10 Tips for Talking With Teens About Tough Stuff
Many parents with teenagers know and anticipate that the teen years will be a struggle so we are providing 10 tips for talking with teens about the tough stuff. There will be many issues that arise and many challenging moments when teens will have to make some important decisions without a parent’s advice or guidance: in the moment judgment calls. This is especially true since teenagers are also beginning to separate from their parents and don’t want to connect or hear about the advice parents want to offer.
At the same time, parents are the adults that they use to judge their own behavior and where their moral compass comes from. Because of this, continuing to have open discussions and providing an emotionally safe space to discuss their concerns and answer their questions is vitally important.
So, how do we, as parents, do that? Here are 10 tips for talking with teens about the tough stuff by one of our associates, Brittany Beck, MA.
- Know your audience. Think about where your child is developmentally and place yourself in their shoes. Remember what it was like to be their age. Teens are interested in the new way of doing things and the present. They often feel awkward or that they don’t fit in. When they are stressed, they will often behave childishly (and sometimes you will too!). They strive for independence. If you are connecting with what it is like for them, you will be more compassionate and understanding.
- Make sure you know your stuff. Stay informed with what is going on in your teen’s life. Become familiar with language and technology your teen might be using. Educate yourself on topics you are unsure about or uneasy discussing such as sexual health, current drugs that teens are using or sexual identity. Seek assistance from organizations that can provide accurate and useful information for you and your teen. As well, know what your values are so that you can be clear and provide that “moral compass” as a guideline for them, even if they challenge it often.
- Choose the right time. It’s never too late to start having important conversations with your teenager. Identify teachable moments that allow you to naturally move into a deeper conversation. Avoid interruptions and ask for time together. Many parents find that driving a teen to an event is an ideal time to talk with teens as there is no eye contact needed!
- Create a conversation, not lecture. When you talking with teens, don’t let the conversation get tense. Difference in opinions or values is O.K. Having your teen be honest with you should not result in punishment or they will be reluctant to share with you in the future. Don’t be judgmental. Respect your teenager’s right to privacy. If you are open to hearing their ideas about a subject, you will get to know them and then, where appropriate, share your own thoughts. If you are worried about your teen and your interactions, sometimes getting support from a family therapist is extremely helpful.
- Listen. This tip can often be the most complicated. Allowing teens space to talk and express their opinions will create a safe space for a conversation in which they will also hear what you have to say. Let go of strict agendas and bias. Ask open ended questions and allow your teen to express their thoughts and you will most certainly learn something. When talking with teens, let them speak first and show curiosity and respect for their thinking and ideas, they will be more open to also hearing you thoughts on the subject.
- Use humor. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Jokes and playfulness will stimulate cooperation whereas demands and threats shut down the conversation. Humor can help build relationships and make uncomfortable topics not so terrible (or terrifying) to discuss.
- Create boundaries. Be honest with your teen. Know your personal boundaries and be prepared for questions. Whatever boundaries you set, maintain them. Create consequences with your teen upfront rather than retroactively and involve them in the process. Hearing their opinion about curfews, for example, allows them to be a part of the process of creating boundaries. Of course, as parents, you have the final say in what happens.
- Be available and “askable”. An “askable” parent is one that children flock to rather than avoid. Be the parent that respects their teen, doesn’t laugh at them, admits when they don’t have all of the answers, and doesn’t expect perfection. (http://www.iwannaknow.org/parents/overview.html)
- Have a backup adult they can turn to when in need. Accept that you may not be your teen’s primary source of information and provide appropriate resources. Identify a safe adult that your teen connects with and encourage conversation with either one of you. Communicate with other adults who see your teenager on a regular basis (friends’ parents, coaches, etc.) if you are concerned or just want to reassure yourself that they are doing well.
- Continue the Conversation. Check in regularly. Your teen will constantly change and grow over their adolescent years and your conversations will need to change along with them. If you fail, try, try again! Showing to your teen that you believe in him/her and respect him/her will go a long way to developing trust in the relationship and they will come to you when they are in need and/or in crisis.
For more information about talking with teens about tough topics or to see one of our experienced therapists please give us a call at 301-960-1198 and visit LotusPointWellness.com to find out how we can help support a healthy relationship between you and your teen.
Additional resources and well-known books about adolescents and parenting: http://www.amazon.com/lm/R3LHXTE7YTQ67N