3 Essentials to Talking with Today’s Teens

This situation isn’t uncommon. A mom sits at dinner with her two disinterested teens, slumped over their plates. She desperately wants to communicate with them, but wonders how she can draw out more than just a shrug of the shoulders or unintelligible grunts.

Have you tried talking about poop?

NPR posted an article this week, If You Want To Teach Kids History, Try Grossing Them Out First. Author Sarah Albee has been using this technique in her books for years to teach history. Her strategy is to look at a topic through the lens of something that grabs the attention of young people, and with kids… gross works. Her first history book was called Poop Happened: A History of the World from the Bottom Up. Want to know how a knight goes “number two” while wearing a suit of armor? You’ve picked up the right book. Her latest book discusses how bugs changed history, revealing, “Insects have killed more soldiers in wars than have swords and guns.”

As a veteran youth worker of 20+ years, I can’t argue with her tactics. No… not talking about poop… but looking through their lens.

What lens is your kid looking through?

What sparks their interest?

Don’t be discouraged. You don’t have to have the beats of Dre or the humor of Hart to engage your kids in meaningful conversation. You just need to be proactive. Yes, proactive. The sad fact is, most adults don’t give an ounce of effort when it comes to understanding and communicating with young people today. “Those entitled little brats should just respect us.”

They will, if we respect them enough to actually put an effort into our dialogue. And asking them, “How was school?” every day isn’t investing any effort.

Try these three essentials to talking with today’s teens:

Notice
Albee is right, if we want to capture the attention of young people, we need to look through their lens. What is relevant in their world? What makes them laugh? What makes them cry? What gets them motivated to get up and go do something?

The answers to these questions are often written right across their shirts or rolling off their tongue. Next time you give your kids a ride home in the car… listen! Yes, I’m advocating eavesdropping. What made them laugh? What frustrated them? Who do they seem to value as a friend or influence?

What is written on their shirt? Why do they like that shirt? What does it represent?

Where do they like to go for fun? What is their favorite place to eat? Onion rings? FroYo? What is their vice?

Keep listening… they’ll reveal it.

I do this every time before I teach school assemblies or events. I mingle with the kids, watching and listening. It’s amazing how much you can learn in just 5 minutes of being a fly on the wall.

But if you want to learn more, then just…

Ask
Don’t just ask a random question. Take what you gathered by noticing and then formulate a question to discover more.

“That was a funny movie. But what was the funniest movie you’ve seen in the last couple of years?”

“That is a good song, and I hear it played a lot. What song do you think is being overplayed right now? What song should be played more?”

Don’t ask these questions like a parole officer, instead, ask these like someone who is genuinely curious. Young people love to be the expert. If you make them the expert, they’ll keep talking for days.

But kids are looking for much more than just a conversationalist. They would really like someone they know who will…

Be There
That’s obvious
, you might think to yourself. Of course parents should be there.

Then how come most parents don’t have a clue what’s going on in their kids’ lives? I’m not exaggerating when I say that. Truly, in over two decades of youth ministry I meet far more parents who don’t have a clue what’s going on in their kids’ world.

Earlier I mentioned, it’s amazing how much you can learn in just 5 minutes of being a fly on the wall. What’s even more amazing is how many adults never do this.

Who is the person your kid can’t wait to get a text from?

What is your kid’s go-to song on their playlist?

What playlist do they stream the most?

What class does your kid hate the most? Why?

What is the one class they would go to if they only had to go to one?

What would they do if they could cut school today without getting in trouble?

Who would they do this with?

Do you really know your kid?

A great chasm is growing between the world of adults and teens today. What can you do to bridge that gap and hang out with your kid today?

What did you notice they liked to do? Which was it… onion rings or FroYo? Can you take them there now?

What are you waiting for?

GET JONATHAN’S BRAND NEW BOOK, GET YOUR TEENAGER TALKING, THE BOOK DR. KEVIN LEMAN DESCRIBES AS “THE PERFECT TOOL FOR CONNECTING WITH TODAY’S TEENAGERS.”


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