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September 2019

‘So, How Was School Today?’ How to Get Your Teen Talking About Grades, Friends, Bullies, and More

If you’re the parent of a teenager, you’ve likely had one particular conversation a million times. It goes something like this:

You: “So, how was school today?”

Teen: “Fine.”

That’s it — that’s the whole conversation. It’s a cliché dialogue played out to exhaustion on TV and in movies, but that doesn’t make it any less accurate. And now that school has started back up again, you and your teen probably have it at least once per week. While the curt reply seems inevitable, it seems worse not to ask and risk missing something important in your child’s life. Also, you don’t want to seem disinterested; all you really want is to make their adolescent years as smooth as possible. So, is there a better way to communicate? According to the experts, yes. Here are a few tactics teachers and psychologists recommend trying to get teens to open up about school and tough issues like friendships, grades, and bullying. Get Comfortable The first mistake is the immediacy of the standard conversation. If you want your teen to talk, don’t ambush them when they come through the door. Instead, wait for a comfortable, casual setting when you’re both relaxed. Don’t make the conversation feel like a big deal, and don’t even make eye contact if you don’t have to. Car rides, shared chores, and dark rooms before bed are ideal times and places for tough questions. Start Slow Instead of jumping right in with a blunt question — like “How was school today?”—

you’ll probably have better luck if you talk around the subject. Try leading with something new you’ve noticed about your teen’s behavior (a new book, a different kind of music playing, etc.) or something you’ve heard about a teacher or peer. That way, you can set up a discussion rather than an interrogation. Whatever you do, be careful not to sound accusatory when you’re commenting on their behavior, even if it’s suspicious or concerning. Listen and Learn It can sometimes feel like pulling teeth, but try to let your teen do most of the talking. If they bring up a problem they’re facing at school, don’t take over the conversation and start lecturing about how to fix it. Instead, ask what they think they should do and work together to develop a solution.

If all else fails, do a little research. Both Psychology Today and Life magazine have excellent lists of questions to ask your teen instead of“How was school?”Questions like “If your day at school today was a movie, what movie would it be?”and“If you could be invisible for the day at school, what would you do?”are guaranteed to yield interesting information, even if it’s not the kind you were looking for. “I taught either junior high or high school for almost a decade, and I get that communication with that age group is an art,” Liz Evans wrote for HuffPost. “But when you get dialogue, engaged dialogue, with a teen, it’s never disappointing. It’s guaranteed to be interesting; sometimes it can be very enlightening, and it’s always worth the work. Always.”

-Matthew Bangerter

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