Every parent of a teen has experienced it: that rare moment when your teen opens up and shares information with you about his or her life. It’s a joy.
But every parent also knows that much of the time, talking to a teen can be a bit of a struggle. In fact, parents often think that teens don’t listen and what a parent says doesn’t matter.
Parents do matter. What you say does make a difference. Research shows that nearly four in 10 teens (39 percent) say they wish their parents would talk to them more about topics like relationships, sex, and contraception.
The first step in having good conversations with your teen is to think, in a quiet moment, how you feel about whatever it is you want to talk about with your teen. It is important to be honest with yourself so that you can be honest with your teen. Then, take advantage of the teachable moments in your lives and take some conversation tips from parents who’ve been in your shoes.
Question and Answer
Some of the most important conversations begin with a simple question.
Adolescence is a time of enormous change, physically, emotionally and socially. It is a difficult time for many parents. Young people say that they WANT to talk to their parents about sexuality, especially about values and relationships. They believe their parents’ opinion is important and they would like to be able to go to them when they have questions. If parents show they are open and willing to talk about these topics, teens will ask.
In general, the questions teens have for parents are of three types:
Knowledge or information
Values or what is right
Is this normal?
Knowledgequestions (such as “What is a condom?”) can be some of the easier types of questions for many parents to address. If you don’t know the answer, it’s an opportunity to find the answer together with your teen.
Values questions (such as, “Is it OK to have sex before marriage?”) indicate teens are trying to figure out what they believe in, their own values, and what’s right for them. This is also an important task of adolescence. While many parents want their children to embrace their own values about sex, sexuality, and relationships, as teens grow into adulthood, they may test, rebel, or decide differently for themselves.
Is this normal? questions (such as, “My girlfriend says her breasts are not the same size. Is thisnormal?”) These might be about physical or emotional development. Teens might not ask these questions about themselves directly but about friends or classmates. With so many changes happening, teens really do want to know what is normal.
The A-B-L-E method can serve as a “door opener” to positive, long-term communication:
Always answer the question if you can. If you don’t know the answer, tell them that you will find it together. If you aren’t sure what you want to say, ask for time to think about your response. (For example, you might say, “That’s a good question. I’d like a little time to think about what I want to share with you. Can we talk about it tonight?”)
Be brief and to the point. You want to avoid lecturing or giving long-winded speeches.
Be honest and avoid judgment. Be careful not to use “door closers” such as “You’d better” or “You should,” or “You’ll do as I say.”
Leave the door open to more conversation. After you answer the question, ask one or more of the following questions:
“What do you think?”
“What else would you like to know?”
“Did I answer your questions?”
“Is there anything else you want to know about this subject?”
End with a supportive comment such as:
“I appreciate your coming to me and I’m always here to try and help you with answers to your questions.”
“Thanks for asking me. I value your coming to me with questions like this.”
“Thanks for asking my opinion. If you ever feel you can’t come to me or your mom/dad, I hope you’ll go to ________ (name of trusted adult).”
Widen the Circle of Trust
One of the developmental tasks of adolescence is to become independent from parents and prepare for adult relationships and intimacy with others. It is normal during this time for teens to seek out adults other than parents to get advice and support. It doesn’t mean that you aren’t important to them or that they don’t trust you or love you. It just means that they are becoming adults and widening their circle of trusted adults who are important to them and can help them with issues or problems.
Parents should recognize that this may happen and give their teens the names of other adults they feel share their values and would help their teens in difficult situations. These adults may be another relative, a teacher, a youth minister, a counselor, or a close friend. Parents should tell their teens that this person will help them and if they want, this person will help them come to the parent.
The questions teens ask often depend on their age and stage of physical, emotional, and social development.
Actual questions high schoolers are asking, and the answers that you might use to keep the conversation going.
Q: How can you tell if a guy is a virgin?
A: Great question! There is no way unless he tells you. You can ask, but know that he may or may not be telling you the truth. Do you need any more information?
Q: Can you get pregnant just fooling around?
A: It depends on what you do when “fooling around.” It’s possible, even though you may not have intercourse (the penis is in the vagina and the male ejaculates). If the semen from the penis gets anywhere near the vagina, the sperm can find their way into the vagina and travel to an egg. Then you might get pregnant. What else do you want to know?
Q: Is oral sex “sex?”
A1: Wow. That’s a tough question. What do you think?
A2: To me, oral sex is a very intimate behavior between two people. While pregnancy is not a risk with oral sex, you can get and transmit STDs like gonorrhea, herpes, and HIV. If couples engage in oral sex, condoms are very important.
Q: My breasts are not the same size. Am I normal?
A: Absolutely! Most women find that their breasts are not equally the same. Are you worried about this? If you are, at your next check-up, mention it to your doctor and she can check it out.
Q: Can you tell if a guy has an STD?
A: Some STDs don’t show symptoms right away and some require a medical professional to identify them. If you are having any kind of intimate contact with someone else, whether it’s oral, anal, or vaginal sex, you can get and transmit an STD. It’s important that you know the signs and symptoms of STDs and protect yourself. I don’t know a whole lot about STDs. Let’s go on the Internet and get some STD information. Was this covered in your health class?
Q: My girlfriend is really moody when she is on her period. What gives?
A: Having a period or menstruation is a result of lots of hormonal changes in a girl’s body. These hormones also affect her moods, temperament, and how she relates to you. It’s pretty normal and I’m sure it’s uncomfortable for her. Some girls have cramps in their abdomen and other physical changes and this may also affect what she says and does. What do you think you could do during these times?
Q: A friend of mine is afraid she’s pregnant. What should I do?
A: It’s a great thing that she values your friendship enough to tell you. She needs to find a way to confirm whether or not she’s pregnant. If she is, then I hope she can go to her parents for help. If she can’t go to her parents, then maybe there is another trusted adult she can go to for support. Pregnancy means some big decisions ahead that she shouldn’t face alone. If she isn’t pregnant, then she may still need some help. If she is having sex, then it is really important for her to use an effective contraceptive. What else can I do to help?