How to Talk to Teens About Difficult Subjects

Ways to Approach Subjects Like Drugs, Sex, and Bullying

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Parents sometimes shy away from broaching uncomfortable subjects with teens because they’re either embarrassed or aren’t sure how to bring up the subject. Topics such as sex, bullying, drugs, and sexual orientation make many parents steer clear. However, these are important conversations to have with all teens.

Educate Yourself First

Don’t attempt to have a conversation with your teen about something like social media safety if you have no idea what you’re talking about.

Saying, “Don’t do anything stupid on the internet,” won’t cut it. If your teen doesn’t think you’re educated about the subject, he isn’t likely to take your opinion seriously. Conduct some online research, read books, and talk to other parents before tackling tough subjects that you aren’t familiar with already.

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Have More than One “Talk”

There’s no need to have “the talk” where you sit down and tell your child everything he needs to know about sex all in one conversation. Instead, have ongoing and frequent conversations about difficult subjects. The goal should be for your teen to feel comfortable asking questions or discussing difficult subjects as he grows and matures.

Ask the Right Questions

Ask questions that will spur further conversation, not interrogate your child. For example, avoid asking over and over again, “Are you sure you’ve never tried alcohol?” Those types of questions will only lead to defensive answers.

Ask questions, such as, “How do you feel about drinking?” or “Are there a lot of kids at school who talk about alcohol?” Ask open-ended questions that will invite your teen to offer his opinion. Listen more than you speak and work on developing an understanding of your teen’s knowledge and opinion on a topic.

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Remain Calm

No matter what your teen says, try to remain calm during the conversation. If you show a lot of anger or disgust, it may discourage your child from talking. Remember, the goal during the conversation should be to open the lines of communication so that you discuss difficult topics.

Make sure you’re prepared to hear information or answers that may surprise you. If your child says something you were expecting, respond by saying something such as, “I’m glad that you feel comfortable enough to talk to me about this.” If you aren’t sure what else to say, tell your teen you need to think about some things and that you’d like to continue the conversation later. Set aside time to follow through and revisit the conversation.

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Provide Resources

Provide your teen with other reputable resources to gain information on tough subjects. You don’t want your teen relying on information from friends only and there may be questions your teen just doesn’t want to ask you. Giving your teen information on places where he can get further answers can ensure that he’s going to look for the information in appropriate places.

For example, if your teen has further questions about sexuality and you don’t know the answers, encourage him to discuss it with his doctor.

Offer to schedule an appointment where he can have a private conversation with the doctor. Or, discuss other trusted family members that he might be able to speak with. You can also suggest appropriate websites or books that offer educational material. 

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