conversation with teens

3 Conversations to Have With Your Teens Before They Grow Up

Recently, one of my daughters mentioned offhandedly how she and her friends had a group chat in which they’d simply exchange answers on their homework. “You mean you’re cheating?” I asked (though I said it more like a statement). “Dad, everyone does it,” she said. So we had a conversation about integrity. I’d love to say everything changed at that moment. It didn’t. And she made it clear that she wasn’t feeling our conversation. But it laid the foundation for additional conversations we continue to have about who she wants to be, whether she gets caught or not.

Making conversation with teens can be challenging in general, but especially when the stakes are high. The more important the conversation, the harder it can be and the more resistance you’ll probably face. Despite that, there are some things you need to discuss with your teenagers regardless of whether they want to discuss them. Here are 3 conversations you need to have with your teens before they grow up.

1. A Conversation About Purpose

Many of our teens lack a sense of purpose or meaning. I don’t believe everyone has one singular thing they are here on earth to do. But I do believe everyone’s life has meaning, that there’s a bigger story we’re part of—and we each get to play a key role in that story. It’s critical that we, as parents, begin helping our teens realize this and begin to explore their places in the bigger story. Here are some questions you can ask if you need help getting purpose-related conversations with teens going:

What are you passionate about? What are you particularly good at? Do needs exist in our community that you might be able to help meet?

2. A Conversation About Work

Many of us teach our kids that work is simply what you do to make money. Work, we say, is a necessary evil. But what if we invited our teens to see all work, even the most basic job—working a cash register at check out, bussing tables, mowing lawns—as an opportunity to add something good and beautiful to the world? What if we taught them that work done well is worth doing? As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “No work is insignificant. All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.” Here are some questions you can use in conversations with teens about work:

What is the difference between a good job and a bad job? Are there any jobs that don’t matter? What will you do if you have to work a job you don’t like for a period of time?

3. A Conversation About Success

How do you define success? Is success primarily about money? Is it about happiness? Maybe it’s about doing what you love? The problem with so many of our definitions of success is we either are willing to settle for things that won’t ultimately satisfy us or we are aiming for things that are outside our control. Instead, what if we taught our teens that success is about becoming the best versions of themselves? We can help our teens focus on what they actually can control, like living with integrity, love, courage, and contentment. Of course, if we’re going to say it, we have to model it as well. Here are some questions to use as you have conversations with teens about success:

What adults do you respect and why? When you’re older, what words would you like people to use to describe you? What would make you proud as you look back on your life?

Sound off: What are other important conversations to have with teens?

Huddle up with your kids and ask, “What does it mean to be successful?”