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Planning “the talk”: The importance of establishing open communication with your teen

January 21, 2013

This post was written by the Clinical Social Work Team at Arnold Palmer Hospital and Winnie Palmer Hospital. 

For many of us parents, getting our children to talk about their day is challenging enough. The thought of having “the talk” may seem scary and next to impossible. Do I have to? Well, just last year, the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) released a survey that reported that about 33 percent of today’s teens have been sexually active. And while you may feel confident that your teen is not included in this statistic, they may interact with those who are. Many parents find that raising a teenager is a delicate balance between providing structured learning while at the same time allowing for natural exploration. Being able to strike this healthy balance is what helps them establish their identity.

Self awareness is one of greatest gifts we can give our teens. Empowering them to know themselves, both inside and out, will help them to develop into confident well-adjusted adults. Misinformation is everywhere. It can be passed on through word of mouth, at the lunch table and through the several media outlets to which most teens have access. As parents, our role is to prepare them so that they will know false information when confronted with it. But there is something we must do before we should even think about having “the talk.” We have to know how to communicate with our teens.This involves us being flexible and willing to meet them at their level. We can do this by showing them that we genuinely care about their thoughts, feelings and ideas. No matter how far fetched, these thoughts and ideas may seem to us, they are real and valid to our children.

Here are a few good communication strategies to help you initiate "the talk" with your son or daughter:

  • Look in the Mirror- before approaching your teen, take a good look at yourself (maybe even literally). Are you approachable today? Would you want to talk to you? Always keep in mind that the way we respond to, or address, our teenagers will determine if they will come to us for answers and advice in the future. This may take some practice, and that’s ok! No one is expecting perfection.
  • Learn the Lingo - have you ever heard the expression “communication is a two-way street”? Well no one ever questioned the means of transportation! A brief study on communication showed that more than a quarter of all participating U.S. teens use social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace to stay-in-touch with their peers. Meeting your teen on their level may mean fine-tuning our online maneuvering skills and getting a little more familiar with the computer. If this gives you and your teen a chance to communicate, so be it!   
  • Check In - make it a point to check in with your teen a couple times a week (maybe more). Find out how their day was, who their latest crush is, maybe even just to let them vent. Like us, sometimes teens just need to be heard without feeling judged. It’s been proven that parents who foster an open, non-judgmental relationship with their teens are more likely to gain their trust and create an environment of open communication. Reasearch conducted by the Palo Alto Medical Foundation shows that teens who have talked with their parents about sex are most likely to postpone sex and to use birth control when they do begin.
  • Cut to the Chase - don’t be afraid to just put it out there. Having “the talk” with your teen might be a bit uncomfortable for the both of you at first. But at the end of the day, you are one of your teen’s most reliable sources of information. So, make sure you are educated about sexual health and be open and honest with your child. Perhaps you could start the conversation like this, “This may be a little uncomfortable for both of us, but I just want you to know I’m always here if you have any thoughts or questions about sex and your body.” If you don’t know the answer to a question, that’s fine too! Use it as an opportunity to work together to find the answer. Contact your pediatrician or primary care physician for assistance. In addition, many evidenced-based internet resource are available right at your fingertips (now that you’ve been polishing off your internet maneuvering skills). “The talk” may not take place right then and there, but at least now the door’s open.

Developing effective communication with your teen will help you to better understand him or her as a person, as well as keep her from making poor choices that may haunt her well in to his adult years. Take the time to sit down together with your teen. Listen to what they have to say. Opening the door of communication between you and your teen will provide them with the knowledge they needs to make well thought out decisions.

Hopefully these suggestions will not only allow you to have “the talk” with your teen, but will also encourage you to develop reciprocal communication and a stronger connection with your teen.

For additional information, here are some helpful links:

ABC News – Tips for Moms Having “The Talk”

For Teens – How to Talk to your Parents about Sex

eHow – Effective Communication with your Teen

Already been there? What are some suggestions you have for other parents that are trying to establish open communication with their teens?