Let’s teach our kids the power of small talk!

Let’s teach our kids the power of small talk!

Research shows that good-old fashioned chatting and a brief moment of connection with people we don’t know well releases oxytocin and dopamine – our body’s feel good neurotransmitters. These chemicals, in turn, encourage us to small-talk again, boosting our mood and helping us make actual friends. Even if we never see that person again, the micro-connections make us feel immediately happier, healthier, and more connected to our world.

As a psychologist and parent, I’m worried that our teenagers will never understand the power of old fashioned chatting unless we actively teach them WHY and HOW to shoot-the-sh*t. (Maybe if we call it shooting-the-sh*t they will be more inclined to listen to us?) 

For most teens, the anticipation of one second alone with someone new leads to frantically 

picking up a phone to find a very important meme about Try-Hards. Their avoidance of social 

interactions with new people not only inhibits a natural mood-boost, but also the opportunity to turn strangers to acquaintances and acquaintances to friends. 

So tragic, given the teen mental health crisis!

So I’m going to fight HARD to bring back the chat for my kids. And I need your kids on board so that they have someone to talk to! And here’s what I will tell them:


  1. Be a great partner. If someone is brave enough to smile at you or make a passing comment, return it! Even if you don’t know what to say, laugh or nod. Just do something!
  2. Look for opportunities. If you are standing around with other teens on their phones, this is your moment! Even if other folks are looking down, they will likely feel better if they chat with you, too.
  3. Your phone is a tool – go ahead and use it. See something funny? Show it to someone around you – anyone – and you will both get a laugh together. Priceless. 
  4. Notice appearance and give compliments. This is remarkably controversial and I’m here for it. “I like your shoes,” “Where’d you get that shirt?” or “I like that team, too” are safe and easy ways to break the ice, as long as we know to also look beyond appearances when getting to know people.
  5. Talk about the here-and-now. This means the weather. Whatever is happening in that exact moment can provide great commentary. “The bus is late, huh?,” “I’m freezing – I thought it was supposed to be warmer today.” “I’m dreading algebra.”
  6. Look for commonalities. Think about anything you may have in common with another person and bring it up. Video games? Taylor Swift? 3rd period? Rack your brain before going back to your phone.
  7. Everyone else is anxious, too. Evenmore, other folks probably want to make a connection with you and don’t know how. Most people will welcome a chat and, when folks are awkward back, it is absolutely not your fault! It takes two to be in conversation and you should be proud when you are trying to do your part. You can’t control how others respond.
  8. Small talk is hard. Truly. You will have to put yourself out there and feel uncomfortable, and I’m proud of you for that. The rejections will suck, but sometimes you will strike up a conversation that could eventually become a friendship. And, even if it doesn’t, that small connection will give you a real, biological high that can change your entire day!

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