My son is a good kid. He’s smart. Talented. A strong athlete and student. We’ve always had a great relationship and have always been super close. But over the last few years, as he’s entered his teens, it feels like more of a wall has come between us. Where we once could talk about everything, many topics are met with blank stares, shrugs of his shoulders and groans. It has had me as a mom wondering if I’m doing this parenting thing wrong when it comes to my teen. After all, I know I HAVE to talk to him about certain topics like sex, drugs and other risky behaviors. But what’s a parent to do when it feels like that sweet little baby that you taught to walk and talk tries to shut you completely out of the everyday experiences they are dealing with? That’s the question I’ve been posing to myself. It’s the topic I’ve been diving into. And while I’ll be the first to admit that every teen is different, I’ve discovered a few pointers that make talking with my teen about risky behaviors easier and more productive.
Tip 1: Do Your Research
This is my first time being a parent of a teen. And where I once thought that the teen years would be a breeze (after all, I used to be a teen myself so I can TOTALLY relate, right?) I’m discovering that no matter how cool of a teen I thought I was, communicating with my teen is tough. Between hormones, outside influences and misinformation, there are times where I feel like I’m walking into a minefield instead of a discussion with a child that I gave birth to. I have quickly discovered that throwing out “teen lingo” and replying with perfectly sarcastic comments gets me nowhere. Even though it’s how he talks to his friends (and to me), it doesn’t work when I approach a tough topic in that way with him. After figuring out that I needed to throw everything I THOUGHT I knew about talking to my teen out the window, I decided to do a little research and enlist the help of the real experts.
After reading through Dr. Jennifer Salerno’s Teen Speak, I quickly realized that every approach I was using on my teen was wrong. I was talking to him in was that he wouldn’t respond to and actually alienating him to the conversation by my own attempts to be the cool parent and communicate in the way I thought he would understand. Be getting professional, research based insights that are backed up by solid facts and foundations, I was able to learn the best way to communicate with my teen.
And while I don’t want to offer too many tips because I think every parent should read this book BEFORE talking to their teen about risky behaviors, let me just say that the information in this book will totally change not only the way you look at communication with your teen but how you see your teen in general. It will give you insight into how their minds work, how their bodies are changing and how you as a parent can best address all these changes as well as the temptations that are in front of them in a way that is productive and comfortable for both of you.
Tip 2: Set The Stage for a Productive Conversation
I know that life with a teen is busy. We’re on the go almost all the time. But I also know that talking to my oldest in the car as my little guy throws toys from the back or trying to have a conversation while dinner is being cooked isn’t a good idea. Setting the stage for a productive conversation to me means carving out a time when we can sit down together and really talk. It means taking away the distractions of electronics and daily life and really listening to each other. Often it even means drawing him in with a snack and uninterrupted attention.
But Dr. Salerno taught me that it also means not simply giving my son a spill about what he should and shouldn’t be doing. As important as it is to set the stage physically, it’s equally important to set the stage emotionally by asking my teen questions and allowing him to lead the conversation (or at least think he is) while I’m gently guiding him where I want him to go.
Tips 3: Listen
I have a habit of talking “at” my teen, especially when it comes to hard subjects. I’ll plan everything out in my mind and then sit him down and give him the whole spill on what I want him to know. However, after reading Dr. Salerno’s book, I discovered that I’ve been doing it all wrong. While I do need to talk, it’s more important that I listen.
By asking him open ended question about how certain topics make him feel or what he thinks about certain behaviors and then listening to his response, I’m able to form a much better baseline for our conversations and validate his thoughts and opinions instead of simply expressing my own. Even better, I’m able to allow HIM to come the the right conclusion on risky behaviors in a way that will stick with him much better than if I had simply offered my own opinions.
Tips 4: Leave The Lines of Communication Open (Follow Up)
While most of us parents would love to think that we can have a conversation with our teens once and leave it there, that’s just not the case. They need follow up. Then need to have the lessons reaffirmed. And they need to know that we continue to care about their choices and their well-being. Formulating follow up questions to your conversations and finding opportunities to ask you teen if they have thought any more about what you discussed or had any new thoughts is a great place to start.
It allows them to share their thoughts with you as well as allowing you to follow up and ensure that your teen is staying on the right track.
I have to say, since reading Teen Speak by Dr. Jennifer Salerno, I’ve opened the lines of communication with my son and had conversations that I thought we’d never have. I’ve been open to what he wants to express and it’s helped me navigate through tough topics in a way that has been beneficial to both of us. If you are a mom of a teen (or even a pre-teen) consider Teen Speak as your required reading BEFORE sitting down to talk to your child about risky behaviors. It’s the perfect way to make sure that you’re ready to have a conversation that is productive for everyone involved.
To get your own copy of Teen Speak, click here. It’s a quick and easy read that packed full of resources and information that will make talking to your teen an experience that is beneficial for both of you.
Tell me, have you talked to your teen about risky behaviors yet? Why or why not?