5 Tips to Get Your Teenagers Talking

GUEST POST by Jonathan McKee. Jonathan has become a regular guest blogger on this site! He is the author of numerous books including the brand new Candid Confessions of an Imperfect Parent, as well as youth ministry books like Connect: Real Relationships in a World of Isolation. You can find his excellent blog here.

Is it just me, or do you sometimes struggle getting teenagers to open up and just talk?

I have this issue with my own teenagers. Conversations can drift toward the mundane.

“How was school?”


“Soccer practice?”

“Same as always.”

“Anything interesting happen today?”


“Nice talking with you!”

Youth workers probably have the same frustrations talking with teenagers that they first meet.

“What’s your name?”


“What school do you go to?”

“Centerville High.”

“Play any sports?”


(awkward pause)

“Have you ever accidently killed a squirrel?”


“Never mind.”

Let’s face it. Teenagers have a PhD in one-word answers… if we don’t ask the right questions.

Here’s 5 tips I found that helped me get teenagers talking:

1. Don’t ask yes or no questions. If you do, then you know you’re gonna get a one word answer.

If you ask a teenager, “Was school fun today?” Chances are, you’re gonna hear the word “No.” Conversation over.

2. Don’t ask dull questions. Sure, if you’re just meeting a teenager you might need to ask their name and school, but don’t go the expected route and ask the typical, “Do you like it there?” (a yes or no question) Ask something that is a little unexpected.

“If you had to choose just one class, or one teacher, and you could ditch the rest, which would you choose?”

A question like this gives you insight into what subjects they like, what kind of adults they respect, plus it provides them with a fun element—picturing a world where they choose classes and ditch others!

But unexpected questions don’t always come easy… that’s why you always need to…

3. Think ahead. If you struggle getting teenagers talking, don’t try to think of something on the fly. Plan ahead.

Parents, don’t wait until you’re sitting at the dinner table to try to think of something to say. Youth workers, don’t walk up to a teenager and say the first thing on your mind. Think ahead. Use some resources if you have to. Which brings me to my next tip…

4. Don’t be afraid to use tools. One of the best relational tools is a well-placed question. As a parent who often finds himself trying to “break through the ice” with my own teenagers at the dinner table, I use an oldie but goodie:

“Everyone share your high and your low of the day. Youngest to oldest.”

We use this probably once a week. Sometimes we even modify it to just that, “the high and low of the week.”

In my parenting book I provide a bunch of these kinds of ice-breaker questions. Questions like:

“If you could go to any restaurant tonight and order any meal, where would you go and what would you order?”

“If you could go on vacation anywhere for a week, all expenses paid and bring whoever you want, who would you bring?”

You can learn a lot about your kids with questions like that. Their tastes, their friends… whether they’d bring you!

Youth ministry is the same way. Some of us struggle trying to “break the ice” when we are hanging out with a group of kids or leading a small group. Don’t hesitate to use resources like Doug’s Would You Rather books, or any his other ice-breakers. They can provide some really fun ways to get teenagers talking. Or consult books like my book, Connect, where I spend several chapters discussing how to get teenagers talking when you first meet them.

5. Use your eyes and ears before your mouth. I truly saved my best tip for last. Simply put: notice. Use your eyes to notice what shirt a teenager is wearing—it will tell you a lot. If they’re wearing a vintage Star Wars t-shirt, you can probably get them talking about nerdy topics for hours. If they’re wearing a Ben Roethlisberger jersey… they really need Jesus!

In the same way, if you hear a teenager talking about Facebook, cheer, or her new iPhone, chances are you won’t have to say much to get her talking about it. Notice what teenagers are excited about, ask them about it, and then you won’t have to do much talking at all. You might even wish you never got them started!

Remember, our teenagers really want to be heard. Sadly, they often are ignored by adults. So sometimes they just need to test the waters and see that we’re actually willing to listen.

There’s nothing magical about the tips above. They might take a little bit of warming up and some tweaks here and there. Just make an effort, demonstrating that you care and actually want to listen… the rest will fall into place.

What about you?

Question:What helps you get teenagers talking? Share your thoughts here.

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  • DrewE

    Sometimes there’s simply the matter of taking time to wait for a response; a little awkward silence can go a long ways.  Far to often, though, we give up after about two seconds and assume that no answer (or no deeper answer) will come.

    • Jonathan McKee

      Thanks Drew… (pause) …. (still pausing) … (it’s been about 7 seconds now) … (I’m practicing awkward silences.) In small groups this is very true. Waiting is fine. Some people take longer than others to respond. At the same time, if you’re dialoguing with a kid one-on-one and you can tell a kid doesn’t know how to respond to a question, I always jump in and bail them out.

  • Buckandlori

    My wife and I have found that if you take the time to establish an environment where teens feel cared about and appreciated they will completely be themselves and talk your ear off.  This takes providing consistency – they can count on youth group Wednesday night, they can count on my wife and I teaching, and they can count on us using the Bible as our guide.

  • http://brandonweldy.wordpress.com Brandon Weldy

    Thanks for the tips. Sometime I have a difficult time getting the kids in the youth group to talk, or at least the new ones. I have used Doug’s Would You Rather books and that helps a lot. I really appreciate your “think ahead” tip. I usually need to do this because no matter how many times I am put on the spot I just do not think well on the fly!

    • Jonathan McKee

      Thanks for your honesty Brandon. You aren’t alone. Most of us have struggled with what to say, especially when talking to new kids.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1348456328 Rob Johnston

    I use the same question I use when trying to get my 5 and 3 year old daughters to tell me anything:  I ask “What are THREE things that you did today?”

    Each answer leads to more questions (with who, for how long, what were you trying to do etc…)

    Any kid can come up with three things and it’s way more effective than “PLEASE.. just tell me ANYTHING!!!!!”

    • Jonathan McKee

      Ah… I remember those days with young kids. I remember asking, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” My daughter Ashley would change her answer every week. I remember her watching guys laying a cement patio in our back yard and that week she declared that she wanted to be a “cementer.” (Now she wants to be a doctor. Hmmmmm. I’m not sure which I’d rather have. On one hand… I could always get my patio work done free….)

  • Follower of Christ

    Thanks for all the great tips! I teach youth girls every Sunday morning, and I can usually get a good conversation going, but it’s always the same ones talking. The rest are completely quiet. Which is fine because that used to be me.

    My way of getting people to feel a little more comfortable in my class (when their new) is to make myself look completely awkward. When they see me as awkward and weird they usually seem to loosen up a bit. But after reading this I notice I ask A LOT of yes/no questions… Need to spread my horizon! Thanks again!

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  • http://www.aces-counseling.com/ DUI evaluation

     These are great tips for effectively communicating with teenagers. These are very helpful ensuring that we have an open line of communication with them which can really be beneficial. Thanks for sharing.

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