From a Teen’s Perspective: The importance of small talk

by Dylan Lanier on October 24, 2023

We obviously lost a lot of things during the pandemic: going to school, eating out at restaurants, and spending time with friends, to name a few. But I think we also lost some vital skills that we often underappreciate. Today, I want to focus on our (in)ability to make small talk, and why it’s so important.

Over the pandemic, we had far less opportunities for small talk. We didn’t go to stores as often, we avoided places with large crowds, and we increasingly spent our time online.

My friends and family were pretty much the only people I regularly communicated with for a year and a half. So I didn’t really have to make small talk at all.

I noticed that when we all went back to school, we were much more awkward. We would sit with our familiar groups and try to avoid the sometimes uncomfortable process of meeting new people.

When teachers assigned group work, we all tried to be friendly, but there were certainly some long pauses in the conversation that nobody really knew how to fill. More often than not, we would all just sit on our phones and wait for the bell to ring (every teen knows this feeling).

This year, one of my teachers has made us put all our devices away for the first five minutes of class. He explicitly states that we should be practicing our small talk and getting to know each other better.

At first, I thought it was a total waste of time. Small talk didn’t seem like that crucial of a skill. But the more I practiced it, the more confident I felt in my everyday life, and the more I realized that there’s more to small talk than just saying hello.

I challenged myself to practice small talk with a stranger at least once a day, in order to improve my conversational abilities and feel more connected to the world around me.

I would ask the person in front of me at a coffee shop what their favorite order was, or ask a fellow student at the library what they were studying.

Of course, there’s a fine line between friendly and creepy, so anyone who wants to replicate my experiment should keep in mind that some scenarios don’t lend themselves to small talk (i.e. avoid approaching a stranger in the dark or if they clearly aren’t interested — headphones are a great sign to let someone be).

Overall, I had a lot of successes, and plenty of failures. Turns out other people aren’t that great at small talk, either, but many were happy to try. Sometimes “beautiful weather, huh?” yielded an enjoyably long conversation; other times, only a nod or “mhm.”

After a few weeks of practice, I got pretty good at small talk. I met interesting new people, shared a few laughs, and got some amazing food recommendations. I gradually began to see everyone as a potential friend just one conversation away. I realized that we all want to feel connected with others, so why not be the one to make it happen?

I now feel comfortable in those moments of awkward silence, because I know how to fill them. Better yet, I can sometimes prevent them before they start.

All I needed was to be comfortable being uncomfortable and have the courage to say the first hello.

Got any topics you want me to cover? Email with your requests!

Dylan Lanier is a senior at Menlo-Atherton High School; his column appears weekly.

Image by Freepik

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