Parents & Teenagers: 5 Must Have Conversations (ii)

This is the second part of two-part post on conversations parents absolutely must have with their teenagers, preferably before the teen years.

I want to acknowledge before continuing that talking about these topics will happen more effectively as a series of short conversations over time rather than one long conversation.  These short conversations are most effective when they occur spontaneously at teachable moments -such as something relevant comes on the TV. That said, don’t wait around saying nothing until your teen is 18 just because the right moment hasn’t come along.

In the previous post, I discussed the first two must-have conversations; “No Matter What Happens” and “The Sex Talk”. In this post will explore the three others.


Alcohol consumption and binge drinking have become rites of passage in many parts of western culture.  Research has found 10% of teens over 14 years drink at levels that increased their risk of alcohol-related harm in the long-term. At least 26% drink at levels that increase their risk of alcohol-related harm in the short-term at least monthly.

Many experts suggest that teens are at even higher risk from drinking alcohol because they are not used to being intoxicated and less aware of the dangers.

Parents must discuss the risks of alcohol and the difference between moderation and excess.  A conversation about alcohol should include:

  • Your opinion on when your teen should start drinking
  • Informing them that the legal drinking age is 18
  • The risks created by having less inhibitions, particularly violence and sexual activity
  • Ways of politely refusing alcohol
  • What responsible drinking is

(You may want to include Illicit drugs in a similar conversation)

Of course, any conversation will need to be consistent with the behaviour they have grown up witnessing from their parents in relation to alcohol. What you say is significant, what you do is even more significant.

Messages from peers and culture at large will quickly fill any communication void by parents on this topic.

Digital Citizenship

In the digital world parents need to teach kids to be respectful and act wisely in the physical world and also in the online world.  This chat should be about more than just the dangers that can exist online (as there are far less than dangers in the physical world) and extend to discussing how to be a wise and constructive online citizen.

The research tells us that those who are victims offonline bullying or intimidation are often aggressors themselves. Similarly, a lot of humiliation that occurs online is self-inflicted.

Parents need to teach teens to take responsibility for their online behaviour.

The conversation should include:

  • Boundaries and limits of screen time and mobile phone use
  • Don’t reveal personal details online
  • Treat others as you would want to be treated
  • Delete and don’t respond to intimidating messages
  • Never post anything you don’t want the world to know
  • Don’t engage in sexual conversations online
  • Delete unwanted images immediately
  • Be a good friend and don’t pass on unfair images/ messages


A lot of parenting advice for raising kids in an online world focuses on filtering and other technological solutions.  Filters have their place, particularly for younger kids, but education and communication are the best strategies by far.  Advice that boils down to spying on your teens doesn’t equip young people to make wise decisions and risks harming the parent teen relationships resulting in other harmful effects.

Have you had a conversation with your teen about screen time, what to look at, and how to relate online?

Cars & Driving

This one may seem a bit odd, but let me explain why I include it in the must have conversation list.  Car accidents are amongst the top 1 or 2 causes of death for teenagers in many developed countries. Those who are killed or injured are not just drivers but also passengers.  Research also demonstrates clearly that the risk of teens being involved in serious motor vehicle accidents increases significantly when they are driving with their peers as passengers.

This conversation may not always be applicable to young teens, but it is definitely a conversation to be had by the time a young person is 15 as they will often have older friends who are already driving.

This conversation should include:

  • Your expectations as to if they are allowed to be in a car driven by a teenager
  • Warnings about being in a car with a driver who has been drinking
  • When they are driving are they allowed to have passengers? (in some states/ countries there may be laws about this)
  • Never drive a car while under the influence of drugs or alcohol
  • Pull over if driving and tired
  • Permission to ring and not get lectured if they are out and in no condition to drive home
  • Street racing is illegal and highly dangerous

Don’t wait until it is too late to have this conversation. It is one that can often be overlooked or taken for granted.

Don’t Just Think About It

All the best intentions in the world will not help your teenager.  You have to talk to them!

Teenagers need, and most want (deep down), their parents to at least try to have these types of conversations. Just knowing what you think about a particular issue can be very significant to an adolescent.  Once you have broached the topics your teen is more likely to feel able to raise it with you at a later point, often when there is a decision at stake. That is the time as a parent you want your teen to be talking to you.

If you haven’t had the conversation commit to doing so. Set a deadline, talk to your partner, make a time.  It won’t be as hard as you think 😉

Image by daveparker

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