Spending quality time with your teen can be difficult due to teens’ busy schedules.  Meal times, however, can be a perfect time to connect with your teen. Today’s post is full of tips for holding enjoyable dinner conversations with your teen. Bon appetit!

How many times have you sat down to dinner and asked your teen the question, “How was your day?” and heard the familiar refrain, “Fine?” Many parents either say or think, “What do you mean fine?” while their youth is thinking “Move on, I SO do not want to talk about my school day” or “Here we go again.”

Parents can avoid these potentially awkward conversations by creating an atmosphere for healthy and fun table talk with their pre-teen and teen, which can lead to greater satisfaction in each other’s company, better digestion, and will increase the likelihood that everyone will want to come back for second helpings.

Here are some simple guidelines for table conversations:

  • Agree to some table talk rules.  For example,
    • Agree to listen while one person speaks.
    • Take turns talking
    • Stay away from discipline and negative topics
    • Use appropriate language
    • Be respectful of other people’s opinions
    • Be comfortable with silence.
  • Avoid questions with “yes” or “no” answers. Questions that begin with “did you,” or “have you,” or “will you” are all closed questions that quickly end discussion because the question can be answered with a “yes” or “no.”  Try using the word “how” or “what” to begin questions.  “How did you figure that out?” encourages your child to provide more detail than “Did you figure that out?” Ask more specific and directed rather than general questions, such as “What happened in your Spanish class today?” instead of “How did your day go?”
  • Turn off the screens (TVs, phones, iPads) in all their forms during shared mealtime. It is difficult to have a conversation with someone who is texting or reading email or when the television is on and distracting us.  The same thing applies to the radio.  Music, news, ball games, and many others things can be uninvited guests at the table.
  • Add spice to your conversations by choosing topics that invite imaginative and/or thoughtful responses.  The Family Dinner Project in Massachusetts has created a wide range of conversation openers from simple to complex.  You can have fun as a family choosing topics and creating a space, such as a bowl or decorated jar, for the conversation starters to reside.

Research tells us that the efforts we put into creating shared family meals can have wonderful payoffs for our children and ourselves.  Families that share a meal at least three times per week can strengthen the bonds between their growing children and themselves.  When rich and tasty conversations are added to the meal environment, children and teens are able to show off their developing reasoning skills, they can flex their brain muscles in a safe and enjoyable atmosphere, and they can practice civility in the context of their families in preparation for adult roles that require table conversations in professional roles.

I hope you will start savoring your table talk as much as you do the food and the company!

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Article by Drew

DrewBetzPortrait2013Drew Betz, M.S. CFLE, is a Regional Extension Specialist and County Director for Washington State University Extension.  She is an affiliate faculty in the WSU Human Development Department.  She is based at the WSU Whatcom County Extension office in Bellingham, Washington.  You can read about her programs at Http://whatcom.wsu.edu/fch.   Some of Drew’s warmest memories of family life are Sunday lunches with her grandparents eating homemade clam chowder and huckleberry muffins.