Sex. Drugs. Alcohol. Parties. Friendship. Social media. Do you hear these words and feel a small knot begin to form in your stomach? These are the topics we know we eventually need to discuss with our tweens and teens, but when is the right time? How do we even begin to say the words? We may dread having these conversations, but the reality is that they are important, and necessary, conversations for us to have.
Some parents may find it beneficial to have these conversations in places where you would usually talk to your teen. Talking while in the car, at night before bed, or someplace where you are able to naturally converse in a relaxed and familiar manner may help get the conversation going and take away the awkwardness that may come with the topic at hand.
You also will want to consider the time of day, and what is happening in your teen’s life at the moment. If they are tired or worn out from a busy week of school and activities, or you know they are not a morning person, keep those things in mind. You want to look at extenuating circumstances and decide whether the timing is right to start the conversation.
To help us better navigate the terrain of teens and difficult topics, licensed psychologist Shana Reece, Ph.D, has answered some questions that can give us the confidence we need to enter into these conversations in an open and effective manner with our tweens and teens.
When is the right time to start having these conversations?
Honestly, every child and situation is different. If you begin to have open and honest communication and conversations with your child early, then having more difficult developmental conversations are not seen as forced or fleeting. Instead, they are seen as more of a common conversation.
How do I begin the conversation?
Provide a safe and comfortable atmosphere for the child, instead of surprising them with a “let’s talk” moment. Another important factor is listening to your child, and not competing or retreating from what they are trying to tell you. The world is much different, especially within these social aspects, and when parents try to compare their childhood to that of their child’s, it deflates the child’s sense of trust and willingness to be transparent with the parents. Your initial reaction sets the tone for the continuation of the difficult conversation.
What if my child doesn’t want to talk?
Talking is difficult for some teens, but again it’s important to have an open door policy in which your child feels safe to come to you when they are ready. Checking in on them in a healthy, consistent manner helps them to feel that you are in their corner and are ready, whenever they are, to talk.
If you start to have a conversation with your child and feel the timing isn’t quite right, it’s OK to stop and try again later. And while these topics aren’t easy to address, in the long run, they will help facilitate your relationship with your child and you will have peace knowing the information they are receiving is accurate, as opposed to learning these things from their peers.