Are You and Your Kids Having “Nonversations”?

How do conversations go with your teenager? If you’re like many dads, usually all you can get out of him is a one-word answer or even just a grunt — and this can happen with younger kids as well. Why is it so hard?

In a recent article for CNN, Vanessa Van Petten coined a term for these one-sided efforts: “nonversations.” Talking with kids can be hard work, and Van Petten identifies some common problems:

  • Kids feel badgered or nagged instead of seeing their parents as genuinely interested.
  • Kids are too tied up in electronic devices, which leave little time and attention for Mom and Dad.
  • Parents and kids both want to build better lines of communication, but don’t know where to start.

If you have similar challenges with your children, here are some positive ideas from the article mentioned above and some insights from our friends at the Center for Parent/Youth Understanding:

Be flexible in regard to the timing and location. Sometimes our teens aren’t ready to talk when we are. Maybe a child is quiet before or after a game or competition, and more willing to talk on weekends or when other responsibilities are done. Maybe your teen is more prepared to open up late at night or right after school. But if you’re trying to talk when your child isn’t ready, she’ll probably feel hassled. Also, it might help if you get away from home distractions and go to the smoothie shop or out in nature somewhere.

Set limits on media and portable electronics. Draw boundaries around certain times, activities or areas of the house where technology is not welcome. And do what you can to make those times engaging and fun.

Ask better questions. Re-think questions that require one-word answers, like “How was your day?” Instead, try something like, “Tell me the best [strangest / funniest] thing that happened today,” or have regular routines during dinner where each family member rates their day and explains why they gave it that rating.

What additional ideas do you have for opening up lines of communication?


  • Tune into your child’s interests. It may be hard to care about the latest fad or music group, but your efforts to understand him and his world will speak volumes.
  • Ask your child if there are certain situations or times of the day when she feels more comfortable talking.
  • Pay careful attention to other signals you’re sending — like your body posture, tone and volume of your voice, gestures and facial expressions. Those make up about 93% of what you communicate.
  • In a tense discussion, define terms clearly. It’s easy to exaggerate, and words like “unfair,” “crazy,” “always” and “never” are often misunderstood and can escalate emotions.
  • Would your relationship with your child benefit from a renewed commitment to the “7 to 1” rule — where you strive to make 7 positive comments for every 1 negative or critical remark?

The Five Love Languages of Teenagers by Gary ChapmanRecommended Resources:
The Five Love Languages of Teenagers by Gary Chapman
The Five Love Languages of Children by Gary Chapman
The Art of Talking with Your Teenager by Paul Swets

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