How to Talk to Teens About Difficult Subjects

Ways to Approach Subjects Like Drugs, Sex, and Bullying

Here's how to make an awkward conversation with your teen less awkward.
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Whether you want to talk to your child about an apparent hygiene problem or you think it's time to talk about sex, there are many important conversations with your teen that can feel awkward.

But, it's important not to shy away from those conversations just because they're uncomfortable. Holding those tough conversations could be vital to your teen's life. 

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.

You can always start the conversation by relaying some of your research. Say something like, "I read something the other day that said almost all teenagers view pornography on the internet at some point."

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 older and his understanding of the subject increases.

So check in with your child occasionally and ask if she has any questions or anything she wants to talk about. 

Ask the Right Questions

Ask questions that will spur further conversation, not interrogate your child. Avoid asking accusatory questions like, “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.

Remain Calm

No matter what your teen says, try to remain calm during the conversation. If you show 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.

Be prepared to hear information or answers that may surprise you. If your child says something you weren't expecting to hear, 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.

Provide Resources

While you don't want to just leave a book about puberty on your teen's bed in hopes she educates herself, providing extra resources can be a helpful way to supplement your conversations.

Provide your teen with reputable resources, like government websites and books. Those resources can help him discover more facts that will back up the information you've hopefully already given to him.

It's also important to encourage him to talk to his doctor. Give your teen an opportunity to meet with his doctor alone when he has an appointment. Then, if he has questions about anything from mental illness to sex, he may be willing to talk about it when you're not in the room.

Simply acknowledge that some subjects are awkward. But, despite feeling embarrassed, show your teen that you're willing to tackle those topics anyway.


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