How To Talk To A Teenager

By Pearl Benjamin | Aug 09, 2018

Making conversation with awkward yet somehow intimidating adolescents is hard. Trust me, I’m one of them, and I know. I sympathize with the grandparents, aunts, and uncles who are struggling this summer as their strange pubescent relatives descend for family visits, so this week I’m going to help you all out with a few tips on how to talk to us.

Many adults seem to get hung up because they think  that teenagers converse and think in a foreign language. Please trust me when I tell you that this is not true. Yes, we may use slang you’ve never heard, and yes, we are slightly more in tune with our technology and all the new cool apps, but this shouldn’t interfere with our conversation. Believe it or not, no teenager is super psyched to start an in-depth conversation about Snapchat, and none of us greet our grandparents with “Yo, G! This reunion is lit!” So don’t be intimidated by our modern minds. We think and talk just like you do.

Another myth about teenagers that can ruin conversations is that we are quickly bored. My generation does seem to have a shocking number of individuals with “resting bitch face,” but  it doesn’t mean we’re bored. We just don’t want to smile all the time. In reality, we are a new and highly advanced league of people-watchers, skilled at soaking in every detail of conversation so that we can analyze our peers. So trust me, if we’re not partaking in the conversation, it doesn’t mean we’re tired of you. Don’t think you need to force us into it by saying, “So, Joseph, what do you want to talk about?” There’s no answer to that question — just a feeling of pure awkwardness and frustration because our people-watching has been interrupted.

Adults don’t seem to understand that teenagers are fully capable of providing input on the same topics that they themselves discuss. Younger teens may need a little background information, but once they’re caught up they’ll probably surprise you with some refreshing perspective. In this day and age, kids are more in tune with current events than ever before, so don’t be afraid to discuss the world with them. They’d rather talk about that than school or friends or extracurricular activities or - god forbid - college.

Unless you take pleasure in watching us squirm and sweat, please stop asking us  about our futures. For most of us, the future is a big, expensive, stressful, black hole. We don’t want to talk about where we want to go to college and what we want “to do.” It’s terrifying, and even the youngest of us feel the pressure to perform for some interview years in the future. It’s like asking a recently-engaged couple, “How many kids are you planning to have?” Just because someone is close to having to make a serious decision doesn’t mean you need to ask about it. It also doesn’t mean you need to turn the discussion into an advice column (ha ha).

Conversations about college always seem to morph into a lengthy “you should” laundry list, and there’s nothing we hate more than that. What you should do is tell us what you liked about your college or your job, instead of telling us which colleges we should visit and how we should apply and what career we should chase. We’re ready to be equals in this conversation.

One thing that I do recognize is tricky is talking to a teenage boy - especially when they’re younger, like my little brother. I’ve noticed that adults either have no idea what to talk to him about and simply give up, or they ask him about the one or two things they know they can understand about him. For my brother, it’s drawing. Believe me, he’s a talented artist and likes to talk about it, but not all the time. What he really wants to talk about is his true passion - video games. I know, it’s scary to even read the word, right? How could someone whose video game knowledge bank holds little more than happy Pac-Man memories possibly connect with a hardened Fortnite veteran? My advice is to focus less on the connection and more on the education. My brother can talk for hours explaining his favorite video games to adults - in fact it seems to delight him even more when they have absolutely no idea what he’s talking about. Usually people like me, who know little about video games, come out of a conversation with him more amused and interested than baffled.

If you’ve been asking your grandkids about their math classes and advising them on their future ambitions thus far, don’t fret - your relatives most likely don’t even notice it because they’re so used to the same kind of conversation. It’s no fault of your own- the adult world has simply decided that that’s the way teenagers should be spoken to. One part of this universally accepted discussion that is unsettling, however, is how adults constantly harp on young people’s beauty or physical appearance. The constant, “She’s so beautiful!” or “He’s so tall!” Needs to stop. Most of it feels like you’re conducting a full body analysis of us, and even the positive comments feel more like “soft-cat calling” from a creepy work associate than compliments. We aren’t actually as self-obsessed as you think, and we’d honestly rather talk about something substantive than hear about how “grown up” we look.

See? It’s not that hard. Just stop worrying about what teenagers want to hear and talk to us like we’re normal people. We don’t just want to talk about ourselves. Believe it or not, we want to listen, and we want to educate. We want a little advice, but not too much. Most of all, we want in conversation what we want in life - to be treated with respect. We’re not that different from you.

Pearl Benjamin is a student at Camden Hills Regional High School.

Comments (2)
Posted by: Richard McKusic, Sr. | Aug 17, 2018 13:21

"We’re not that different from you." Yes you are. You are proving to be more politically astute. :)

Us old-timers are thankful for that.

Posted by: John Alexander | Aug 15, 2018 07:44

Thank you...I will be 72 next birthday and needed that insight.

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