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Talking to Your Teen at Dinner

by Jane Wangersky | October 16th, 2023 | Communication, Teens

family at dinner (400x400)Getting teens to talk is hard, getting a contemporary family together for a sit-down dinner is hard, so why attempt to do both at the same time? Because a few simple (not easy) things you can do will help make it a time for the family to reconnect with each other, something you should ideally do every day.

So what will help get your teen talking at dinner?

  • Set a regular dinner time. You won’t be able to find one that works for everyone, every night, especially with a teen in the family, but if it’s the same time every night, your family will start to plan their schedules around it and you’ll get together more often than not.
  • Speak to your teen first — not only when you and your spouse have finished talking about politics or whatever. By then, your teen may have finished and slipped away without exchanging a word with anyone. Speaking of that . . .
  • Don’t make your teen stay at the table longer than they want to. In other words, no “stay around till dessert if you want any” rule. (My husband’s family had that rule; mine didn’t — long story.) Try instead to make them want to stay. (And don’t count on a teen boy’s appetite to make him stick around; they can eat pretty quickly, especially if they’re itching to get back to FaceBook/Instagram/Snapchat.)
  • If you have more than one teen, start the talk with the one who’s least likely to say anything. However . . .
  • Draw everyone into the conversation if you can. Leave out the topics that only part of the family has any interest in — sports fans, I’m looking at you. Something else to forget about at dinner:
  • Avoid any heavy or painful topics. This is not the time to settle serious issues with your teen or, of course, argue with your spouse. When I brought this up while showing a parenting video to my adult ESL class, one student objected that dinnertime might be the only time the family was together. All the more reason to keep it peaceful, I say — while you can’t ignore family problems, you don’t have to add eating disorders to them.
  • Ask open ended questions, instead of yes or no questions, or any that can be answered with just one word. Instead of “How was school today?” (“Fine.”), try “What did you end up writing about for your essay?” You’ll have to get informed on what your teen is doing to be able to pull this off; as they start talking more, it’ll get easier.
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