These days teenagers are faced with making choices around alcohol and drugs consumption, sex and relationship matters and their future in general. Your parental responsibility includes having conversation with them around such topics to enable them to make the right choices. While, it may be necessary to have these discussions, it may be difficult for both you and your teen to start the conversation. For instance, Planned Parenthood tells us that just 50 percent of teens are okay talking about sex with their parents. Maybe, you can find a way to initiate these discussions to stop your teen from taking part in risky behaviors.
The first thing that is essential is to promote an environment at home that is conducive to uninhibited conversations, in order that your teen feels comfortable coming to you when they have to inquire something about sex, let’s say, rather than seek someone outside of home to converse with. Teens who feel more connected with their parents are seen to be better academic performers, less prone to taking part in hazardous activities, and, overall, they exhibit higher levels of good mental, social, and emotional health. To protect your teen and to help them retain their happiness, it is important to initiate a trail of positive communication that will enable discussions on significant issues and worries when time comes.
Spending Time Together
Conversations often spark off in moments of connection. Despite your and your teens’ ultra-busy schedules, you need to find time to connect with each other. Between work, school, extracurricular activities and other allotments of your time, you need to adjust slots wherein bonding can lead to discussions on important matters. Even in a busy day, food needs to be consumed by everyone, so why not make the dinner table the spot to talk about things, build rapport and relate each others’ daily experiences?
Try and also find time to do some bigger activities like spending an hour or two in the lounge room watching a movie or on a hiking trip on a Sunday socializing with them. That way, you can start off conversations around important matters in life. You may feel tense asking your teen for their time to do something together. There is no need to be so as you can just appear really candid and accessible. Say something like:
“I was thinking, since it’s been quite some time, we could watch a movie or eat out this weekend. How about that? The choice of movie or the restaurant is yours!”
Crossing the Bridge Over
Let’s say you and your teen are connecting over a barbeque in the backyard on a weekend. Now is the time to steer the discussion into a matter that interests them. This way they would feel more open to having an unrestrained conversation. Bring anything from their favorite movie, book, song or school subject. Begin by asking questions that do not require specific answers such as:
“So, what new things have you learnt at school this year?”
“Anything you would like to share on any recent fun experience?”
Questions of this sort will allow the teen to talk about what they feel like talking about. You need to pay attention to what they have to say without making any judgements. That way, you will make them open up easily about what’s happening in their lives. Remember they need to feel free to talk as they please, so any judgmental stance of yours will urge them to withdraw.
Moreover, take this as an opportunity to strengthen your relationship with them. Allow the bridge between you and them to be crossed over and share anecdotes from your life experiences in your teenage years. Moreover, you may bond over a shared interest like reading. How about discussing things you both are reading currently? This is quite likely to take the discussion to what is happening in each other’s lives.
Moving Into More Meaningful Matters
After a significant level of trust and bonding has been achieved, it is time to talk about pressing matters relating to sex and drugs over which you want to convey your advice. Sticking to discuss such matters in scheduled timings is a better approach as it will make the teen realize that the discussion will be about something specific. In order to schedule a time, say something like:
“Hope we can see each other around 8:00 PM this Saturday? There’s little something I wanted to share with you. Don’t be nervous, you haven’t done anything wrong. It’s just I felt we should take time out to talk about some important things, that’s all.”
Don’t, however, come across as threatening or accusing. Rather, display an attitude of care and regard. Once in the meeting, make sure that they feel open to contribute as they please to the conversation. If, instead, it seems to them that you are just there to declare your beliefs regarding a topic they would not open up. So, make sure that they feel at ease having a two-way talk.
You need to broach sensitive topics, for example, their alleged involvement in drugs, without accusing them. Maintain the same affable tone that was used previously in building up the rapport with them. Point out to them that you are there to know about their perspective and to aid them if needed, without any criticism. You may initiate the conversation by talking about some cheerful matter you chatted about previously. Your teen would be reminded that you both have had a friendly banter around some topic of a light nature and that you are rather more like a friend. Make sure to start off with small matters and transition slowly and imperceptibly into heavy topics.
While it can be a challenge to have conversations around heavy topics with your teen, you need to remember to set up the possibility of ongoing communication. Once it is clear that your teen is happy to talk around you and does not feel pressured, moving into discussions on essential matters can be less complicated.
Andy Earle is a researcher who studies parent-teen communication and adolescent risk behaviors. He is the co-founder of talkingtoteens.com, ghostwriter at WriteItGreat.com, and host of the Talking to Teens podcast, a free weekly talk show for parents of teenagers.