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Monday, July 2, 2012

Discussing Sensitive Topics with Your Teen

 Raymond Alexander Kukkee


How to Talk to Teens and 'Tweens About Difficult and Personal Issues

Panic is rising It has the worrisome potential of an ultimate disaster. The essential parent's nightmare has arrived in your household...... Perhaps you sense the child you love is headed for trouble and a frank discussion about premarital sex and risky behaviour is overdue. The prospect of holding any sensitive discussion may be daunting, embarrassing, and very uncomfortable for you.

Relax. You are not alone. Most parents have run into a similar situation at one point or another, and frustrated parents, at times, are tempted to pass the buck, avoid the issue entirely, or throw up their hands in despair unnecessarily.
While it is true a discussion may not change the direction a teen is headed in life, it also does not preclude the fact that a teen must inevitably learn, --by their own experience, many of the lessons necessary in life.
  In the extreme, a discussion can fail miserably or even backfire in spite of your best effort. Much depends upon how you, as a mature adult and parent, approach sensitive issues such as premarital
 sex, intimacy, and risky behaviour.

If a serious effort to guide your teen through sensitive, uncomfortable issues is made using patience, experience and wisdom, teens will inevitably become more mature even though it may not become immediately apparent to you. 
Understanding the underlying issues and reasons for teen behaviour may be ultimately more valuable than details of a perceived problem.

With love, care and nurturing values applied, mutual respect between parents and teens will develop naturally, and the relationship with your teens will change and mature as they gain the life experience that is so important to their personal development.

In planning any discussion about premarital sex, intimacy or risky behaviour with a teen, success is not always guaranteed. Talking to teens can be arduous at times; personalities, personal choices and actions can be difficult to face upon discovery, and even harder to accept. Often it takes far more than just average levels of understanding, patience, people-handling skills, or logic to talk to our teens, but as parents, it seems natural that we should try.

Here are some tips to help ease the difficulty of talking to 'tweens and teens about those embarrassing, sensitive, and difficult topics.

1. Advise the teen in advance that you sincerely want to have a mature and non-judgmental discussion, whether it is about intimacy, relationships, premarital sex, sexually transmitted diseases, oral sex, or pregnancy. Stress that you recognize how important it is to address potential personal problems before they occur. Discuss the benefits of establishing responsible, mature solutions together.
2. Identify with your teen. You may actually be more embarrassed discussing sensitive issues than they are, so do admit it honestly. Assure them it is natural to be embarrassed and sensitive about personal issues, so encourage your teen to understand how you feel too, and in doing so, enforce the principle that regardless of how people feel, responsible and productive adult discussion can take place .
3. Set time aside carefully and specifically for your discussions. Rushing an important discussion such as virginity, birth control or the initiation of premarital sex implies that you attribute little importance to your teen's potential and very personal problem. In fact, it may turn out to be the biggest personal problem your teen has ever encountered, so prepare well for that possibility by allowing adequate time to fully discuss the problem. Turn off the television, the computer, and the cell phone.
4. Be patient. When you initiate the discussions, express patience and show that you are really listening to what is happening in their lives, what may have happened already, and what they have to say about it. Assure them what they believe about intimacy and sex before marriage is really important to you, too. Refrain from becoming angry if you instantly disagree with what they tell you.
5. Respect the teen's requirement for privacy. Do hold sensitive discussions in private. Privacy is a huge issue when sensitive issues are discussed with teens. If there is no privacy allowed for your discussion, the teen may quickly come to believe you do not respect their personal feelings. As a general rule, arrange it so friends, peers, or other family members will not be in the room at the time of the discussion unless the teen specifically requests they be in attendance. Private discussions not only encourage openness, but they eliminate distraction. Privacy is paramount, regardless of subject.
6. Be aware of the fact that a teen may only want confirmation from you of what they already  believe. It does happen. If they are asking questions, consider that to be a good sign of a sense of responsibility. By the way, if they request that a friend of theirs be present for your conversation, it may be that they want their friend to also receive the same beneficial message.
7. In some instances, both parents may feel it is mandatory and necessary to be involved in the same discussion simultaneously. In fact, it may be far preferable to ensure one-on-one discussions rather than have two parents seen to be "ganging up" on a single teen in a discussion. Be sensitive to that possibility and avoid that scenario.

      First experiences, loss of virginity, sexual feelings, and any resulting feelings of depression, guilt and inadequacy may be overly-sensitive issues that are better addressed by one parent or the other. Embarrassing issues such as a teen's period, premarital sex, pregnancy, and discussions on extremely sensitive issues such as oral sex on first dates may be totally out of the question if, as an example, the male parent stubbornly insists on participating in every discussion. Similarly, if the teen, regardless of gender, is more comfortable talking to the other parent, do respect that decision.

8. Remember you were a teenager once too. Early dating has become earlier dating in the ever-increasing speed of society, for better or for worse. Sex, rightly or wrongly, has come to the fore in many relationships prior to marriage. It does not hurt to tell your teenager how you felt about the same issue when you were the same age without dwelling upon the past. Stress that individual experiences are normal, and a fact of life. Compare feelings.
9. Build trust and confidence by being sincere. Teens can spot a lie instantly and will often "clam up" if they feel they are being deceived, patronized, needled, or subjected to unnecessary embarrassment. Modern teens are often amazingly candid and mature. Remember, if they discover you have lied to them, in future discussions they may also lie, telling you only what they think you wish to hear.
10. Accept the fact that teenagers are more than likely better informed about the "birds and bees " than you were 30 years ago. The internet and open communication has changed society substantially, continues to do so endlessly, and in public opinion, not always for the better. Sex is prevalent in all aspects of modern society, like it or not. Times change. Be aware of what your teen has been exposed to in sex education at school, in their personal lives, and culturally. Use proper terminology for the human anatomy because they already know it. Be aware of societal attitudes, practices and pressures common or prevalent in the city and location you reside.
11. Always answer teen questions honestly, to the best of your ability. If you do not know the answer, assure them you will find out for them, and then DO follow up on your promise. Doing so encourages the teen to confide in you and ask for further advice. Remember that asking advice, and knowing when to ask for the advice of another person, is a sign of maturity. If your opinions and answers are forthright, honest, and believable, they will be heeded and treasured.
12. Encourage your teen to think independently rather than be negatively influenced by bad peer behaviour or reckless actions. In encouraging teens to think independently, it is helpful to recognize that to become mature individuals, teens do need to learn to make decisions, but also learn to live with the consequences. Although young adults may not always make the correct choices about personal and intimate activities, they will respect your encouraging them to make their own responsible decisions at times, as difficult as it may seem. As a positive outcome, teens may even make far superior choices only because you have displayed trust in their judgment. It may seem strange, but trust does gain trust. Contrary to popular opinion, a decision to allow teens more responsibility does not mean one should give teens carte blanche to do virtually anything they wish. It does not change the fact that you are the parent with an obligation to provide guidance and teach them to be responsible for their own behaviour.
13. Assure your teen that you DO respect their frank, personal opinion on sensitive issues and that you are genuinely interested in hearing what they think about it. If you think their opinion is wrong, explain why without demeaning their ideas or pointing accusing fingers.
14. If reasonable to do so,  be willing to accept your teen's judgment upon occasion. Sometimes teens are right too. At times, issues are already far beyond control, and angry personal judgments that merely elevate discussions to higher levels of disagreement, anger and distrust are more effective withheld entirely.
15. When talking, avoid losing control and lashing out angrily if you do not agree. Take a break purposefully, and if you have anger management issues, assure the teen you will be happy to discuss the matter on a later occasion when you have had a chance to think about it further. Storming out of a discussion in anger will not solve anything, but rather teaches teens to avoid facing sensitive issues head on.
       Facts may be hard to accept at times, but sex always has been part of human nature. As an example, if your 16 year-old daughter confides in you that she is already sexually active, the wisest thing you can do as a parent is to not over-react. Instead, ask what she knows about sexually transmitted diseases, and pregnancy. Find out as much as possible why she is participating in that risky behaviour, and what she is doing to protect herself. Ultimately, DO help her to responsibly arrange birth control and practice safe sex without making her feel like a criminal. Better protected than not.
16. Do encourage sexual abstinence and general moral values, but do so without preaching or being loud, threatening or heavy-handed. If you do feel overly strongly about this common societal concern, in your discussions, instead, carefully explain to your teen why you feel that way . Is it contrary to your faith, your culture, personal beliefs, or is your uncontrolled fervor a result of your own guilt or negative experience? It is always helpful to understand why people think and act as they do.
17. If your teen is running with a crowd that is already sexually active, ask if their peer group is pressuring them to "be the same". As a matter of good parenting, always listen very carefully to what your teens may say about their friend's activities. If your teen calmly states her friends are sexually active, she has just given you a clear signal of social pressure that requires her to do the same. Encourage your teen to think for themselves, learn about sexually transmitted diseases, birth control methods, and ensure that safe sex is being practiced at all times.
18. Be informed. Express interest when your teen wants to tell you what their friends have relayed to them about sex, and again, listen carefully to all of the details offered . Ensure your teen has modern, accurate information rather than third-hand street information about premarital intimacy, birth control, pregnancy, and sexually transmitted diseases. Peer pressure is substantial in teen surroundings and can spread sexual health misinformation, defying all logic and reason. Serious consequences can easily develop if information is incorrect, misunderstood or dealt with inappropriately.
19. Although it is extremely difficult at times, avoid expressing anger needlessly or arbitrarily. Thoughtful discussion and reason will go a lot farther with any intelligent teen than scolding, anger and pointedly attempting to diminish their personal sense of self-worth. Angry teens may in turn arbitrarily choose to "bait" you by saying outrageous things, for instance, that " oral activities are not sex!" so listen carefully, and watch their body language. Be assured they are watching yours. Your responses should remain positive, calm, measured, insightful and thoughtful, regardless of their comments or efforts to rile you.
20. Above all, assure your teen that you trust them because you love and care for them. Avoid jumping to conclusions too quickly. Just because all of their friends are having premarital sex and practicing risky behaviour does not mean your teen is making the same mistake. Give each teen credit where credit is due.

By following some of these tips, you can have frank, honest discussions with your 'tweens or teens about premarital sex, intimacy, sexually transmitted diseases, loss of virginity, or virtually any other very sensitive and uncomfortable personal issue. 

Ultimately, with care, the personal relationship you enjoy with your teen will grow and mature with respect, love, healthy understanding, and composure.

Remember when you wanted to ask your parents "that"?

Is that incoming I hear?

        *Note:  This article was originally  Published by Raymond Alexander Kukkee  at Associated Content  now part of the Yahoo Contributor Network


  1. Excellent suggestions, Raymond. Wish my parents had had them back in the day.

    1. Thanks,Glory! I believe a lot of us would have appreciated more 'information' than we received from our parents in earlier eras. Sensitive topics were studiously avoided, it was simply too embarassing with post-Victorian upbringings and stifled exchanges common in the practice of parenting. Thank you for making that observation. ":) ~R

  2. I like the part for parents about understanding that being asked these questions by your child is a good thing and shows maturity. You summarize the topic well, Raymond!

    1. Hi Christyb ! Thank you. An honest, thoughtful exchange of information is far more likely to result in mature, reasonable decisions on the part of both adults AND their teens.
      "Christyb agrees that being asked questions by your child is a good thing and shows maturity". Thank you, my friend Christyb! ":) ~R

  3. My talk when I was young consisted of the phrase: "come home pregnant and I'll kill you." My mother, God rest her soul, wondered for years why she did not find out she had grand children until much later (yes I was married).

    I'd love to add more, but have looming deadlines. I may return to this later.

    1. Hi Alexandra! Your experience was actually more common than you think! "Potential threat but no helpful information" comes to mind.
      I once had a friend that was told exactly the same thing--word for word. NO other helpful information was provided to her.
      If you're challenged for time, return and add another comment later if possible. I am interested to hear more of your 'typical' interaction with you parents at that time. Thanks for dropping in! ":) ~R

  4. I think, like everyone else here, I would have also appreciated a more open discussion by my parents. I remember when making the transition over from childhood, my mom told us... "Keep an arms distance from boys and its not to be disputed.' I think because of that, the male population was always considered 'dangerous'. Even today I tell my mom if she was more relaxed with us girls, we would have grown up with a more open view of guys, instead of being so over protected and conjuring up very close-minded ideas. I see so many things for my daughter that I want changed.

    1. Mandy, I could not agree with you more. The foolishness is perpetuated from one generation to the next, instead of common sense being used with sensible decisions, fear is instilled into children--and why? In some cases it may be long cultural practice, but in many cases it is simply embarrassment,lack of knowledge, wisdom, and worse yet, 'don't care', lazy or negligent parenting.
      If you see things you want changed for your daughter, be proactive and DO change them for the better. Your daughter will thank you for it, and so will your grandchildren--eventually. Thanks for commenting! ":) R

  5. Great advice Raymond. My mother didn't have info about anything, so she probably over-prepared me for some things. It's hard to find that balance between too much/too soon/ and just right. It is better to do it wrong than to not do it at all though. In today's society, you have to start young because they're seeing it/hearing it everywhere. It's impossible to completely protect them, so it's important to use those teachable moments along with the scheduled talks. Angie

    1. Hi Angela, that is precisely why it's a good idea. Better to have thoughtful, well-informed teens that can make GOOD decisions for themselves when they are faced with difficult choices --like participating in risky behaviour. You are correct, it is impossible to completely protect them, but you CAN use those teachable moments to make them as aware as humanly possible. It has never hurt a teen to be informed enough to make good, logical decisions for themselves. Great point! Thanks Angie! ":) ~R

  6. Some Great advice here Raymond.. Having gone through those Teen Years with my Son and Daughter and before that I had to do the Parent Talk with my younger Brother as My Mother dipped out of that conversation Asking me Big Sister of two years senior to do the honours.. I don’t know who was more embarrassed with that one Me or my Brother.. :-) LOL. ..
    Both I handled both of my children differently.. And with sex education now in most schools.. I think Children are being made more acutely aware of being responsible young adults... Now do they follow that education? Well as parents that extra talk sometimes needs to be brought to their attention.
    You would think that safe sex would be a priority while experimenting with their new found hormones. But sadly in our area there are still many young teenage Mothers.. Many see this as being a ticket to a home on benefits and not working..And they usually end up with more children.. I know of one young mother just 22 who has 4 young children already.. .. And there are worst things that can happen than becoming parents with the sexually transmitted diseases which they don’t see as ever going to happen to them..
    Working in the field I do, I see lots of heart-ache behind the scenes of such young families.. as some babies are adopted out or taken into care..
    So that All sensitive Topic Needs to be discussed with your Teenager.. For it could help shape the rest of their lives..
    A great Post Raymond.. ~Sue

    1. Hi Sue, you have added a great comment, and well said. Adult 'handling' of sensitive issues is often avoided completely or seriously lacking, --even in this day and age of easily-obtained information, which is a shame. In fact, frank discussion is actually simple if approached with common sense. So right you are that all of these issues DO need to be discussed with teens to avoid huge problems in their future lives. It is an interesting observation that some see pregnancy as a ticket to a home and benefits--and yes, it is far too common. Your comments are much appreciated! ":) ~R


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