This Post: 5 Conversations That Should Never Be Off-limits with Your Teen
Written by: Marybeth Bock & Nancy Reynolds
There was a time when you controlled every aspect of your kid’s life. From what they ate and what they wore to school to the friends they spent time with and what they did during their free time. Every bit of it was under your realm of jurisdiction.
Fast forward a few years and now that your child is a teenager, I’m sure (if you’re like many parents of teens) you feel as though you’ve lost a great deal of your once-comforting control. Let’s face it, your teen is away from you most of the day – school, sports, after-school clubs, Friday night parties, and their part-time job… they’re meeting new kids and making new friends daily – all of whom hold tremendous power to influence your teen in a positive OR negative way.
All that peer influence combined with their ability to Google virtually any subject under the sun and refer to social media for (often misguided) ideas, perspectives, and information, can make any parent feel left out in the cold when it comes to keeping their teen on the right track.
But hold on, parents… you may not realize it, but your voice, direction, and guidance might just hold more power than your teen’s friends OR the internet.
Studies have shown that the keyword in any parent-teen relationship is “influence.” Not the kind of influence you had when your child was young, but a stronger influence that’s derived solely from the quality of your relationship with your teen.
According to the UCLA Center for the Developing Adolescent, “Teens who feel happy with their relationship with their parents and who frequently discuss topics related to being in love, sexual relationships, and safe sex, are more likely to wait to have sex, even in the face of peer influence. Teen boys who report that their family is close, flexible, and enjoy spending time together are less likely to engage in risky behavior. And good rapport between parents and adolescents, combined with parents’ reasonable monitoring, has proven to guard against teen substance use.”
In Other Words: A Strong Relationship with Your Teen = Strong Parental Influence
How to Create a Strong Relationship with Your Teen: It Starts with Warmth, Solid Expectations and Respect
The UCLA study showed that some of the key factors that determine a strong parent-teen relationship include:
- Warmth, Love & Acceptance
- Boundaries & Expectations
- Spending Time Together
- Reasonable Monitoring of Teens’ Activities
Still, we ALL know teens can be fickle. No matter how great of a relationship you have with your teen, bring up the subject of sex and they might run for cover. Broach the subject of pornography or contraceptives and you might just get a moan with a “Geeez, mooomm, okaaayyy! I already know this stuff.”
Have Those Tough Talks Anyway
But here’s the thing, parents. I don’t care if your teen rolls their eyes, sighs heavily, and tells you you’re weird, say it anyway. Have those tough conversations with your teen early and often. Sex, birth control, consent, drugs, alcohol, pornography, and peer pressure. They need to hear it from you. Not from their friends, not from the internet. From YOU.
Even if you have to corner them in your car for a half hour while you run errands, get them alone (where they can’t escape) and start talking. Let them know your views. Talk about the emotional and moral aspects of topics. Ask them questions. Flat-out ask them if they’ve tried drugs, vaped, had sex, or looked at pornography. (Even if they don’t tell you the truth… ASK.) Show them statistics. Share personal stories or stories you heard on the news.
Let them know that they can come to you ANYTIME about ANYTHING. No matter what.
5 Conversations that Should Never Be Off-Limits with Your Teen
Whether or not your teen seems open to discussion, and even if you feel a little awkward, there are certain conversations that should never be off-limits with your teen. While this list isn’t all-encompassing (in actuality, NO topic should be off-limits with your teen), here are a few topics of conversation every parent should have with their teen.
1. Sex and Birth Control
Sure, sex education is offered in nearly every school, but as parents, we can’t rely on our kids’ schools to tell the “whole story.” And, we surely don’t want our kids relying on their friends or tips they picked up on social media to educate them about birth control or STD prevention. To educate and protect our kids, we need to dive into the conversation of sex with them early and often. A one-time “birds and the bees” chat won’t cut it, especially considering that our teens are being inundated with images that glamorize sex and the “no strings attached” hookup culture that dominates the dating scene today.
According to Planned Parenthood, the average teen (both boys and girls) begin having sex around the age of 17. (Some much earlier.) Don’t wait until you suspect your child is sexually active. Get talking now. The CDC reports that teens say their parents have the greatest influence over their decisions about sex—more than friends, siblings, or the media.
If they’re too embarrassed to talk with you, put your teen in contact with a health services provider, whether it’s your family doctor or a nearby clinic.
2. The Rules of Consent
A must-have conversation with our sons and daughters. Of course, “no means no,” but we need to dive much deeper than that, especially considering so much of what our teens are exposed to in the mass media doesn’t always represent healthy relationships.
Every teen needs to know the three basic rules of consent: All sexual activity must stop when consent is withdrawn; Being in a relationship doesn’t oblige anyone to do anything; Consent should never be implied or assumed, even if you’re in a relationship or have had sex before.
This “Your Guide to Sexual Consent” article from Healthline is a great one to share and discuss with your teen.
3. Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
This topic might be difficult for parents to discuss, but with around 12% of teens in the U.S. identifying as LGBTQ+, according to the CDC, this ‘talk’ is important. It’s normal to feel naïve or uncomfortable talking about a subject if you have no personal experience with it, so the key here is to ask open-ended questions and listen to your teen’s responses.
The goal is to have your teen feel comfortable being completely honest with you and to feel your love and support regarding their innermost feelings. Most LGBTQ+ adolescents are aware of their sexual orientation or gender identity from a young age, but they don’t feel safe talking about it. The bottom line is to ensure that your teen knows that your love and acceptance are never conditional.
4. Alcohol and Drugs
Sadly, we don’t have to look too hard to find teachable moments when it comes to the risks of substance use and abuse. Having clear family rules about drugs and alcohol can help, but they won’t guarantee that your rules won’t be broken. Research does show that kids who have clear rules, even if they are broken, are less likely to get into serious trouble than kids who don’t, so discussing your expectations is important.
Be clear about your rules and set specific consequences. Help your teen understand why drinking and drug use is dangerous and how it can impact their life in many ways. Stress that your goal is to keep them safe and that they can call on you for help in any situation, no matter what.
Some of you may be thinking, “Is it really necessary to talk to my teen about pornography?” The answer is “Absolutely.” According to The Academy of American Pediatrics (AAP), “42% of 10 to 17-year-olds have seen pornography online, with 27% saying they intentionally viewed such materials.” Furthermore, an examination of 15 to 18-year-olds found 54% of boys and 17% of girls admitted to “intentional viewing” of pornography. (Note: This represents the number of teens who have admitted to intentionally viewing porn; the number who actually view it is likely much higher.)
Whether your teen accesses porn intentionally or completely by accident, they need to hear from you that while sexual exploration is normal and healthy, it’s important to understand that sex depicted in pornography is not realistic and often depicts unhealthy forms of sexual expression. A great reminder for parents of teens from Very Well Family is to “Make sure kids know that pornography is a fantasy, that bodies are often altered for entertainment, that pornography is staged to look a certain way, and that what they are viewing is not a private encounter but a curated one.”
As difficult and awkward as it might seem to get the conversation rolling, it does get easier over time. When you approach topics in a loving, sincere, and nonjudgmental way, your teen will be more apt to open up, listen and share honestly.
Marybeth Bock, MPH, is Mom to two young adults and one delightful hound dog. She has logged time as a military spouse, childbirth educator, college instructor, and freelance writer. She lives in Arizona and thoroughly enjoys research and writing – as long as iced coffee is involved. Her work can be found on numerous websites and in two books. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram.
If you enjoyed, “5 Conversations that Should Never Be Off-Limits with Your Teen,” you might enjoy reading these other posts:
18 Things Your Teen Isn’t Telling You
Successful Teenagers Have Parents Who Do This One Thing
10 TED Talks for Teens to Help Them Feel Less Alone and Empowered