Dinner conversation starters to get teens talking at family meals
As a high school teacher, I know how hard it is to engage a room full of teenagers in conversation. I’ve received stilted “yes” and “no” responses and been met with blank stares and blinking eyes. Even worse, there’s always the risk that they won’t register anything I say, their heads buried deep in their devices. I can empathize with parents who give up on trying to start a conversation at family dinner. But I also know that connecting and engaging with teens is too crucial not to make the effort. And once you engage them in some good conversation, they are going to have a lot to say.
I’ve come up with five conversation starters that my students absolutely love. These openers make them more comfortable with speaking up in class— and once they’re willing to talk, it’s easier for me to get them engaged in our classroom content.
Dinner conversation starters
I got the idea for drafts from the Bobby Bones Show. The rules are simple:
- A topic is established
- Everyone gets three rounds to draft their team
- Once an item has been taken by another family member, that item is off the table
- The draft is a snake draft, meaning that the first person to draft will go last in the second round, and the last person in the first round will go first in the second round
- After the draft, each person votes on their favorite team (without voting for their own team).
Here is an example: The topic for this dinner conversation starter is favorite desserts. Mom is up first and she picks brownies. Dad is up second and he picks cherry cheesecake. Sister is up third and she picks cookie dough ice cream. Brother is up fourth and he picks doughnuts. Round 1 over. Now, Brother goes first.
Some popular topics with my students have been:
- the best fast food restaurants
- the best breakfast cereals
- the best smells (or sounds)
- the most American things
- the best Michaels (Michael Scott, Mike’s Hard Lemonade, and Michael’s Craft Store all count! Be creative!)
Teens LOVE quizzes. As a teacher, I love them as well. They are a way to learn about the different personalities in your family. In order to do these as a dinner conversation starter, either print one out or designate one person to be the official quiz reader from a device. Have each person take the quiz, compare results, and have conversations about everyone’s results. Some interesting, perspective quizzes to take include:
- Myers-Brigg Personality Test
- Love Language Quiz
- Which Harry Potter House Are You?
- Career Inventories
- fun Buzzfeed quizzes
3. Trivia and competition games
Teens also enjoy friendly games of trivia and competition. I introduced a group of students to Sporcle, my favorite online site for trivia quizzes, and they actually asked—on their own—if they could play the geography trivia game again the next time we had class. I was shocked. And pleased.
For dinner conversation starters, you can print off some questions or pull out a stack of cards from your Trivial Pursuit game. Make your own rules for how many correct answers it takes to win and offer a prize to the winner.
4. Would you rather
I never tire of playing Would You Rather. They’re often hilarious and usually thought-provoking, which means teens love them, too.
You can find premade lists Would You Rather questions on the internet or make up your own for your dinner conversation starters. Allow time for each family member to expand on their responses about why they chose their answers. Hopefully, you’ll gain some insights into your children’s thoughts—and they might learn some things about you, too!
This game is a great warm-up that I use at the beginning of class. Instead of asking “How are you doing?” I ask a more specific question.
“What was a high or best of your weekend? And what was a low or worst of your weekend?”
As a rubber conversation starter, you can adapt this to be the best or worst moments of the day, with everyone taking a turn and expanding on their responses. I’m often surprised at the different types of responses I get just by rephrasing, “How was your day?”
Keep these dinner conversation starters in mind and be prepared for a meal where everyone can’t stop talking. You might be surprised when the phones only come out because your latest Dinnertime Draft would make great TikTok content!
Lauren Barrett was born in New Jersey, grew up in West Virginia, went to college in Pennsylvania, and now lives in North Carolina with her husband, James, and son, Henry. She’s a high school teacher of the Deaf and hard-of-hearing by day, a cross country coach by the afternoon, a writer by her son’s nap times, and a full time mom to an amazing toddler. Find her on Pintrest @LaurenBarrettWrites or Instagram @laurenbarrettwrites.