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When confronted with tough talks, parenting teenagers feels treacherous. These near adults are bombarded with decisions that can seriously affect their lives. From drugs, sex and suicide to education, careers and relationships many weighty issues face today’s teens.
How can parents guide teens through these difficult matters without locking them in a closet until they turn 21?
The best thing to do is to start talking.
Pro-active parents create an open atmosphere at home whether they are discussing violence or politics. Teens will face hefty concerns and parents can either choose to be part of the conversation or to sit back and watch what happens.
The University of Tennessee Medical Center makes the decision clear: “What needs to be considered is how would you want your children to find out about these issues? They can hear it from you first or take the word of friends, TV, movies and magazines.”
Parents should start talking early and keep it simple.
Teaching young children basic ideals lays the groundwork for future discussions. Simple questions like “What do you think you will study in college?” or “Why do you think drugs are bad for you?” are perfect conversation starters. As children grow into their teens, these topics are already on the table. But no matter the child’s age, it is never too late to start.
"Children are bombarded with images, discussions and opportunities to get involved in dangerous activities every day. Talking about them openly and honestly may encourage them to speak to you before they act."
Although parents want to shelter their children from dangerous issues, leaving them in the dark is not wise.
“Parents often become guarded about difficult topics such as drugs and sex because they feel that talking about it will prompt their child to start thinking about them or experimenting,” the National Association of Therapeutic Schools and Programs says.
“The reality,” it continues, “is that children are bombarded with images, discussions and opportunities to get involved in dangerous activities every day. Talking about them openly and honestly may encourage them to speak to you before they act.”
Even when facing uncomfortable subjects parents should be clear and honest with their teens. Whether it is sex, violence or depression parents should face questions openly.
Children Now, a national child advocacy association, urges parents to be straightforward.
“Even if you can’t quite overcome your discomfort,” its website says, “don’t worry about admitting it to your kids. It’s OK to say something like, ‘You know, I’m uncomfortable talking about sex because my parents never talked with me about it. But I want us to be able to talk about anything — including sex — so please come to me if you have any questions. And if I don’t know the answer, I’ll find out.’”
Parents should remember that a lecture is not a discussion. Teens must be allowed the opportunity to share their opinions and ideas.
The NATSP teaches parents that listening is the most important skill a parent can have. Even when teens say things their parents don’t want to hear, it is still better to know what that child thinks. Parents should listen calmly and intently to their teens and then try to lead the discussion in a direction that can encourage appropriate behavior.
Some teens may need a bit of prompting to share their feelings. When parents ask difficult questions and listen without judging, kids will be more likely to open up.
“(When tackling) questions about sex, death, politics, etc., you might simply ask, ‘What have you heard?’ PBS.org suggests. “This allows your child to tell you what she understands — or misunderstands — and perhaps what concerns are prompting her question.”
Finally, and probably most importantly, parents cannot stop after one discussion.
“Many parents make the mistake of not revisiting the conversation at a later time,” Lity Tythan of livestrong.com says. “Children often need time to process what was said.”
Difficult decisions should be addressed more than once. In every dialogue different features will surface. Over time the pieces will fit together forming a complete picture that teens – and their parents — can appreciate.
From joining the military to drinking and driving the time to talk about tough issues is now. No matter the topic, parents can find the courage to talk to their teens and both of them will be better for it.
Melissa DeMoux is a stay-at-home mother of six young children who lives in West Valley City, Utah. You can email her at email@example.com or follow her adventures in motherhood at demouxfamily.blogspot.com.