the books you want to read. Shift the focus away from them and they might want to pipe up and add some comments. One mom said, “Just talk, about everything: your day, what's for dinner, what you are doing tomorrow, and don't ever ask any questions.  Make it hard for them to break in. This makes them want to give their point of view.”  
What does not work - for any moms, ever - is to interrogate them face to face the minute they walk in the door after spending 8 hours in school on top of 5 hours of sleep.  But saving that interrogation until midnight just might work….especially if you ply them with a late-night snack.


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Windward School is a 7-12, co-educational, independent day school in Los Angeles, California.