Best Way to Talk to Teens About Difficult Subjects

middle aged mother and teen daughter

There are many difficult subjects that we are supposed to talk to our youth about – sex, drugs, relationships, crime, depression, alcohol, violence, bullying, peer pressure, safety… well, you get the point. The problem is that all of these subjects can become awkward conversations that often earn eye-rolling and groans in teens. However, difficult conversations are important because they can give you the chance to guide your child towards sensible and responsible decisions and to talk about your family values. Are you feeling overwhelmed just thinking about how to bring all of these tricky conversations without getting the typical irritated teen response?

Experts say that teens are best drawn into conversation when parents ask questions about their opinions instead of being lectured. So, we highly recommend that you start your conversations with some open ended questions, such as:

  • Dating
    • What does dating mean to you? Does anyone you know date?
    • Choose one couple you know of who you think has a good relationship and one couple who you think has an unhealthy relationship. Why did you pick these couples?
    • Do you think there is a good way to argue? Do you think there are unfair ways to argue?
    • Have you seen any kind of abusive behavior between two people who are dating?
    • Why do you think someone would abuse their boyfriend or girlfriend?
    • What do you think makes a healthy relationship?
    • Are there a lot of kids that talk about sex?
  • Friends and Peer Pressure
    • What are some things that you like about your friends?
    • What are some things you don’t like about how your friends act or how they treat you?
    • Why do you think we are so susceptible to the influence of our friends and peers?
    • Have you seen anyone stand up to peer pressure? What happened?
  • Bullying
    • What does it mean to stand up for yourself? When you stand up for yourself, how does it make you feel?
    • Do you know anyone who has been bullied? How did they handle it?
    • Do you think most of the kids in your school are mean or nice to each other?
    • Can you think of ways to avoid or stop bullying?
    • Do you think online bullying is getting worse or better?
  • Social Media
    • What social media platform do most of the kids at school use? What do you like about it?
    • Do you think social media is helpful or harmful?
    • How do you like to use social media?
    • How do you feel when you use social media – happy, sad, anxious?
    • Do you know anyone who has sexted? Did they get in trouble?
  • Drugs / Alcohol
    • Do you know people who buy (or sell) drugs and/or prescriptions?
    • Are there a lot of kids that talk about alcohol?
    • Have you ever seen people drink or get high at school or at a friend’s house?
    • Do you know people who drive after drinking or using drugs?
    • Do you know anyone who has posted a drunk picture or video of themselves – or someone else – on social media? What happened when people saw it?
    • Has anyone you know ever gotten sick after drinking or doing drugs?

These are just some examples of how to ask “curious” (not accusatory) questions of your teen to get their input and opinions and begin a healthy conversation.

Final Thoughts…

As you address these tricky subjects with your teen, here are a few additional tips to remember:

  • Educate yourself. Don’t attempt to have a conversation with your teen about an important topic if you have no idea what you’re talking about. Research the subject on the internet (this blog is a great resource!) and talk to other parents before you begin the conversation.
  • Revisit the subject. It is not a good idea to have “the talk” – where you try to tell your teen everything they need to know in one conversation. Experts recommend that you have ongoing conversations, addressing issues as your teen matures.
  • Remain calm. No matter what your teen says, don’t get angry or act judgmental. Keep asking questions to gather information. If you feel surprised and not sure what to say, simply say that your teen has brought up some interesting points and you’d like to talk about it again after you’ve had some time to think.
  • Provide resources. One of the best things you can do for your teen is guide them to reputable resources to get good information. You can buy them a book, cut out a newspaper article, or find a government website that addresses specific issues. You can also encourage your teen to talk to their doctor by giving them an opportunity to meet alone when they have an appointment.

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