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Connecting with Teens through Shared Journaling

By Kimber Graves, TBRI® Practitioner

Connecting with teens can be hard. Video games, earbuds, and social media command much of their attention. If you’re parenting teens, one-word answers might leave you wondering, “What are they thinking? What are they feeling? Do they even care?” Many teens keep their emotions hidden, while others huff, puff, and stomp off when parents try to enter their world. 

It’s not easy to connect with someone who seems to be shutting you out. Thankfully, there’s an easy tool that can help you while parenting teens. Shared journaling is one tool to build relationship without the conversation feeling forced. It’s a way for youth to express how they feel at their own pace. They can speak in their own words, without the interference of non-verbal cues that can create barriers (“What’s THAT look about, Mom?!”). 

When I was parenting teens, we took turns answering questions in a journal and leaving it on one another’s pillow each week. This simple act allowed me entry into the heart and mind of my girls. I saw their hopes and dreams, interests, friends, and struggles. It also gave my kids a chance to learn about the teen version of their mom—and to see what we have in common (“Seriously, mom, you’ve been downhill skiing? Get out!”). 

I learned that I didn’t need to always write something wise or motherly. I simply started the conversation through open-ended writing prompts and listened to what my girls shared, without correction.  

Many parent-child journals are available online, or you can create your own.
A few tips can help you get started:

  • Let your teen choose a fun pack of pens or pencils. 
  • Decide how and where to exchange the journal. 
  • What’s written in the journal stays in the journal. If your teen doesn’t want to discuss the topic face-to-face, respect it as a journal-only topic. 
  • The journal is your teen’s space to say anything! No punishment, no lectures. We want our teens to feel like they can tell us anything.  
  • Increase trust and connection by validating what you can (“I’m so glad you shared that with me!”). 
  • Be patient. Pushing teens to talk can alienate them. Allow your child to bring up issues and concerns when they are ready. 
  • Have fun! A shared journal isn’t just about exploring delicate issues. It’s about deepening your relationship. Be silly, share fun personal stories, and let your child see your own inner teen. 

Not sure where to start?
Try some of the following guided prompts:

  • What do you look forward to when you wake up in the morning? 
  • Rate your day on a scale of 1-10. Why did you rate it that way? 
  • What was your favorite thing about the day? 
  • What was one thing that challenged you today? 
  • What do you look for in a friend? 
  • What are your favorite songs? 
  • What do you think about before you fall asleep? 
  • Have you ever let fear stop you from doing something you wanted to do? Tell me about it. 
  • What questions do you have for me? 
  • What takes up too much of your time? 
  • What do you wish you could spend more time doing? 
  • If you could do anything in the world, what would it be? Tell me why! 
  • What bugged you today? 
  • If you could change one thing about your day, what would it be? 
  • Is there anything on your mind you want to talk about? 
  • What was the hardest part of your day? 
  • What do you love about school? 
  • If you could have any superpower, what would it be? 
  • If you could travel anywhere, where would you go? 
  • What do you hope we can do better as mom/teen? 
  • What things would like for us to do together? 


If you want more parenting tips geared towards families impacted by foster care, adoption, and kinship care, please visit our resource library. If you need personalized trauma-responsive care for your family, we would love to help! Contact us to learn more about the ways Chosen Care can support your family.
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