Monday, 24 October 2011

Talking with teens

Somewhere, quite a while ago, I read an article about talking with teens. This one wasn't about the dreaded sex topic, or even about how to get your teens to talk to you about their life. It was simply from a teen's point of view about how they feel when they (have to) communicate with adults. The one point that stuck with me all these years was to make sure that you talk to them about real things. Don't assume all they can converse about is boys/girls, clothes, sports, and teen drama. Sure, a lot of that is relevant to their lives and they will want to talk sometimes on these topics. But the teens interviewed said that many times adults never really gave them any credit that they were interested about things bigger than these.

Saturday night I had an opportunity to drive my friend's 12 year old son home from his friend's house (I was in the neighbourhood and offered to help out.) It was going to be about a 20 minute drive, and running through my head was "what on earth are we going to talk about?" Now, I'm not a small chat person to begin with. When I have to drive someone home that I don't know well, I generally just sit in silence, completely unable to gather up any conversation ideas. That's why I insist on bringing James to any event I have to go to, because he jumps in and so easily starts conversations with anyone.

So as we climbed into the car, I tried to fill my head with conversation starters and topics, praying that we wouldn't just have to endure 20 minutes of silence, because that is a long time and would probably be unbearably uncomfortable.

I started with sports, knowing that he played on a team. Then I moved to the hike he had been on that day. But honestly, these were both those kinds of teen topics that kids generally get stereotyped into.

But then somehow there was a shift in the conversation, and it just took off. We talked about the Italian Renaissance art movement, the characteristics of those paintings, the difference between Da Vinci painting the Mona Lisa and those who could paint identical reproductions, the size of art canvases and how to conceive mural size paintings. Then we talked about writing, and how authors create and write a series, and what about a book means it merits a sequel, and then what about a sequel means it merits a third in the series. We talked about living abroad and learning new languages, and the difficulties of fitting into a new culture.

The 20 minutes flew by, and I found myself pulling into his driveway. He grabbed his knapsack and hopped out, and that was the end. As I drove away, I was amazed. I never would have thought that I would not only have found interesting topics of conversation with a 12 year old, but that I would engage with such enthusiasm and interest with someone who hadn't even reached teenagehood yet. It was neat to finally see the theory of "talking with teens" in action, and to see just how important it is to let these youth express thoughts that go deeper than last night's hockey game or what outfit to wear to school.

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