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6 great dinner conversation starters for your teen

Updated: Aug 3, 2020

Tired of the old “how are you doing?” and “how was school?” Try these conversation starters at dinner with your teen.

Did you know having regular family meals and good dinner conversations reduce your teen’s likelihood to engage in high-risk behaviors such as substance use, school problems, and self harm? Having regular family meals leads to more connectedness through good conversations and earlier detection when something is off track.

That said, good dinner conversations are easier said than done. By dinnertime, everyone has trudged through a long day’s worth of school, work, and socializing. You may feel completely unable to carry another conversation, especially with a teen whose vocabulary seems to be limited to three words: “Yeah”, “Nope”, “Dunno”. You’re not alone. 63% of parents surveyed in a study before COVID-19 reported feeling burnt out from their parenting duties. With the novel coronavirus affecting our daily lives, Americans, especially American parents, are reporting higher levels of stress than previous years.

Break away from the usual “How was school?” questions that your teens have learned to tune out with these fun suggestions:

Light-hearted starters

1. Rose, bud, thorn?

This is a specific yet open-ended way to ask “What were you up to today?” A rose describes something good that happened, a bud describes something that one looks forward to, and a thorn describes something not so positive that’s on their mind. Sometimes, questions that are too general (like “How was your day?”) doesn’t prompt discussion as easily as more targeted questions. Have everyone around the dinner table share their rose, bud, and thorn to check-in with each other. Having everyone participate helps your teens feel the sharing is equal, and plus, they often genuinely take interest in your experiences!

2. After you share a thorn in your day, ask your teen for some advice on how they would approach your situation.

Not only will you get different perspectives on how to approach your thorny situation by practicing vulnerability in this safe way, you’re letting your teen know that you respect their opinions.

Hearty main course

3. Dust off your old photo books, dig into your memory, and share some personal photographs with your teen.

Teens are generally curious about their parents’ past. In a survey that asked teens what they wanted to talk to their parents about, the top theme centered around the family. Around 43% of teens surveyed were curious about topics like “getting to know my parent” and “family history.” But, many families do not intentionally dig deep into this area of fruitful conversation, as most parent-teen conversations focus on the teen. Personal photographs are excellent triggers for your memory, and they also can also help your teen visualize your past.

4. Share your personal timeline from way back when, and get ready for questions!

This is another way for your teen to learn more about you and your personal history. Give your teen a glimpse into your own teenage years, and describe the challenges you faced during your transition to adulthood. Even if your teen isn’t as willing to share with you, you can still work towards a home environment that encourages this exchange of stories by sharing yourself.

5. Share a story about your own parents, and perhaps your teen may have some more questions about their own grandparents.

Sharing a story first is a great way to build up momentum in a conversation, as it relieves pressure off from your teens’ shoulders to contribute themselves. Hopefully, they may learn to initiate in the future. Also, sharing about your parents can explain to your teen where your parenting values come from and perhaps how parenting has changed generationally in your experience. It may also inspire questions in your teen to learn more about their family history.

Room for dessert?

6. After dinner, ask your teen to help you bake some delicious desserts!

Sometimes, conversations during shared activities are the most natural and fun! Doing something together creates shared meaning, as you’re pursuing a goal (however tasty!) together. This contributes to greater stability in your parent-teen relationship.

We would love to hear from you about how your dinnertime conversations go! Cherish is also offering free resources (from coaching to curated parent community groups!) for parents with teens throughout COVID-19. If you're interested in a personal parenting coach with Cherish, please sign up here! Please keep in touch!

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