Many parents and adult family members are realizing that their teens are making lifestyle choices that may impact their entire future.
However uncomfortable you may find topics such as sex, drug use and the consequences of risky behavior, now is the time to have the conversation about such issues with your kids.
You may feel embarrassed, uninformed or simply don’t know what to say or how to say it. Perhaps you never discussed these topics with your own parents.
You’re Never Alone
If you are uncomfortable with these sensitive subjects, know that you are not alone. There’s always someone who can inform you or help you manage. You can reach out to your child’s teacher or a guidance counselor at your child’s school, a religious leader, even a librarian who can assist you in accessing books or articles on any subject matter with which you need to become more at ease. Certainly your teen’s healthcare provider can speak to you and your child about these topics.
Decisions and Choices
Throughout their teenage years, your kids will be confronted with many difficult situations. Going for the safe, healthy option may not be the easiest or most obvious choice for your teen. Peer pressure may factor heavily into decision-making when it comes to drinking alcohol at parties, trying drugs, having a sexual relationship or even joining a gang.
Your Evolving Role
For a parent or involved family member, being present to protect your teens from situations that could potentially hurt them is always your priority, but there are times that doing so is not realistic.
As a teen grows older, parenting becomes less about control and more about offering guidance. You can help support your teen in making responsible decisions by providing a solid foundation built upon sharing your time, experience, values, trust and love. You can begin talking about non confrontational topics and issues. Make sure there is some part of the day — meal time or snack time or even while you’re folding laundry — where you are having one-on-one time.
It is important to know about your teens’ friends, know what they are doing in their free time and know how they are doing in school. Your children’s friends engaging in activities that you do not approve of should be a red flag because your teens may choose to participate in those same activities.
Even if kids receive support and guidance from their parents in making important decisions about their future, they may still challenge their parent’s values, beliefs and practices as a way to test parents and assert their independence. Whether your teen comes to talk to you regarding making a decision or you bring up the topic yourself, make the most of the opportunity. Your approach to any discussion has a real impact on whether or not your teen will feel comfortable coming to talk to you in the future.
Say This, Not That
Ask questions that avoid yes or no responses. If you ask your teens if their friends drink at parties, they will probably say no. A better way to start the conversation is, “How many of your friends would drink at a party if there was free beer?” This will certainly give a different response. This may be the time to discuss the legal age of drinking and that drinking puts a teen at risk for poor decision-making.
Asking questions that begin with how, why or what will give you the information you may be seeking. Really listen to what your kids are saying instead of thinking about your responses. Try to put yourself in your children’s shoes to understand their thoughts. Teens sometimes believe they don’t have any choice in the outcome of difficult situations. Help them see that they have alternatives and help them identify and compare the possible consequences of all the available choices.
Teens need to be aware that their choices will affect their reputation and goals. Explain (without lecturing) the consequences of different choices. Ask your teens how and why they made a choice. Remember, your teens may make different choices than you would prefer. After they made their choices and went through with their decisions, ask how things worked out. What did they learn from that decision or choice? Not all decisions you made as a parent have been the right ones and sometimes we need to share examples and let our teens see how it worked out and how it might have been different. Praise your teens when they make a choice that works out well, even if it was not what you would have done.
We as parents need to give our teens unconditional love and must be supportive, even when they make mistakes. We should be open and understanding. If you are experiencing conflict over rules, chores, peers, etc., talk to them about it, but also attempt to have positive conversations about other things. Because there is a conflict does not mean that every interaction has to be negative.
Monitor and supervise your teens’ activities with sensitivity. You can monitor behavior simply by being present and asking a few simple questions in a non-accusatory tone. Talk with your teens about ways to handle risky situations to prepare them to make safer choices. Your teens need to know that you will not punish them for being honest and, if they’re in a difficult situation, to come to talk to you right away.
Sheryl Zang, EdD, FNP, CNS-BC, is an Associate Professor at Downstate Medical Center, College of Nursing. A nurse for 38 years, she is presently running groups for children and teens with diabetes.