Parents & Teenagers: 5 Must Have Conversations

Communicating with teenagers is not always easy.  In fact sometimes it can feel impossible. When confronted with overwhelming levels of grunts, rolled eyes, and expressions that say “Why are you destroying my life by continuing to exist” adults can feel it is all just too hard.

While communication can be challenging, it is important, and some messages are  so important that parents must persist.  Ironically it is the messages that are most important that adults seem to struggle the most to deliver.

When it comes to those important conversations have them early. Despite how tempting it is to put them off, starting some conversations early is invaluable for two reasons.

Firstly the messages are about prevention, so better to be communicated earlier rather than later.

Secondly a tween or young teen will be more receptive to what parents and adults have to say than when they get to their mid teens.

There are 5 conversations you simply must have with your teenager- and the earlier the conversations start the better it will be for both of you.

1. No Matter What Happens

This is the most important message I think parents, or other adult caregivers, can give to teenagers. Put simply it is:

“No matter what happens, whatever mess you get yourself into, however disappointed you think I will be, you can always tell me and know I will not reject you, I will love you, and I will support you.”

The greater confidence teens have in the security and safety of their family relationships the less chance they have of engaging in risky behaviour that leads to life getting messy.

Good parenting is about setting clear limits and boundaries but it is also about communicating unconditional love and acceptance. Acceptance that is not dependent on good behaviour or achievement.

Has your tween or teen heard this message from you? It is easy to think my child knows that, but can you remember a time when you have looked them in the eye and told them?

2. The Sex Talk(s)

This may not be the most important, but it seems to be the least favourite conversation for parents. Unfortunately the research shows that a significant number of parents do not discuss sex and sexuality with their teens.  It is not a conversation (or series of conversations) that should be outsourced to schools.

The risks of not having a sensible and clear conversation with young people about sex are obvious and serious.  If you are feeling uncomfortable about discussing this subject, then consider how much more uncomfortable you will feel discussing a teenage pregnancy, sexually transmitted infection, or sexual assault your teen was involved in.

Key messages teens need to hear and be free to discuss with parents include:

  • what is sex – particularly the part about making another life
  • respect your own body and respect other people’s bodies
  • the moral and ethical values that you have regarding sexuality
  • the physical and emotional risks associated with sexual activity
  • the what, how and why of safe sex
  • ways to avoid being in sexually compromising or risky situations

Have you had the ‘sex talk” with your teenager? Not just “You know about sex right?” but a real detailed, this feels awkward type of conversation.  Hint: lots of little conversations at key moments tend to be easier and work better.

Given that puberty is starting earlier (before 10 for many girls) and over 50% of teens have had intercourse before finishing high school, waiting until uni or college is way too late!

In the next post I will discuss the three other must have conversations…

Image by Boris van Hoytema

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