Parenting a Teenager - The Big Talks (Sex, Drugs & Alcohol)

empowering your teenager Nov 30, 2022

Here are the two scenarios for how a “big talk” typically happens.


Scenario #1


You will plan for weeks or even months to have a big talk. Then you wait for the perfect opportunity to bring up the subject, but the right time just never presents itself. After a few weeks of feeling guilty for not following through, you finally say to your teenager, “I have something we need to talk about. How about we take a walk after dinner?” In effect, you make an appointment to have the talk. The time comes and you strategically make your way through the talking points you have laid out. Your teenager acts like they are listening, but they are clearly uncomfortable. As you wrap up your comments, you ask if they have any questions. In typical teenager fashion, they say, “No, I’m good.” At this point you feel a huge sense of relief, knowing that you have fulfilled your obligation as a parent.


Scenario #2


You and your teenage son or daughter are out getting gas for the car and another teenager pulls up to the pump next to you. It is impossible not to notice because they have the sound system in their car at full volume. The song that is playing as they pull up is clearly advocating for drinking and having sex. As you get back into the car you say, “I certainly hope you don’t listen to that kind of music.” Your teenager responds, “It is just a big deal.” The phrase “no big deal” officially pushes your buttons and you launch into the big talk. Your teenager sits quietly as you lecture about being responsible and the potential consequences of making bad decisions. As you pull back into the driveway, you are satisfied that your son or daughter now knows where you stand on these big topics.


There are many other scenarios I could use to illustrate the same point. It is very common for these talks to play out with the parent doing all of the talking and the teenager not really listening. Also, since these are difficult topics, once we have the big talk, it gets marked off the list and never comes up again. In our minds, we have said our piece and there is no need to overdo it.


While there can be some value in these one-way conversations, there is another approach. I recommend that instead of thinking in terms of the “big talk,” consider the possibility of having an ongoing conversation that will last throughout your son or daughter’s teenage years. In these smaller conversations, allow your teenager to do most of the talking. You may be thinking, “Sounds awesome, but how do I do that?” The answer involves a combination of awareness of opportunities to bring up these big topics and our strategies for connecting and empowerment coaching. Here is a scenario to consider:


Let’s use the example involving the trip to get gas for the car. The song lyrics present an opportunity to explore your teenager’s current mindset regarding drinking alcohol and having sex. Here is what this conversation could sound like:


Parent: (with a smile and a hint of sarcasm) Boy, that was some really pleasant music.


Teenager: The louder the better.


Parent: Did I hear it right? It sounded like they were talking about getting girls drunk and then having sex with them.


Teenager: Yeah, but it is just a song and it has a great beat.


Parent: Great beat aside, how would you feel if one of your friends told you that they got a girl drunk and then had sex with her? Would you be okay with that?


From here, let them talk. Be grateful for the opportunity to have this conversation. Be compassionate and forgiving if you hear anything that is difficult to hear. Continue to ask questions grounded in curiosity.


At some point in the conversation, you may feel the desire to share your principles, values, and beliefs on the topic. There are two prerequisites that will greatly increase the possibility that your teenager will actually hear and consider what you are saying. The first prerequisite has been met already. You have demonstrated that you honor your teenager’s thoughts and opinions by the way you have listened and asked questions. In short, they feel that they have been heard. The second prerequisite is to ask permission. Here is what that could sound like:


Parent: I am impressed by how thoughtful you are being right now. You have made a few points that I have not considered before. Would it be okay if I shared a few of my thoughts with you?


When they say yes, it is your turn to express your perspective. After you state your case, check in with them again as a way to continue the conversation. Try this:


Parent: Does what I am saying make sense to you? What do you agree with and what do you disagree with?


Continue the conversation until it feels like it has run its course or until there is a natural transition, like you pull back into the driveway or someone walks into the room. Wrap up the conversation with gratitude and set the stage for future discussion. You could say:


Parent: I really appreciate you being this open with me, as well as your willingness to hear me out. If you ever feel like you need to talk more, I am here.


This approach feels doable, doesn’t it?


So where does it go from here? Continue to look for natural opportunities to bring up these big topics. Here are a few examples:


●   You are watching a movie and the plot involves someone getting hit by a drunk driver.

●   You overhear your teenager talking about a girl at school who is pregnant.

●   Your teen brings home a pamphlet from school on safe sex.

●   You see a group of teens standing outside the local Dairy Queen smoking cigarettes or vaping.

●   You see an ad on TV that makes drinking look glamorous. You could ask your teenager if they knew that there used to be ads for cigarettes on TV but they are not allowed now. Follow up with: Should ads for alcohol be allowed?


When you start looking, these opportunities are everywhere.


A change in perspective … changes everything.


Jim White

Family Enrichment Coach





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