Trying to talk with adolescents can feel fruitless, but you have a way to reach them that you may not realize.
Meeting kids where their interests lie — rather than asking, forcing or, most ineffectively, begging them to come around to yours — is critical.
Any parent of a young person will tell you that the more you seem needy of your teen’s attention, the less they’re willing to give. This is where pop culture and media become more than lighthearted fun.
They’re your secret weapons.
Having small conversation openers geared up — whether a TikTok video when everyone is too busy to sit down, a podcast for running errands in the car or a TV show for when your child is finally ready to relax with you before bedtime — can help turn little moments of connection into big wins.
A note of caution: You won’t earn any credibility with your teen by asking if your sneakers are “chuegy” or learning all the words to sing along to “Stay” by Justin Bieber and The Kid Laroi. Any good tool can be used to fix things or damage them. Pop culture is no different, so be careful that you’re using this new information to learn more about your kiddo, not make them cringe.
Below are some of my favorites from a variety of media that can help open the door to better talks with your kids. Experience them together and then listen to your child’s reaction.
By stepping into their experiences, you’ll show you’re an understanding and flexible person, building the bonds you need to stay on the same team through adolescence.
Talk about fitting in
I love “The Unicorn,” a family sitcom on Netflix about a widowed father raising two young girls. If you start this series with your family, pay attention to season one, episode two, when the dad catches his daughter riding her bike somewhere off limits.
Her explanation of why she needed to take photos for Instagram is exactly what parents need to understand about the pressure young teens feel. His thoughtful reply is pretty great parenting. This show, and especially this moment, can open up some worthy discussions for your family about social media specifically or the need to feel normal in general.
Talk about middle school
On his podcast “People I (Mostly) Admire,” host Steve Levitt interviews a variety of interesting people. The next time you’re riding in the car together, don’t miss episode 13, “Don’t Try To Change Yourself All at Once.”
Yul Kwon — a son of immigrants, winner of season 13 of “Survivor,” attorney and FBI Academy instructor — discusses his crippling childhood anxiety and how he decided in seventh grade he would try to overcome it by doing one brave thing each day.
You’ll find lots of material hear to talk about with your tween, including what it’s really like in middle school, how to decide what kind of person to be and what it means to be brave.
Talk about anxiety and emotions
On her wildly popular Instagram account haleydrewthis, artist Haley Weaver shares a daily doodle celebrating everyday moments. Often, she addresses her own anxiety and how she copes.
Follow along with your young teen, and you can share your favorites back and forth in your DMs, opening up a bright and colorful way to discuss complex emotions and the importance of self-care.
Talk about social media
Parents raved about the 2020 docudrama “The Social Dilemma,” for its revealing insight into the ways social platforms manipulate their audience. While the message was legitimate, the film gives off major after-school-special vibes, making it less useful in starting rich dialogues with tweens and teens.
The characters are corny and flat, and the stakes a bit too high, which gives kids reason to quickly write off the important messages behind the film.
If you’re looking for a good way to unveil how social platforms manipulate data (and users) behind the scenes, choose “The Great Hack” for your next family movie night.
Talk about sex and puberty
Coming of age shows seem to be popping up everywhere, much to my delight, as early adolescence is ripe with humor, warmth and epiphany.
Mindy Kaling’s Netflix hit, “Never Have I Ever,” stands out as a funny, sensitive and realistic look at the life of a first generation Indian-American high schooler exploring the ideas of dating, popularity, sex and growing up. Parents will find plenty of moments to open discussions about consent, choosing a partner (or not) and safe versus risky behavior.
If this one feels too grown-up for your family, a softer approach would be the show “Love on the Spectrum,” a heartwarming and intelligent series that follows adults with autism as they venture into the dating world. It brings up lots of important topics such as compatibility, loneliness and intimacy but in a way that might feel less personal or embarrassing to your teen.
Talk just for fun
TikTok videos can be a fun way to connect, especially when time is tight. They can also signal to your growing child that you still want to have fun together.
The Parent-Kid challenge is a cute peek into what teens really think about their parents, and the parents in this one do a great job of not freaking out about their teens’ answers. Enjoying moments like this, even when the answers surprise you, is a great way to show your teen that you won’t overreact when they want to talk with you about weightier things.