Teen talk: 50 ways to get your teenagers to open up

No one said raising teenagers was easy, but knowing how to start them chatting can help you get on their page, according to a new book.

Getting teenagers to talk is notoriously difficult for parents and carers.

If you can elicit more than a grunt or a “fine”, you’re doing better than some.

A new book, 50 Questions to ask your teens, by Sydney teacher and author Daisy Turnbull aims to help with 50 timely, relevant, and thought-provoking questions to get families talking.

The book covers the gamut of adolescent issues and recognises the impact of Covid-19.

Daisy wrote 50 Questions to start conversations, and provide information and perspective for parents, carers, and other adults with teenagers in their lives so they can foster ongoing connections.

She says it’s more vital than ever to encourage teens to share as we all deal with “toxic stress” generated during the pandemic.

“It’s important to start the conversation with an open question and when you’re both relaxed,” she says.

“It’s about having more conversations and connecting with teens.”

Why you and your teen need to chat

Growing up, Daisy had a good relationship with her parents, former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and his wife Lucy, a businesswoman and former Sydney Lord Mayor.

“I’ve always had great conversations with my parents,” she says.

“We’ve always been good chatters.”

As a teacher and counsellor, Daisy knows this isn’t always easy.

She says parents and carers should not ask judgmental “why” questions or underestimate a teen’s political interest – many are passionate about issues like climate change.

“I think climate change has really woken them up to the importance of being active,” she says.

“It’s a good thing that they’re getting involved.

“They’re the hope for the future.”

Covid-19 and all its challenges, such as online learning and reduced in-person socialising, has further complicated things and impacted the motivation and mental health of some.

For this reason, Daisy says it’s more important than ever for the generations to connect.

Tough conversations worth having

The need to discuss issues like consent and pornography also motivated Daisy, who says the more that young people understand them the better.

Some need time to respond, as these and other topics can be challenging.

But if a teen continually withdraws, won’t speak to another trusted adult and you are worried about their mental health, you may need to talk to your GP.

“I think we’re going to see teens need more support for the next few years,” Daisy says, adding that the mid to long-term mental health impact is yet to be seen.

Among other things, 50 questions covers sex, sexuality, consent, pornography, feelings, peer and intimate relationships, boundaries, financial literacy, conflict, resilience, trust, technology, misinformation, values, strengths and community.

Wondering how to get the conversation rolling? Here are five questions to get you started:

Who are you online?

Who you are online is who you are, according to Daisy.

She says to be an authentic human, you cannot act one way on one medium and another way on another.

Who you are should be the same wherever you are, and reflect the real you.

Some tips: Call your grandma to check if what you’re about to post shocks her; imagine what you’ve written on the cover of a newspaper; test it out on friends; keep your group chats clean or incredibly trusting; agree to a semi-regular wipe of group chat content.

How do you handle disappointment?

Being disappointed about something, be it big or small, is an experience you want your teen to have when they are still at home surrounded by loving parents.

Resist the urge to step in and shield your teen from it, says Daisy.

The most important part of dealing with disappointment is sitting with it.

Disappointment is an experience we all encounter at some point – many points – but it is one we grow through as well.

How heteronormative are you?

What to say to your teen about LGBTQIA+ people and issues is really very simple, says Daisy.

Tell them you love them, tell them that attraction and love can be between anyone, tell them that the kid being bullied is not the only one seeing and being hurt by it.

Tell them that if they are being bullied you will fight for them, in their corner, right beside them.

Tell them they are loved.

How can I help you to be a woman who knows her worth?

Daisy encourages parents to “de-gender” chores and the way you talk in your home.

Reject stereotypes in your family.

As parents, we need to actively have the conversation about women and work and feminism and support our daughters for who they are when society tells them they’re expected to be something vastly different.

How can I help you to be a man of compassion and respect?

Let them have an emotional side … and nurture it, says Daisy.

Do not judge it.

Do not call them a “wuss” or imply that they are in any way “acting like a girl”.

Role model equality in the home, and make sure your home has role models of both genders.

Make it very clear that disrespectful language will not be accepted in your home.

50 Questions to Ask Your Teens: A Guide to Fostering Communication and Confidence in Young Adults ($24.99) is published by Hardie Grant.

Written by Cheryl Critchley.