parent teen talk

Words You Never Want to Hear From Your Teen

“I’m pregnant.”

“Last night. What? I can’t remember.”

“I’m in the principal’s office and need you to come and get me.”

“I just had to send a quick text. The car hit me!”

We all have those dreaded words in the back of our minds that we never want to hear. Just when you think you’ve got your teen under control and things are going good, boom, you catch your daughter upstairs playing hanky panky with Jimmy down the street. Or your son crashes your brand new SUV because his texting and driving skills are as not as solid as he says, despite your best efforts to warn him of the dangers of texting and driving. It always seems to go in one ear and out the other. Why would you ever become a parent knowing these beautiful, innocent children would grow up to be impulsive, explosive, emotional messes that make really, really bad decisions? ­ (I’m asking for a friend.)

The funny thing is, we all like to hide our teen’s imperfections in the safe walls of our home. We don’t ask for help. Instead, we brag about our kids to the other soccer moms—touting their superior creative skills, innate athleticism, and don’t forget about their cunning ability to swoon every puberty-driven boy in the tenth grade. Wait, maybe that last gloat isn’t a good thing? See, this stuff is hard! Ever Googled, “Why my teen hates me?” You’re not alone, my friend.

Well, as a surviving mother of the dreaded teen years to now have two pretty awesome young adults, I’m here to help you navigate through the teen years with confidence, poise and understanding so you will never have to hear those dreaded words. (Or at least not as often.)

The biggest thing to remember when you are frustrated with how your son or daughter is behaving is that they have no control over the changes happening in their bodies. They are riding a roller-coaster of highs and lows. Think about what it is like to go through menopause and middle age (or what you’ve heard about it), multiply that by 100 and put yourself in an environment where all of your friends and co-workers are going through the same thing. Sounds horrible, right? This is what our teens are dealing with every day. Often times, they’re all out of whack. Their bodies may look like an adult but on the inside they may need to catch up. This tornado of physical, cognitive, emotional and sexual changes can trigger risky behaviors like binge drinking, unprotected sex, texting and driving—the list goes on.

This is serious stuff. In fact, the cause of death in 3 out of every 4 teens is due to their risky behaviors. ­These are deaths that could have been prevented if a parent was aware, if a healthcare provider was aware, and the teen had conversations with caring adults in ways that caused them to think differently about risks and then make safer decisions.

You don’t have to do this parenting thing without some help, guidance and maybe a glass of wine every once in a while. As a nurse practitioner, a researcher, author, and a mom of two, I have counseled thousands of teens over the years on their risky behaviors. The best advice I have? Foster a strong relationship built on solid communication. Studies show that having a strong relationship with your teen is one of the biggest positive influences on their behaviors. So, how do you talk to teens in a way that fosters a strong relationship, opens the line of communication and helps them make safer decisions? Here you go. Keep these tips in your memory bank!

  1. Ask permission. The key to having a genuine conversation with your teen when it comes to subjects like sex, alcohol, or texting and driving is to start by asking permission. A normal part of being a teen is their struggle for control. Asking permission gives them a sense of control over the discussion and a feeling of respect. When permission is asked and given, teens are more open to hearing what you are telling them. You could start with something like this: “I would like to talk with you about what happened at school. When is a good time today?”
  2. Use empathetic statements. Empathy creates a safe and supportive environment between you and your teen. “You had a hard day at school today” makes for a more productive start to a conversation than, “Stop complaining. When I was your age…”You may be thinking your teen has it easy (and they probably do) compared to your life, but remember for teens it is all about them and showing them empathy will help strengthen your relationship.
  3. Ask open-ended questions.As easy it is to lecture, it doesn’t lead to a productive and honest two-way discussion. Open-ended questions allow teens to think through risky behaviors and possible alternatives to those behaviors. They are not easily answered with a yes or no response. If you’d like to have a conversation with your teen about drinking alcohol, you could say, “How will you handle being offered alcohol at the party” instead of “Are you planning on drinking at the party?”
  4. When your teen responds to an open-ended question, don’t interrupt or share personal stories. When you want to respond immediately, take a slow, deep breath instead. A few seconds of silence gives teens a chance to think about what they are saying and continue their thought. Your role is to facilitate discussions, not lead them.