Teenage Dead End Conversations - 5 Shocking Ways to Combat It.

how to get teens to talk

Five shocking ways to combat the teenage dead end conversation. We have all experienced these dreadful teen responses to what we thought were more than appropriate questions: Fine. Good. I don’t know. And, then there are the exasperated sighs or silent shrugs or worse, challenging glares. For most, this can feel like the conversation has reached a dead-end. I frequently wonder how it is possible that in just over a decade of living, tweens and teens have mastered the art of ending conversations while making you feel like a burden. For the more persistent, you may attempt a second round of conversation if you dare and ask, “What do you mean you don’t know?”  This usually triggers the disgusted eye roll.  

You Are Not Alone

What’s so mystical about turning thirteen that sparks dead end conversations?  In some cases, it feels like a switch being turned on overnight. Is there a way to turn it back off as quickly?  Or even better, could it possibly be disabled before it even tries to switch?  I know I’m not alone when I talk about teens and their inability to engage in the art of conversation.

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First of all, hear me say, try not to take it personally, it IS developmentally appropriate for teens to pull away at this age.  It’s their way of exploring independence – think of it as a second toddlerhoood but with less parental patience because you think they should know better.  But like most new explorers, there are many moments of uncertainty for the tween and teen.  It’s during these moments that their internal conflicts trigger default responses such as ‘good’ or ‘fine’.  While it may feel like the opposite, it is during these hazardous years that our kids need adults the most. 

Revealing the Secret

So, what are some of the secrets behind ending the dead-end conversation while actually helping your tween or teen?  One way is to ask specific questions that help their brains to quickly sift through millions of thoughts, ideas and emotions to arrive at a specific reply.  Without specificity, the brain aimlessly searches without luck, thus prompting the dreaded, “It’s fine.”


Another strategy may take you by surprise.  In fact, you might even feel uncomfortable doing it or think it seems counterproductive as it may be considered disrespectful and anti-social in Western culture.  Whatever you do – do not make direct eye contact.  According to one study, direct eye contact may cause teens to experience some level of anxiety or create a sense of pressure having to immediately have a parent worthy reply.  While this does not mean an end to dinner time conversation – you will likely get better responses when using these 5 alternate activities that organically do not require direct eye contact.  I call them the 5 W’s.


Walking side-by-side naturally draws your focus ahead. Consider establishing new routines that include taking walks with your family. As walking is so widely popular now, it hopefully won’t seem ‘uncool’ to do.  If it’s a specific child you feel a need to connect with or with whom you are concerned about, then go with just that child. A great part of walking is that you get to control the amount of time spent together.  If it’s just to chat, the walk can be a quick stroll around the block.  If you have a more serious concern requiring a much more in-depth conversation, set a goal to walk to a coffee shop several miles away. 


Watching T.V. together can also be an opportunity to chat with your teen. With the invention of streaming and binge watching, often on personal devices, the opportunity to comment or chat during ‘commercial breaks’ are becoming a thing of the past.  So this idea is focused on good ol’ fashioned sitcom viewing.  Watching a sitcom with your teen first establishes a common interest to discuss; the show and the characters – often family members themselves. The commercial breaks organically provide time to chat. With a little planning, you can select a certain sitcom which you can use as a springboard into a specific conversation with a starter such as, “What would you tell a friend if that ever happened to them?” While also nice to do with a tween/teen who is willing to dedicate 90 to 120 minutes with you, watching a full length feature film may not provide the right timing to engage in a productive conversation. 


Waiting is unavoidable these days.  Whether you are waiting in line to check out or waiting for your turn to ride a roller coaster, these boring moments in life can be just the right atmosphere to engage in a dialogue.  The longer the line and the more boring it gets is a great opportunity to engage in a conversation. Again, the most common position to be in while waiting is generally shoulder-to-shoulder facing forward so the eye contact is reduced and the snail pace needed to keep all attendees looking forward is ideal to ignite a conversation.


Hobbies are a great way to escape the stresses of daily life. Find a common hobby that you and your tween or teen can enjoy doing together.  Perhaps it is putting puzzles together, doing woodworking, exercising, or playing music. Hobbies can provide the perfect low-stress atmosphere to chat just about anything with your teen.  What do many teens like to do the most? Play video games. So the next time your teen is playing a video game, don’t say, ‘put that away’, instead plop yourself next to them and play alongside. 

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For a lack of a better word and to satisfy my fondness for alliteration, wheeling is the closest word I could think of that is somewhat related to driving that begins with the letter W.  Personally, I have found driving to be the fan favorite among teens – and we all know We. Spend. A. Great. Deal. of Time. With. Our. Teens. In. The. Car.  Recently, without any prompting from me, my teen initiated a conversation with me while driving to practice (of course it had to be while my favorite song was playing on the radio but I would never miss that opportunity to engage). So whether it is driving to school, practices or that far far away game that takes over an hour to get to, take these moments and talk.


For more information, check out an article in Parents magazines titled: Small Talk: How to Get Your Kid to Chat About Her Day.

Family Value

While communication was identified as my family value this time, add a comment what may have been your family value? Describe it with your family and place it on your Family Values Roadmap worksheet, downloadable as a free PDF for free when you sign-up on ALL DADS ON DECK. I hope you share my story with a friend and ask them their family value connection!


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