These are great questions. If only there were easy answers! But since there aren’t, we asked the high school educators on our team—plus some parents of almost-adults—for their top suggestions for how to get your young adult to talk to you about school.
Here’s what we heard:
- Start with a warm-up. Don’t lead with the big stuff. Get your kid warmed up and in the talking mood with an easy question (like, you know, “Who did you have lunch with?”) to kick off the conversation.
- Talk while multi-tasking. We love car rides for talking because a) there’s nothing else to do; and b) there’s no eye contact required. Since car conversations can feel “less serious,” drives can be especially good times to talk about what’s going on at school (and in the rest of their lives, too). If driving isn’t part of your daily life, any other low-key activity will do, like making dinner or washing dishes. Teens and young adults are great at multi-tasking, so pairing conversation with something that offers a distraction for their hands and eyes can be useful.
- Don’t be vague. It’s true with preschoolers, and it’s true with young adults: “How was your day?” is not going to get you any juicy details. If you want to know about academics, ask for specifics: “What are you reading in history these days?” “What’s your next English paper about?” “Can you explain your math homework to me?” They might roll their eyes, but at least the answer won’t be “nothing.”
- Get to know their friends. No, they won’t want you to hang around chatting while they’re socializing. Fair enough. But getting to know their friends is useful because it not only helps you keep tabs on them—it can also serve as a useful barometer for how they’re doing in school. What kinds of classes and activities are their friends involved in? Do their friends seem to encourage your kid to focus on school-related stuff, or draw their attention away from school? Their friends might offer clues for topics you should ask your kid about, too.
- Teens are interesting, so ask about their interests. You might not be interested in the same things, but you might get the conversation flowing if you start by asking them about the stuff that excites them —even if those things take place outside of school.
- Don’t let them off the hook. They won’t always want to talk to you. (And that’s okay.) But if you always let them opt out of conversation, they’ll keep opting out. Hold space for family discussions, and test drive different strategies until you find the ones that work for your household. If they don’t want to talk about their day, try talking about your day: You might inspire them to start chatting. (Or hey, they might be so bored by your life that they start talking out of desperation.)
- And one last thing: Help your kid learn how to ask for help in school when they need it. It’s harder to stay in touch with your child’s teachers when they’re in high school (and certainly college). And in some ways, it isn’t your job to be on top of their academics as much as it used to be. One of the best things you can do is help your kid build the skills to ask for help themselves. If they seem to be struggling, or you have concerns about their next steps, help them figure out their options. Do they have a guidance counselor, dean, or advisor they can reach out to? If they’re struggling in a specific class, their teacher might have ideas for how they can get extra support, do additional projects to make up for poor grades, or otherwise make strides—but they might need to reach out and ask. Resist the temptation to do the asking yourself, but do nudge your kid to speak up when they need a boost.
How to Be a Good Digital Parent Toolkit
The Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI) offers this helpful resource for keeping your kid safe online and being a good digital role model.
National PTA Parents' Guide to Success
The National PTA offers these year-by-year guides to help parents understand what their kids should be working on in school.
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