Bringing up these subjects with your teenager can be difficult but it is essential that you set some time aside to talk about these issues. Choose the time, place and approach you take carefully. Don’t sit the teenager down at the table and say ‘Now- lets talk about sex and drugs’ – that clearly will embarrass the teenager and certainly not initiate an honest and open conversation! It is best to bring the subject around in a casual way. For example, if you are watching TV and there is a programme discussing drugs, bring the subject up by asking your teenager what they think about the discussion. Ask them what it is like for teenagers today. If you can share something from your own experiences when you were that age, this will benefit the conversation as it is showing your willingness to talk to them about how you felt. The teenager may open up and discuss the subject with you. If so, be very careful on how you react.
Be very respectful and appreciate that this is difficult for your teenager so avoid commenting on or judging their opinions. Press the essential pause button if you are shocked by something, listen and let them finish. Do not react without thinking through what has been discussed and how you feel you should deal with it. Let them speak, listen carefully and keep calm. If you want to explore something that was said, refer back to it for discussion. Try not to show shock or disapproval while the teenager is speaking as this may discourage them and they will not continue.
If you or your teenager find it particularly difficult to discuss some of these subjects then try to pick a time where you are alone and can discuss things casually. A very good place to do this is when you are in the car. If you are driving the teen somewhere then you could bring the subject up at that stage. As you driving, there is little eye-contact with the teen and this may make it a little more comfortable for them. The other benefit of talking in the car is that the teen can’t walk out!
Don’t expect miracles! Not all teenagers will find it easy to talk about these subjects. Keep trying and keep the lines of communication open. If the teenager won’t talk to you, then you keep talking to them. This reassures them by showing that you are there for them and when they are ready to talk, you are ready to listen. It may take time but remember, they are trying to find their way in adulthood and need the loving support of their parents!
If your teenager wants to talk to you about sex, drugs, alcohol or other issues, try to make sure that you understand and are aware of what the issues are. Get information on drugs – what are the various types, what is the common or ‘street’ name for these, what are the dangers and so on. The same is true for internet safety, alcohol and sex. If your teenager does want to discuss issues that they are facing, then isn’t it much better if they can discuss it with someone who is aware of the subject and how it is presented to them? Your local GP, health clinic or community centre should have information leaflets available. You can also check out sites such as www.Drugs.ie or www.Spunout.ie for more information.