Conversation starters with introverted adult child -weekly Skype calls
January 30, 2023 8:10 AM   Subscribe

Our adult child is abroad finishing grad school (STEM) and for the last 2 years we've been skyping to keep in touch. It's a struggle to find conversation for these weekly online visits.

We visit IRL once or twice a year. He's introverted and really interested in his subject. Other than his field of study, he's into a bit of cooking and perhaps videogames but no sports.

We talk for about 5 minutes and then it's just awkward dead air and so uncomfortable. Being introverted means he's not very chatty and needs to be prodded to converse. He said that his friend group is mostly online friends from Discord. I'd like to keep him engaged with us somewhat but each week I struggle to keep the conversation ball rolling.

Can you suggest conversation topics I can use? He's stressing about future job opportunities so that's out and of course no politics.
posted by Coffeetyme to Human Relations (31 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Talk to him about your day and what you've been up to. What you've been watching and reading. If you saw something interesting while out and about. Let him make noncommittal responses and listen. It can be really comforting to hear about a loved one going through the steps and rituals of daily life. Sometimes with someone more introverted, they might find it hard to respond and participate in back-and-forth conversation but would just appreciate the chance to listen.
posted by capricorn at 8:22 AM on January 30 [16 favorites]

This might sound nuts to you… but could you try getting Discord? My sister and I convinced my mom to use it, and it’s a great way to keep in touch that’s more casual and immediate than The Weekly Call. If he’s not comfortable on the phone, switching to a medium he finds more comfortable might be really nice for both of you. That doesn’t mean you stop doing the calls, but it could take some pressure off them.
posted by showbiz_liz at 8:22 AM on January 30 [11 favorites]

Best answer: He's finishing grad school? Then I think you need to have an adult conversation with him about whether these conversations are working for him. "Steve, we love talking with you and want to hear about your life, but we've noticed that these conversations seem to bog down really early on. Is this weekly cadence working for you?" Because if it's not, hard though it may be, you have to respect that. Your 20s is too old for your parents to be coaxing you along in conversation. Either he chooses to engage or he doesn't, and it sounds like right now he's not trying to. This doesn't necessarily mean he doesn't care, of course. Honestly, if he's finishing up any sort of capstone project or facing exams, he may just be too stressed at this point to give a lot of thought to anything but his work. Talking at longer intervals may be more fruitful.
posted by praemunire at 8:23 AM on January 30 [25 favorites]

Perhaps you could play some sort of casual game while video calling? I like scrabble for this purpose. Alternatively, if your purpose is to just be engaged with him regardless of the medium, maybe a group text thread where you can share memes, photos etc would be preferable. (Source: have been in your son’s shoes, lol. If he is REALLY near the end and super busy maybe keeping the calls short and light would be preferable. Ask him what he thinks of these calls and see if he has any suggestions, too!)
posted by btfreek at 8:25 AM on January 30 [2 favorites]

Would playing a casual game over Skype work? I'm not an avid gamer but there's tons of free online games that are fun, for 2-3 players I think online Pictionary would work (I've used this one before - no affiliation or anything and it has ads). General idea being add something else besides just conversation topics, casual games like this are fun to chat over.
posted by love2potato at 8:29 AM on January 30 [1 favorite]

Why not make those Skype sessions once every two or three weeks.
Once a week seems excessive, and I’ll bet he thinks so, too.
posted by BostonTerrier at 8:31 AM on January 30 [14 favorites]

You might do some games as a warm-up/bonding exercise. We often have "cocktail hours" with friends over Discord (voice and screenshare, so the game host is sharing their screen) where we play Jackbox games, and then we catch up after everyone is warmed up. We also sometimes just all bring a cool/interesting/funny youtube video to share, or we watch something together using Netflix Watch Party or similar.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:39 AM on January 30 [2 favorites]

Maybe have some small "tech problems" or "we need you to settle a bet" type questions, and ask him for help with it? And while he's problem solving , if he mentions something personal in passing, you can ask to hear more about it.
posted by dum spiro spero at 9:18 AM on January 30 [1 favorite]

I feel you. It's hard.

My teens don't like to be pushed/begged into conversations; but will usually respond or even initiate texts. We share memes, wordle scores, photos; the occasional "I need validation for my feeling about this thing I just saw!" exchange. It's a lot better than nothing, and it keeps the family tone positive.

But you didn't ask my opinion about how to do things; you asked for conversational topics. Do you ask him about what's exciting him in his studies?
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:19 AM on January 30

I'm wondering if for some reason he doesn't feel super comfortable in these conversations? Without knowing the history of your relationship, it's hard to say why that might be. Is he on board with these weekly calls, or doing it to please you? Have there been periods where you had a lot to say to each other and talked freely? Or has this never been an aspect to your relationship?

Perhaps asking him how often he wants to communicate, and which method he wants to use. Maybe he prefers texting. MAybe he wants to talk less often. Introversion does not necessarily translate to not talkative especially with those close to us. Many introverts love talking when they're comfortable.
posted by bearette at 9:24 AM on January 30 [3 favorites]

What about the phone rather than Skype? I love chatting to my parents over the phone but I find Skype/Zoom extremely stressful. It SHOULD be better but it's not. I can talk to them while I'm folding clothes or going to the shops. It's low-pressure. I really enjoy this kind of chat and absolutely loathe video calls.

And on a side note, I think frequent is great! I love that I know lots of little details of my parents' lives -- that the shower in the downstairs bathroom is broken or my dad got new tires or they are cooking stir fry AGAIN. It makes me feel closer to them and makes the transition to seeing them in person seamless.
posted by heavenknows at 9:45 AM on January 30 [7 favorites]

How about ending the session after the active 5 minutes? Or switching to phone-only instead of Skype? Being on video can be draining, especially when you're struggling to keep a conversation going or you don't want to be in the conversation in the first place. Or what about not scheduling conversations full stop? Thirty years ago when I was in my twenties, and even into my thirties, I resisted my mother wanting to schedule phone calls with me. Our relationship was poor, so take this with a grain of salt, but I just... didn't want to talk to her. So her wanting to schedule a weekly call where I listened to her drone on about other people was a non-starter.

To answer your actual question as asked, I'd be reading up on his topic of study and asking him where he stands on x controversy in the field, or how something works, or why thing x is the way it is. Treat it like you're talking to a peer at a party and you're asking questions about them to generate conversation, learn from their expertise, and to get to know them better.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 9:47 AM on January 30 [3 favorites]

I was the introverted child. Phone calls are so much easier because I can do my chores while chatting so it doesn't feel like such a burden. A one hour video call every week sounds like a lot for someone in their 20s.

I'd suggest moving to a monthly call and keeping in touch day to day via Discord. Your kid can send you a picture of the snow or something delicious in the cafeteria when it happens instead of worrying about coming up with something interesting on command during your call. If they are busy they can send you a quick response and not be stressed out listening to you blather on about Aunt Mildred's indigestion while they really want to get that report started. Now that I'm old it's easy to forget how truly busy I was in my twenties. Not because I was accomplishing a lot but because I was not very good at "adulting" and so it took a lot of my energy to do things that are autopilot now.

If you must have topics, keep it light. Vacation destinations, favorite shows or books, new recipes, etc.
posted by Narrow Harbor at 10:00 AM on January 30

As that type of introvert, maybe 5 minutes is going to be enough? One of my bigger pet peeves is space-filling small talk, so unless it's been an incredibly eventful week there probably isn't all that much interesting minutiae to pass along.

That's not a suggestion to skip the 5 minutes or anything. My father calls me less often than weekly, but I always enjoy our brief, to the point catch-up calls. My mother, if she had her way, would call a couple times a week to chatter away for an hour+. I love them both dearly, but guess who's call gets shunted off to voicemail more often (with a follow up sorry-I-missed-your-call-did-you-need-something text in a reasonable amount of time)?
posted by Doktor at 10:06 AM on January 30 [3 favorites]

Some anecdata: I never enjoyed talking with my mom over the phone after I'd left for college. We didn't have a particularly chatty relationship prior, so the weekly call she insisted on was alway a bit forced. (This was before cellphones and texting were a thing).

It didn't help that she had little of her own news or conversation to share - the calls consisted of her asking question after question about my life at school, my classes, friends that she'd never met, my job etc. She had little to say in response other than probing for more details, all while brushing off attempts to redirect the convo to her life or experiences. It was exhausting and obnoxious. I understand she felt a deep need to remain informed and a part of my adult life, but these were not things I wanted to talk about with her, and generally wasn't up for frequent calls regardless. However, she was not willing to compromise, no matter how much I explained this to her. I began avoiding her calls, which led to many arguments and tears. This was not the only reason I still distance myself from her, but it certainly didn't help.

Dont be that parent. If you have anxiety about your adult child, if you need their reassurance of your importance to them, please don't make that their problem. Work on it in therapy, and let your kid set the pace for what kind of connection he is up for having with you right now. I guarantee if you press this, it wont go well for you. Let him know you're always available, but let him lead the way here. This is setting the tone for your relationship as adults. If you lean too heavily on him right now, you are risking that relationship.
posted by ananci at 10:11 AM on January 30 [7 favorites]

Best answer: I, an introverted adult child living in a different country than my parents, have weekly video calls (using a Korean chat app called Kakao Talk*) with my parents that sometimes last only a couple of minutes and usually max out at 10 minutes.** The video feature means I sometimes can do show and tell on our weekly calls -- what I am cooking, my spouse, where the cats are, a new piece of furniture, etc.

My spouse talks to their parents once a week on the phone (same country, different state) and those calls last a minimum of 15 minutes and sometimes go up to an hour.

I think your weekly frequency is good (no wondering whether this week is the week to talk)!

My conversational suggestion? Focus on updating your kid on your lives and the interaction (ask for advice, tell them about the book you are reading, share a memory of when you were younger, gossip about relatives). Don't worry as much about how much information they are sharing about themselves, just aim for their engagement in what you are saying. And don't worry about the length of the call!

* We supplement these video calls with an ongoing group chat in the app where I send photos and random little updates.

**I think one thing that limits my conversation with my parents is that I'm speaking in Korean primarily, in which my fluency has dropped considerably over the decade+ since I finished graduate school in Korea.

posted by spamandkimchi at 10:17 AM on January 30 [4 favorites]

Let them know what you are up to, and then see if you can take an interest in their topic. This could go a few different ways -- your kid might not love that you are taking an amateur interest in something where they know a lot more -- but I think you could try to educate yourself a bit on their field and school and ask a question or two about his experience there. You could also ask if he's made anything good lately, and then try to make it yourself. Or, consider getting on Discord (as others have suggested) or playing a game he likes.

My kids are a bit younger than yours, but the few steps I've made towards taking an interest in their hobbies and pursuits has generally gone over well.
posted by bluedaisy at 10:30 AM on January 30

That sounds like a lot of contact in a medium that’s not comfortable for your son. I would also think about doing shorter calls, less frequent calls, and/or exploring text, Discord, or other asynchronous ways to be in touch.

That said, sure, I’d consider just talking about your own life and/or focusing on the things your son does like to talk about - his subject, his games, what he’s cooking.

(I don’t suppose he has a pet or you’d have mentioned it, but my parents and I have a somewhat non-chatty relationship and we get SO much mileage out of talking about our respective cats.)
posted by Stacey at 10:38 AM on January 30 [1 favorite]

I’d consider that maybe just not enough stuff is going on in anyone’s lives to talk about for more than five minutes. I’d try doing once a month phone calls where you can each accumulate enough throughout the month to then chat about and catch up on.
posted by Sassyfras at 11:56 AM on January 30 [3 favorites]

I'm older than than (perhaps all of) the participants in your calls, but I have a weekly voice call with a parent. We usually talk about the books they're reading and what's going on in our lives and sometimes go over the planned hour, but sometimes one or both of us just isn't feeling chatty and we end the call early. I'd say that it's ok for it not to be an hour.

We tried video for a while but found it a bit too fussy. They have some tech challenges that make setting it up difficult, and I prefer the freedom of being able to move around the house and do things during the call.

I'd also say that it's ok for it not to happen as often. Years went by during which we just didn't communicate much, and while I value our talk time now, that was also ok and didn't indicate a lack of love in the relationship. We started with the weekly calls something like 7 years ago.
posted by inexorably_forward at 12:19 PM on January 30

For topics: has he ever cooked with X ingredient or technique and how did it go? Topics like home and appliance maintenance may also be common ground eventually but not where he's focusing right now.

If he is good at keeping a schedule, then keep the schedule. But if the chats run short, maybe just let them be short? Five minutes is fine, that's about enough time to confirm that we're alive and on speaking terms, and both having some kind of weather.

I have one relative who talks at length, and I am not inclined to cut them off - but that is by phone and like others, I do chores during the call.
posted by mersen at 12:46 PM on January 30 [1 favorite]

+1 on once a week just being too often to talk. I was and am an introvert and I've spoken to my parents (who I have a good relationship with) once every 4-6 months or so since I left for college. A large part of my Facebook presence is there to keep my parents updated with my goings on since they're passively interested, but not enough to have a conversation about it.
posted by mikesch at 2:38 PM on January 30

Why don't you do an activity together like cooking or eating or taking a walk? Sometimes I call my mom as I walk to the grocery store and just show her the dogs on the way, little to no talking from me required.

There's nothing wrong with having a five minute conversation, if that's what works best.
posted by betweenthebars at 2:46 PM on January 30 [1 favorite]

Best answer: It sounds like you know what conversation topics he's interested in: his field of study, cooking, and video games.

Is the problem that you don't feel confident enough to ask him questions on these topics? Do you think he'd think less of you for not being an expert in his field? Do you struggle to maintain interest in the things that are important to him? If so why is that? Do you expect him to be very interested in the things that are important to you or that are "normal" (like sports) while at the same dismissing as unimportant the things he values?

Some conversation starters might be: What video games does he play? Casual or super-competitive? Single-player or with friends? Is there a new game coming out that he's excited about or does he prefer to master a single game? What is his favorite type of food to cook? What would he cook if he had unlimited time and money to invest? What are the discussions going on in his field of study about machine learning/AI? Do the recent changes at Twitter affect his field at all? Ask him to explain some topic in his field that you've never quite understood (the inverse square law/the Higgs boson/game theory/etc).
posted by radiogreentea at 3:23 PM on January 30 [2 favorites]

Maybe try weekly short e-mails and monthly video calls?
posted by amtho at 6:59 PM on January 30

Maybe keep the weekly check in short (~10 minutes) and then occasionally have a watch party together, or play a game (either a video game or trivia/board game type game).
posted by kinddieserzeit at 7:58 PM on January 30

As someone who was at the other end for many years, abroad during exchange studies, graduate school, and work, the calls were so much easier when my parent(s) had some stuff to talk about as well and it wasn’t just them waiting for me to report on goings-on in my life or asking a lot of questions. I was happy to share stuff as well, but it was frustrating when it felt one-sided or interrogating, and also when their contributions included a lot of triangulation, complaining about other family members. Not saying you do any of this, just giving you examples from my end.
posted by meijusa at 9:21 AM on January 31 [3 favorites]

Another possibility to add to those about changing the format or frequency: maybe try a scheduled phone call at a time when he's going to be driving or walking somewhere? It'll be less onerous for him and sometimes it's easier to talk when mildly distracted by something else. Obviously only if he has a boring enough commute that this can be done safely.
posted by metasarah at 8:14 AM on February 1 [1 favorite]

I have a sibling whom I love like crazy, but don't have a lot in common with. We've started reading the same book at the same time. We take turns picking (with the understanding that we'd each try to pick books we genuinely think the other would like), and then we have an active text thread going about it ("hey, have you gotten to Chapter 7 yet, because I have QUESTIONS, so let me know when you're there") and then we know we have a topic to talk about on the phone. It's also led to deeper conversations about our actual lives. Anything from, "I sometimes wish I could knock my boss unconscious like the protagonist did in that last section, because let me tell you about the absolute insanity going on at my job," to "You know the mom character kind of reminds me of Mom. Do you remember when she did that hilarious thing? I got a little misty eyed thinking about it!" But the point is that we're talking, and we always have something to talk about. We don't read especially fast, and it's not like a mandatory book club, but it's something we can do together to feel closer to each other, and it's been great. A tv show you watch together might also work, but there's something about a book that really worked for us. So I propose family book club!
posted by decathecting at 10:03 PM on February 1

Another possibility that occurs to me: what if you cooked together, and asked him to teach you. Instead of a weekly 10 minute phone call, a monthly hour-long Zoom video or Facetime, where you cook the same dish together, and he can sort of teach you some fun complicated new thing you don't know how to do? I find it easier to make conversation if I have something else going on, and it allows him to be in a zone where he feels confident and has something to say. Plus, at the end, you have delicious food!
posted by decathecting at 10:05 PM on February 1

Something I often ask my friends after they return from a trip is "What's the best thing you ate?" I'm actually interested, but it also gets people talking about specifics rather than just saying they had a great time. You can modify that question as necessary: What's the best thing you cooked this week? What's the best thing you learned from your friends? etc.
posted by booth at 9:56 AM on February 2

« Older My Borrowed Time Mortgage is Coming Due   |   Employment Lawyer in Saratoga/Capital District NY Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments