How to Talk to Teenagers

I work with teenagers, and I like them very much. They get a bad rap, which is unfair. Go talk to a teenager!
  1. Talk to a teenager like a person
    Which, as it turns out, they are. Just another human being, like you are. Start with the assumption that they are pretty much just like you.
  2. Don't expect them to jump in to the conversation right away
    They have learned to be wary of chatty adults, which is smart of them. They are waiting to see what's up with you and what's expected of them. Give them time to warm up. Give them time to think about what they are going to say.
  3. Don't try to impress
    Don't talk about sex, drugs, rock n roll, or crimes. Those things are creepy, lame and/or scary. You will not be impressive with these stories, you will repellant with these stories.
  4. They don't have the secret to What's Cool Now
    Definitely ask them about their interests, just know that you will probably be disappointed if you are expecting them to give you insight into the cutting edge of culture. And then they will be able to tell you're disappointed, and that is a conversation killer.
  5. Interested people are interesting people
    Be a good listener and really pay attention to what they are saying when they do eventually talk. Be interested in who they are as a person.
  6. Don't be judgmental or patronizing
    Other people already have that covered
  7. Tread lightly when it comes to your teenage reminiscing
    Here is what will happen: you will finally get into a successful conversation with a teenager about life, and immediately it will remind you of being a teenager and then you will want to talk about what it was like for you when you were teenager. Keep it short. It will be about as interesting as talking about what your dream was last night, so don't dwell.
  8. Explain what you mean
    This is sort of varsity level, but try to explain your references and the context for what you are saying without being patronizing. It's tough! Try to act like you are speaking to a very respected colleague who happens to be from out of the country. Be genuine when you check in to make sure that they understand the term you just used or the reference you just made.
  9. Be respectful
    A lot of people will complain about teenagers not being respectful to adults, but I have seen many many more instances of adults being disrespectful to teenagers than vice versa. There is an uneven power dynamic between adults and teenagers, recognize that and treat teenagers gently.
  10. Don't comment on their appearance
    Just don't. Maybe a generic, "you look nice" or "I like your shoes", but move on quickly. You pretty much can't win when it comes to talking to teenagers about their appearance. Chances are they already feel self-conscious and you will make it worse by calling attention to their looks. There's also a chance that you will accidentally be super creepy or embarrassing.
  11. Ask them questions that they can answer
    This can be harder than it sounds, not because they aren't perfectly capable of answering many many questions, but because you may not know what those questions are. It's on you to figure that out.
  12. If they're not into something, just move on
    Did you just ask them which Hogwarts house they would be sorted into? And then did they just stare at you and say that they don't really like Harry Potter stuff? That's fine, just drop it and move on to something else. Don't make any big commentary.
  13. The future is scary, approach with caution
    Adults love to ask teenagers about what they want to be when they grow up, or what college they're going to go to, or what they want to major in in college. Some would say don't ask them those questions but I think it's fine, as long as you ask lightly and with great readiness to change the subject it appears to cause anxiety. Because if they do know what they want to say about those things, that's a great conversation. If they don't then drop it immediately.
  14. Still waters run deep
    If they are being quiet it doesn't mean that they're not thinking really smart thoughts. It would behoove you to assume that they have a rich inner life and plenty to say, even if they don't feel like saying it right at that moment.