You’d like to think that you have good communication with your child. You take an avid interest in their hobbies, make an effort to know (and like) their friends, and support their dreams. But are you having those really important conversations, the ones where you learn something about your child — and in turn, they get to know the real you, too? If you’re not sure where to start, these questions for teens can create a jumping off point for those talks that truly matter.
When your child was little, you might have spent hours on end talking about butts and boogers, cartoons and creepy crawly critters — all of the silly (and gross) stuff that toddlers love to talk about. But when puberty makes its presence known in your home, you might feel a little more reticent to have those more cringeworthy conversations with your child. In order to make the chat meaningful, though, you’re going to have to do more listening than talking, according to Danielle Bujnak, an early childhood educator and parenting expert. “What that makes these conversations hard is that you have to let go of your need to be right, and your need to control how they think and what they do, which can feel scary and uncomfortable,” she says.
So how do you have a successful discussion with your teen? By doing a whole lot of listening. “When you discuss an important topic with your teenager, after you tell them whatever you think they need to know about it, pause for a moment and reset your own mind and body to a state of calm and openness, and ask them: ‘What do you think?’” offers Bujnak. Then sit quietly until your child answers, without interrupting, contradicting, or even agreeing with them. Without infusing your own answers and opinions, your kid will feel like their voice is truly being heard.
Ready to talk with your teen? These are the questions to ask (and no, they’re not all about sex).
“Have you thought about hurting yourself?”
Now more than ever, life is tricky — for everyone. While you might find that you’re going through your own troubles, your teen is, too. Thing is, it’s critical for parents to understand and assess their teen’s mental health. But if you’re struggling to say the words, you might want to ask about a friend first, Leigh Ellen Magness, a child therapist and parent coach tells Romper.
“Often it is easier to bring up someone else's potential thoughts about self-injury,” says Magness. “It could be a fictional character on a show, someone in the media, or a peer who had a suicide attempt, but tying it to a third party may help your teen ease into the conversation.” Asking about self-harm (such as cutting, abusing prescription medication or alcohol, huffing chemicals, or punishing themselves by limiting food or exercise excessively), might be one of those topics for teens that is tough to talk about, but it shows that you want to help and support your child.
“What dirty jokes do people tell at your school?”
Sure, it might seem like a silly question, but there’s a very good reason for asking it. Not only does it reveal what type of content your kid is being exposed to, it also gives you a good gauge on what they view as illicit or “naughty,” and if they even understand the content of the joke. “Additionally, it allows parents to show their teens that they know more than the teen might give them credit for, and that they can talk with their parents about difficult topics,” says Magness. “It lets the parents to correct any misinformation that the teen has about consent, sexuality, gender roles, or other topics that may feel awkward to bring up.”
“Have you thought about a job?”
You might find that there are two types of teens: those who can’t wait to snag their first retail gig, and those who would rather, um, not. But it’s good to know if your child has given any thought to employment, either now or for the future. “This question taps into the child's work ethics, their level of motivation and their level of independence,” Peters explains. It can give you some pretty good insight into how much your child wants to rely on you, both emotionally and economically. If your kiddo isn’t crazy about getting a job right now, find out what could interest them as a career goal.
“Have you thought about where you want to go to college? Do you want to go to college?”
When your child is toddling around, you can barely stand the thought of them one day leaving home. But come high school, your focus is probably going to be fixated on college tours and potential careers. “This question can help a parent know how to better support their child on their journey to becoming an independent adult,” says Peters. “It also can shed some light into what they think about higher education.” It can also alleviate some internal pressure that your child might have been feeling, particularly if your child wants to take a gap year — or doesn’t want to go to college at all.
“Are you having sex? Are your friends or classmates?”
You might have a myriad of reasons for wanting to ask this question. But whatever the impetus, it’s an important to ask, says Peters. “It taps into the child's morals and values, since some children may choose to wait until they are married whereas others may choose to be more exploratory or creative in their connection with others,” she says. Additionally, by talking about sex (or, ugh, masturbation), it can reveal how comfortable your kiddo is talking about their body and anatomy with you, or clarify any questions they might have. It also gives your child an opportunity to affirm that they are being safe in terms of birth control, and that they are not being abused in any way.
“Have you vaped or done any other drugs/drinking? (Are your friends doing it?)”
Peer pressure is a very real thing, especially in the upper school grades. Although your kid might not come right out and tell you that they’re packing a vape pen, by asking the question, you’re opening up the space for this type of conversation. And while drugs might come in as one of the least liked questions you’ll ever ask your kid, their answers can disclose so much. “This question can reveal a child's level of self-respect,” says Peters. “It can also give some insight into how they respond to peer pressure.” Unless you have good reason to ask, you should approach this convo in a kind and nonjudgmental way, Kids’ Health advises. That way, you’re more likely to build trust — and get the truth.
Talking with your teen goes way beyond asking, “How was school today?” or “Did you clean up your room?” By taking the time to really ask the harder-hitting questions, you’ll strengthen your bond with your child, and learn so much more about your them — and ultimately yourself.