Teen Talk


Being a parent often means being at a loss for words when it comes to tough topics, no matter what your kid’s age is. For parents of teens, Amy Cody sent us a great article written by one of her interns; the content offers parents advice for how to navigate the rocky adolescent communication road:
“Whoever says adolescence is the best time of your life doesn’t remember being a teenager and/or doesn’t know one. Adolescence is rocky and scary and hard. It’s a time full of “firsts” and all the excitement but also the pressure that comes with that. Most parents of adolescents feel fear. Fear for their child’s safety and development, fear of the choices they’ll have to make by themselves and, often times, fear of their child’s mood swings and sudden distancing. This is the first time in your child’s life that she/he is going out on their own, spending more time away from you than with you, and starting to question everything you say while trusting their friends over you. Adolescence is an awkward time, in between childhood and adulthood, a time when the teen wants to be independent but isn’t quite ready to be. Adolescents often experience what my mother calls the “superman” complex, which drove me crazy when I was a teen but which I understand better now. It describes the concept that teens feel their actions have no consequences and that the rules don’t apply to them. I know you’ve all heard this a thousand times before, but this is perfectly normal. These days there is a lot of information about how dangerous this can be and all the horrific ways that events during adolescence can ruin people’s lives and self-esteem. As I said, adolescence is incredibly hard and scary, but everyone goes through it, and most of us come out okay. It’s very important to understand that as you’ve raised your child, you’ve given him or her morals and values and raised him or her to be self-assured and strong. This does not all go flying out the window on his or her 13th birthday. Even though hormones come into play, in conjunction with the media, peers and everything else, your child is still the person he or she was before adolescence. Now, your child is just struggling to find who he or she wants to be independent from anyone else. They’re dealing with all the “firsts” and how they want to be seen in the world by people besides you, and testing their own boundaries at the same time.

One of the big “firsts” that comes with adolescence and one that is one of the scariest for most parents, is sex. One thing that is necessary to understand right off the bat is that your teen is going to be exposed to sex and sexuality. This doesn’t mean they are necessarily engaging in sexual intercourse or even dating, but it means they probably know more than you think they do. They also are unbelievably curious and want to know more. However, learning more from you might be completely mortifying to them, especially if you make a big deal out of talking about sex with them. “The Talk” is no longer the way to go about it. This made more sense in the past when there wasn’t so much sex in the media and everywhere around them, and young people were more innocent and less exposed to outside influences. Now, kids have been seeing sexual images (no matter how good your parental controls are) since they were young, and have probably sought out answers from others before coming to you. Therefore, the best way to communicate with your teens about sexuality is starting from a young age (when they start asking questions) and continuously, in a comfortable fashion. This doesn’t mean the first time your child asks you where he comes from you sit him down and explain intercourse (because the answer to his question might be Minnesota!) It just means that you keep sexuality as a topic that your children feel comfortable discussing with you, and that you answer their questions as they come in the form of on ongoing dialogue. This will help children feel safer about coming to you with questions and confiding in you once they reach adolescence. Some of my favorite talks with my parents when I was a teenager were when they would tell me about stories from their own adolescence (making sure they were age appropriate, of course). I read my mother’s journals from when she was 14 when I was 14, and I found them fascinating. Your teens may act like they couldn’t be less interested in your life. However, chances are that having solid proof (such as stories or documents) showing you went through the same sort of things they are going through will get their attention. Tell them about your first kiss and how nervous you were, how embarrassing it was, etc. Funny or embarrassing stories help remind your kid that you were once their age too, and that the things that seemed mortifying to you at the time are funny now.

It’s also important to understand that there are going to be times when your teen isn’t going to want to confide in you, and you’re going to have to be okay with that. Chances are you’re not going to want to know some of it! The most important thing to remember is that adolescence is often scary and difficult, and your teen’s problems—although seemingly minute to you at times—are very real and important to him or her. The best thing you can do is listen to them and answer their questions honestly. It’s also very important to remember that sexuality during adolescence isn’t always as terrible as the media make it out to be and it very well might not be like that for your teen. There still are loving relationships in which sexual exploration is healthy and normal, and this can be very good for your teen and his or her development. “Firsts” don’t always have to be avoided; sometimes they are simply exciting and important for growth. So before deciding to take drastic measures with your teens to attempt to prevent them or protect them from the dangers of adolescence, talk to them. They’re the ultimate resource on what it’s like to be a teen in today’s world. If you approach them as someone who loves and cares about them and respects them as developing adults, as opposed to someone who’s trying to keep them children, you can help. And, even if it doesn’t seem like it, they are listening!

Here are some brief pointers on how to talk to your teens about sex:

  • Don’t go into attack mode. Even if you just found condoms for the first time in your son’s closet, don’t attack! The only thing you’ll get from that is an angry response about how you shouldn’t have been in his closet and that you don’t respect his privacy. Instead, talk to your teen calmly and ask him or her if he or she needs information about how to be safe, or if the school has been addressing sexual education yet. Don’t make it a big deal, just let them know that you are there as a resource if they need you.

  • Sometimes it’s good to take their advice and back off. If your teens feel cornered or suffocated, they won’t tell you anything. They will retreat and most likely lash out. Make it known that you’re there if they want to talk, but don’t push it.

  • Keep it light. Don’t make conversations about sex daunting and stern, but let the topic come and go in normal conversation. This will help your teen realize that you are comfortable with his or her development into adulthood, which will make him or her more likely to trust you.

  • Monitor their actions, but from a distance. Making sure you’re home when your teen has friends over is good, but making them sit in the living room with you the whole time is not. When I was a teenager and my boyfriend would come over, I knew that my mom was home but she wouldn’t constantly check up on us or hover over us. Just knowing that she was there made us more cautious, and knowing she was there made me feel safer. She always said I could use her as an excuse if I felt pressured, and this was comforting to me. Nobody likes feeling pressured, and if you’re there and let your teen know that they can use you (even coming up with some sort of a code word with them) as an excuse to get out of something uncomfortable, that will not only help them avoid those situations but it will also make them feel closer to you.

  • Ask them questions about their lives. Teens love to talk about themselves, their boyfriends, their girlfriends, and the drama in their friend groups. Why do you think they’re on the phone and/or the internet all the time? If you keep updated on what’s going on and ask them direct questions instead of a vague “how was school today?” they will feel like you are genuinely interested and they will start confiding in you more. And please, try not to get judgmental about what they share!

  • Remember that you were a teen once too, that this does pass, and if you maintain authority but don’t try and control them too much your relationship will come out stronger in the end. Also, have fun! Being young is great, and staying connected with your kids as they go through this exhilarating transition will be beneficial for both of you.”

    Claudia Lux is a junior at Sarah Lawrence College in New York. She is concentrating on gender and sexuality studies and photography. Her primary focus is on female adolescent development, specifically in the realm of sexuality and sexual health. Claudia recently completed an internship in the education department at Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts and currently is studying abroad in the Netherlands for a year. The opinions and suggestions presented here are those of Claudia Lux, not necessarily those of PPLM.

    Photo Credit: teenwire.com

  • FamilyChristine KohComment