Why Am I Tongue Tied When It Comes To Talking To Teens?

08/05/2011 21:10 | Updated 22 May 2015
Why am I tongue tied when it comes to talking to teens?jupiterimages

It's rare that I'm stuck for something to say: I can blether for Britain. I'm the person they put next to the awkward, monosyllabic uncle at weddings. I even talk to myself.

But there's one situation in which I am truly lost for words: when I have to make conversation with my son's teenage friends.

In an instant my social skills desert me as I cast around desperately for some common ground. The weather is, of course, out of the question. I know nothing about sport and can hardly talk about last night's match when I don't even know there was one. And if I try to be groovy and venture into teen-territory ("So, what do you think of Tinie Tempah's new single?"), I'm sure to reveal myself as the tragic, middle-aged loser I really am.

There's no point taking tips from the conversations that youngsters have with each other, either. Their chat, punctuated with squeals and giggles (the girls) or words I have never heard of (the boys) is utterly impenetrable and certainly nothing that I could begin to emulate.

So I decide to ask some real, live youngsters what they would like their elders and betters to say to them. 14-year-old Rhian answers are surprising.

"You don't have to say anything", she says. "In fact, I'd rather you kept quiet". This isn't entirely helpful, but I guess it's reassuring to know that silence can be golden.

When pressed, though, Rhian comes up with some acceptable phrases.

"You could flatter me," she goes on. "Tell me I'm looking gorgeous. I'd like adults to say that".

This is great news, as most teenage girls – including Rhian herself - really are gorgeous, and remarking on this fact is no effort. So much for the girls, then, but telling a teenage boy how hot he's looking might come across as a bit, well, cougarish.

The consensus amongst the boys I speak to is that certain things are off limits. So, unsurprisingly, it's a no to, "How you've grown". Equally unappealing is, "How's school?"

As Ed, 16, points out, if you've just got 'D's in all your mocks, you probably don't want to share.

The boys are harder to draw out when it comes to what we should say to them. Ed, though, has some words of wisdom.

"Just forget that we're children", he says. "What would you say to another adult if you were talking to them? Just say that."

He's right, of course. If you're chatting to another adult, the chances are that once you've got past the weather you'll start trying to get to know them as people. You won't comment on their size, and you won't ask how their latest review at work went; you'll chitchat about their life more generally.

Armed with this knowledge, talking to teens will be a bit of a breeze. I won't even have to mention Tinie Tempah's new single. Oh, and since I can't talk to my son's friends about it, perhaps you'd like to know that it's out this week and it's actually rather good.


• Remember that most teenagers aren't nearly as intimidating as they look.

• Talk to them like adults. Don't use a different voice or use different language just because they're younger than you.

• Take a genuine interest in them – so long as it's not to do with their height or their exam results.


• Try to impress them with how cool you are. The harder you try the more desperate you will appear.

• Reminisce about your own teenage years: you might as well be talking about what you did in the war.

• Ask them whether they're cold without a coat on or want to borrow your umbrella.


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