Talking with your teen is like . . .

Family Man



Our 14-year-old son was like a machine gun, firing off topics at his mom and me without aim.

The dinner table is where we come together to discuss our day, but the other night, my wife and I were not sharing ours. If we got in a sentence, the second we took a breath, our son would fire off a few hundred more rounds about what was going on in his world.

“In English class . . . At lunch . . . You should see the new keyboard Apple is releasing. . . .” The kid had no transitions between talking points.

My first thought: He’s officially a true teenager, talking about him, him and only him.

When I asked him to slow down, he replied, “Sorry, I’m Italian—I’m just passionate.”

As his parents, my wife and I needed to do something about this. We couldn’t let him go out into the world believing it was all about him, even though everything he knows makes him think otherwise.

That night, my wife and I discussed whether we’d address the issue. We couldn’t tell him to stop sharing his day with us. We wanted him telling us about life. We wanted him to breathe, though.

“It can’t just be about you,” we finally decided to say to him.

“It can’t?” he asked.

“No,” we said. “You have to let others talk. And that doesn’t mean that when they’re done talking, you jump back in with more about you. You have to ask questions about what they’re talking about. You have to participate in their stories.”

“I do?”


“I guess I’m just passionate about what I’m talking about,” he said. “I’m Italian. We’re passionate, right, Dad?”

Wives are good about pointing out bad things their husbands have passed on to their kids. Never the good stuff.

OK, so she was right—one time I was a little loud and blamed my Italian heritage for being so passionate about whatever it was I was discussing. If you must know, I was explaining the proper way to play bocce ball, which is important.

Back at the dinner table, we talked about how our son could be less selfish in his conversations.

“How about for everything someone says, you ask at least one question?” my wife suggested.

“We can’t make him ask questions like that,” I said.

“I can get more involved in other people’s stories,” our son suggested. “A lot of times I’m not really listening to other people because I’m so Italian and so passionate about what’s going on with me. But I can listen and come up with questions.”

“That’s too forceful,” I said.

“I can do it.”

“We just want you to be able to listen sometimes,” my wife told him.

“I rarely even talk around my friends,” the kid said. “I mostly listen.”

“You shouldn’t have to just listen either,” we told him. “It should be a conversation.”

Later on, when my wife and I were alone, we discussed how this mess was our fault. We’d made our kid who he was.

“Maybe it’s us,” I said.

“That’s what we’ve been talking about,” she replied.

“No, maybe it’s us—we’re making this a bigger deal than it is. Maybe he’s really not so selfish.”

“Alexa, turn on my lights,” we heard him order the Amazon Echo device in his room. “Alexa!”

OK, so maybe he’s a typical teen. The next night we came together for dinner, we had him practice a conversation that wasn’t all about him.

“Yes . . . No . . . Good . . . OK.” That’s all he said.

“What happened to asking questions?” I asked.

“I dunno.”

That’s all we were getting from him.

Finally! I could talk about my day!

When my wife and kid told me to slow down, I replied, “Sorry, I’m Italian—I’m just passionate.”

I never claimed this was a how-to column. It’s more of a how-not-to.

Email Michael Picarella at Pick up his book, “Everything Ever After,” at