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Published on February 02, 2017

mother and daughter having serious talk

Tips for Parents Talking to Teens about Tough Topics

Moms and dads, you’re already an expert in one area: recognizing conversations that are awkward ones to share with your teen children.

Be it sexual relationships, mental health or drug or alcohol use, these are even (sometimes) uncomfortable things for adults to discuss with other adults.

That is why Jesse Barondeau, MD, an Avera Medical Group Pediatrics Mitchell physician, spends time encouraging parents to gain some skill approaching tough topics.

Something that happened at school or in the news can make for some unique conversations with mom and dad.

“When you take initiative and talk about these topics as parents, you’re getting the chance to ‘get ahead’ of outside influences,” Barondeau said. “It helps to open a door, and teaches your child that you’re the “go to” when they face situations, like drug use or sex. They know they can ask you questions, if and when they find themselves dealing with these parts of life.”

He said if you attempt to shield your child completely it can backfire.

“Peers and media include sexual topics, drug use, violence and mental health concerns, so they are exposed,” said Barondeau. “Teenagers are not oblivious, and most adults tend to underestimate their ability to digest information and develop ideas about these things.” Completely sheltering your teenager from these topics may actually delay their development, he said. Most parents don’t want their daughters or sons to be completely unaware.

“Just like you don’t want them living in your basements until they are middle-aged,” he quipped. “Shielding tactics often lead to poor choices once teenagers move onto college or independent living situations.”

Parents who are afraid that discussing sex leads teens to have sex should know that's typically not the case, Barondeau said.

“In puberty, they develop sexual desire, they discuss sexual topics and use sexual language. They see sex in the media. So get ahead of that. Provide mature input.”

In the long run, providing accurate information is always best.

“Even if you’re squeamish about it, have that talk about your family’s values regarding healthy relationships and appropriate sexual activity,” Barondeau said. “You’ll help establish these ideas for your young teenager.” Barondeau said there are numerous studies that prove the idea of simply telling teens “do not have sex” rarely works.

“Knowledge is power, and when teens know they can talk to you, they are better off,” he said.

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