How to approach uncomfortable topics with your adolescent

"I know she's watching it, I just don't know how to approach her about my knowing she's watching it.  Not to mention the fact that I don't have any idea how to discuss the topic of teen suicide with her.  My parents never mentioned any of that kind of thing to me.  The whole idea scares me. She knows I wouldn't want her watching the show, even if everyone else she knows is watching it and talking about it during lunch at school and she feels left out."

This was a FB message I received the other day.  Of course in relation to the wildly successful and controversial Netflix series 13 Reasons Why.

Not having uncomfortable conversations with your kids as they move through their adolescence is an option...but it's not a good one. Ask yourself, would I rather my child learn about topics like date rape, bullying, sex, suicide (and any others that make us want to cringe at the thought of our kids actually hearing about, or god forbid experiencing) from their friends (who may not have accurate information), or on the Internet (again accuracy), or from me? 

We don't live in a time when we can afford to bury our heads and leave sensitive topics to chance with our kids.

So let's get real.

One step past the idea of having the conversation becomes: HOW?

How do we best address these "big" topics with our kids, and when is the best time to do so?

This is the approach I take as a parent, and the one I suggest to other parents:

  1. GET EDUCATED.  Whether it's a trendy television series your son or daughter wants to watch (or is watching), or a drug that's gained popularity at the high school, education is power.  Things get less scary when you know, so be in the know.  Watch the show, or at least read some of the (prevalent) articles on it.  Attend the events they have for educating parents at the schools in your community.  If there aren't any at your school, make the suggestion for one on a specific topic to the counselors at your child's school.  You can't talk to your child with confidence about something you don't fully understand, right?
  2. BECOME ALIGNED.  WHAT ARE YOUR FAMILY'S CORE VALUES?  When you are discussing topics that come up throughout adolescence, you have to know where you stand.  What are your family's core truths?  What are you okay with, and not okay with?  This should never come from a place of "everyone else's family thinks this; or does that"...your children need to know clearly your thoughts and expectations when it comes to things like drinking, drug use, dating conduct, curfew, what to do if they are feeling overwhelmed, what to do if they have a friend who is struggling.
  3. BE HONEST.  When you sit down to have that hard/embarrassing/uncomfortable conversation with your child BE HONEST.  Just put it out there first thing..."Hey, I'd really like to talk with you about ___________, and I gotta let you know this makes me a little anxious."  We cannot develop the kind of relationship we want with our kids by acting like things don't bother us, being disconnected from our own feelings, or by pretending we know it all.  Developing the kind of relationship that allows your child to come to you means being human with them.  Also knowing when to have the favorite places to connect with my kids are when we're alone in the car, or at bedtime.  They just seem to be naturally more open during those situations.  That doesn't mean avoid the conversation until you find the "perfect" just means be available and ready to dive in when the time feels right.
  4. KNOW YOUR GUT.  I am a strong believer in parents listening to their intuition.  I think we live in a culture of constant messages and with all of the noise penetrating our world, we fail to understand that it's our inner guidance that will help us most.  Trust yourself. And know kids will make mistakes. Fortunately, most of them are not life threatening. 
  5. WORK TOGETHER.  Ongoing discussions about tough topics during the adolescent years require more than just back and forth.  If it's something that requires a plan of action; develop it together.  Increasingly involving your child in decision making as they advance through their teens is part of helping them become independent adults.

Now, more than ever, our kids need us to be available to connect with.  Creating strong, healthy relationships and overcoming difficult conversations with your adolescent is worth setting aside your anxiety about how to approach something. Be in the driver's seat for supporting your kids through this critical time in their lives. 

Just do it.

And, if you want additional help, you know where to find me.