Parents: Tips for talking with your teenager
As a parent, you want to be there for your teenager. But you may not know how to start a conversation or what to say. Maybe you’re worried you’ll say the wrong thing or embarrass them.
It’s normal to feel uncertain about how to talk with a teen. They have a lot going on in their lives, may experience rapidly changing moods and may not want to talk to or spend time with you right now. But it’s also important to let them know that you’re there for them if they want to talk—no matter how awkward or uncomfortable the topic.
How to start a conversation with your teenager
Start early and talk often. Yes, it can be awkward to have “the talk” with your teen, but doing so can help them make safer, more informed choices.
Ask for advice. If you’re not sure how to respond to your teen’s questions, talk to their pediatrician, family medicine provider, school nurse or guidance counselor for support.
Let them know you’re available. Your child may want to talk to you, but not know if you’re open to a conversation. Let them know you’re always there for them if they want to talk about anything, whether it’s friends, dating, sex, STI and pregnancy prevention, bullying, alcohol, drugs, or mental health.
Be informed. Ask your teen where they get information about sex, dating, sexually transmitted infections, teen pregnancy, drinking and drugs. Messages from social media, health education classes, television, friends, teachers and health care providers can vary. And some information may be more accurate than others.
Find the right time. Your teen may be more likely to open up if they feel comfortable. Try starting a conversation on a walk, in the car, through texting or immediately after a relevant TV show or movie.
Be honest. If you don’t know the answer to a question, it’s OK to let your child know you’ll do some research and find out. You can even suggest doing the research together. Check out Centerstone’s teen content for helpful information on many topics, like cyberbullying, LGBTQIA+ issues, sex and mental health.
Try not to overreact. Your teenager may tell you something that shocks you. While it’s OK to tell them you’re surprised, uncomfortable or don’t have all the answers, do your best not to overreact or judge them. Let them know you appreciate them coming to you for advice and that you’ll do your best to help them.
Get on the same page. Ask if they’re looking for advice or simply someone to talk to. Clarifying this will help you determine how to best approach the conversation. You can also ask if they’d like to hear about how you dealt with certain issues when you were a teenager.
Thank them for talking with you. Ask your teen if they feel understood and reiterate that they can always come to you for information. Tell them you appreciate them sharing their thoughts, questions and concerns with you, that you love them, and are always there for them. Showing your support can go a long way.
Give them regular access to health care professionals. Take your teen to regular preventive care appointments. Give them time alone with the health care provider to ask questions. You may need to suggest that you step out during the appointment since not all providers will ask you to leave the room.
Know that you’re making a difference. When you talk openly and honestly with your teen, you may be able to reduce the chances that they’ll do something to put their health and safety at risk. Teens report that their parents influence their decisions about sex more than the media, their friends or their siblings, according to The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.
Teens also reported that making decisions about sex would be easier if they could have open, honest conversations with their parents. When they have parents they can talk to, teens may be more likely to delay having sex and use protection when they do, according to research.
As a parent, you won’t always get it right. But when you show up and do your best, you’re helping more than you’ll ever know.
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