One of the daily disappointments of parental life is asking your child how school was and getting a grunt in reply. Plus the obligatory shrug.
Now, a new scheme aims to improve communication skills between children and parents. And while it may not transform family mealtimes into a feast of stimulating debate and repartee, it might just ensure that participants observe the basic rules of civilised conversation.
Backed by British ("It's Good To Talk") Telecom, the scheme is called "Partners In Communication" and has been piloted in 50 schools around the country.
"Language is power," says Jo Hill, head of English at Holyhead School in Handsworth, Birmingham, where 1,200 pupils aged 11-16 have been taking part. "However, for a number of different reasons, not least the amount of time they spend on their computers, a lot of children just don't express themselves at all coherently or fluently when speaking."
So how do you turn teenage grunts into fully-formed sentences? One answer, ironically, is to get them to watch television. We're not talking EastEnders or Hollyoaks, though, but a series of DVDs specially produced by BT, including titles such as The Muddlesandthe Crystals.
Despite being aimed at primary school ages, this particular film could be screened to good effect before any grown-up social gathering you care to name. It shows how one family (the Muddles) forever cut across each other's sentences, while the Crystals wait for the other person to finish before having their say.
There's another film called Good Coach Bad Coach, in which one particularly bullish games teacher spends the lesson belittling his pupils and showing off his own footballing talents. Meanwhile, his identical double (different coloured tracksuit, naturally) adopts an altogether more effective strategy of explaining, encouraging and maintaining eye contact. He also doesn't answer his mobile phone during lessons!
Of course, it's easier to spot where people are going wrong in a soap opera than in real life. This is why role-playing is an important element of Partners In Communication.
"We get the children to act out various situations, such as bullying at school, or arguments at home," says Helen Sharples, futures curriculum director at Rose Bridge High School in Wigan.
"One thing we're very keen to do is to find out how we and our pupils can communicate with each other more effectively. Sometimes in these sessions, we'll ask why they think a particular lesson went well and why another went badly. We'll even ask them to tell us who in the school they think gets in the way of learning. It may be a disruptive classmate, it may be someone else."
Quite often, the opinions communicated by the children come as a surprise. For example, one of the biggest complaints articulated by the Rose Bridge pupils was over school uniform. The problem was not that they had to wear it in the first place, but that the teachers weren't enforcing the rules rigidly enough.
"The children also voiced the view that they wanted better access to drinking water," says Sharples, who trained as a management scientist rather than a teacher. "As a result, we now have watercoolers throughout the school."
As to where these communication sessions fit into the timetable, that's for the schools to decide. Some classify them as citizenship lessons, while others schedule them as part of broader school projects. And when it comes to ticking strategic buzzword boxes, conversation classes can also be claimed to contribute to SEAL (Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning).
Not that the teaching stops when the lessons end. One of the campaign's most effective visual aids is the series of blazer stickers proclaiming the eight main rules of verbal communication. "Take turns at talking and listening," they say, along with "Keep your emotions under control" and "Be ready to admit when you don't understand".
There's no question about it: although meant for the school classroom, these stickers definitely have a part to play in the domestic dining room. Pass the "Think before you speak" badge, please.