Beyond Small Talk

How to Talk to a Teenager

Don’t ask about school or the future, for one thing

Zachary Maxwell
Published in
3 min readNov 21, 2019
Illustration: Heeje Min Heo

This story is part of How to Talk to Anyone, Forge’s guide to moving past the chitchat and truly connecting.

AsAs a senior in high school, I can tell you that it is hard to talk to teenagers. We’re moody, acne-ridden, hormonal messes who spend more time in front of a screen than interacting with other people.

But you know what? It’s kinda hard to talk to you, too. For one thing, you adults keep asking us the same questions! (School is fine, thanks. Yes, applying to college is stressful.)

The holidays are upon us, and I’m here to warn you: You may find yourself having to converse with one of us. If you do it right, you (and they) might even enjoy it. Here are a few pointers.

Feel out the situation

With teenagers, you never really know what you’re going to get. So the best thing to do when confronted with a teenager is to feel out what kind of mood they’re in and how receptive they are to chatting.

If they seem to be in a cheerful mood, that’s great. Approach them. If they don’t seem to want to talk, are pointedly hunched over a phone, or are actively avoiding proximity or eye contact with you, maybe don’t.

Start with easy topics

Depending on the person, you probably have some areas of interest in common with your teenage conversation partner. Try to find one the teenager can speak confidently about, ideally one they’re enthusiastic about.

Television shows or movies are a good place to start: Did you see the Charlie’s Angels remake? What shows are you watching right now? If you find a show or film that you both saw — and either loved or hated — that’s great conversational fodder. Music, comic books, video games, and pop culture are also good bets.

Look for cues as to what the teen is into based on their age, personal style, and conversation. For example, I consider myself a geek, and the crowd I hang out with are fellow members of the geekdom. On a recent car ride, my dad engaged my friend and me in a fun debate about who would win in a fight: Iron Man or Batman.



Zachary Maxwell
Writer for

Zachary Maxwell is a filmmaker and high school senior attending public school in New York City