3 Ways to Connect with Your Daughter Through Conversation

By Dr. Beth Creswell Wilson '96

The teen years are often when young people start to be more hesitant to open up with the adults in their lives. This can be tricky with our girls—sometimes they are very verbal with us even as they resist opening up in ways that allow us to fully support them. They may share exciting news or vent about a disappointment while leaving out much of what they think and feel. I recently ran across three great suggestions from psychologist Lisa Damour, PhD, whose work is reliably both well-researched and practical. They resonated with me both as an educator and as a mom, so I thought I’d share them with you this week.

1. Use focused questions that prompt your teen toward a specific topic.
At the simplest level, instead of “How was school today?” try “What happened at school?” Even better, “What did you do in health club?” More specific variations might be something like “What was the funniest thing that happened today?” or “Are you finding this chapter in geometry easier or harder than the last chapter?” These more concrete ideas and specific details work better as an invitation for sharing than broad questions—they help her sift through the million little things that happened today and give her somewhere to start the sharing.

2. Connect with teens on their own terms.
For example, some teens may be more likely to open up when they aren’t looking their adult in the eye—even with a highly trusted adult. For those girls, a car ride may be a great opportunity to connect. For others, knowing there’s a time limit on the conversation makes a conversation feel more manageable, so they are more likely to open up a few minutes before bed or before leaving for school. Dr. Damour suggests that we work with those comfort levels instead of fighting them in order to build opportunities for connection.

3. Be present for our teens without an agenda, in either sense of the word.
Teens today are busy, have many scheduled activities, and tend to occupy themselves digitally when they aren’t. Creating times when none of those agenda items occur may allow the space and reflection time that lead a teen to share her thoughts. In another sense of the word, teens can tell when an adult has an agenda—when seemingly innocuous questions or comments are really leading to an end goal. When we adults set those goals aside, teens may be encouraged to open up.

If you’re interested in more on this topic, you can hear Dr. Damour discuss these ideas in a video or read her comments on tricker aspects of talking with teens in this New York Times article

I absolutely love working with our teen girls at school—the ways they observe and reflect on their world as they discover and create who they want to be is just incredible. I know that GPS parents and families feel the same. That doesn’t negate the fact that raising young people, and especially young women, in 2023 is complex and challenging! I appreciate the ways our GPS families continually partner with us to support these girls. We are in it with you, and I’m so proud of who these young women are becoming.