How to Talk to Your Teen About Stuff You Don't Want to Talk About
I don’t think that I'm alone when I say that I often have intrusive thoughts that I'm messing my kids up in some irreparable ways. Lately, however, my oldest has been surprising me. A few months ago, she shared with me that someone offered her weed at school. Inside I was screaming “NOOOOOOO!” while I kept a semi-curious look on my face. She turned them down, thankfully. But I know at some point she will most likely say, "Yes.’"
About a month after that she was hanging out with friends, and when I picked her up she smelled like Febreeze with the pungent undertones of weed. She swears she didn’t smoke, but she did stay in the room. She clearly had a contact high, as she was a lump for the rest of the day. I didn’t say anything, besides the comment that she stunk and you can’t hide the smell of weed. Inside I was a wreck.
How do you tell your kids you don’t like what’s going on, but not voice judgement that causes them to start keeping things from you? I want her to be honest with me, but I also don’t want her to get the idea that I’m okay with her doing drugs.
I had to wait a few days, and then we had a really good conversation about peer pressure, drug use, making choices, and a plan for if she is ever in an unsafe situation. She now knows that no matter what, I’m there for her. And to never get in my car reeking of Febreeze and weed. (Seriously, why do kids think that that works?)
Fast forward a few months later, and she’s giddy about a new boy who she’s been texting with. He sounds quite sweet, and they are making plans for a date. The next morning she comes down looking a little rough. She tells me she doesn’t think she is going to date him anymore. When I ask why, I hear the words NO PARENT wants to hear come out of their kid’s mouth:
“He sent me a d*ck pic.”
What the… ?!?!
I was amazingly calm. I really should have received an award for my performance. I made an “Ew,” face, and said, “Why do boys think that that’s cute?” She agreed. She then asked what she should do. She decided, with little input from me, that she was going to tell him that it wasn’t okay and block him. (Hallelujah!) After a little bit of time to think things over (like 30 minutes), we talked about consent, and I asked if she wanted me to do anything about it. Inside my head I had already had conversations with his parental figures, the school, the police… I was surprised when she said, "Yes," and even more surprised when she said I could contact the police. I was clear that we weren’t pressing charges, but he also needed to know that it wasn’t okay.
Now, how did I manage this amazing phenomenon of having my kid talk to me about these things? I really have no idea. I’m curious if she is an anomaly, and her younger siblings will be my hellions. However, I’d like to think that we got here because we have open communication (most of time), I’m non-judgmental when she shares, and she doesn’t get punished for honesty. I also attribute my own use of DBT skills. So without further ado, are the two skills (in the form of acronyms) I use most often with my kids:
(be) Gentle: Be nice and respectful by not attacking, threatening, judging, or sneering.
(act) Interested: Listen and appear interested. Listen to their point of view, face them and maintain eye contact; lean in rather than away. Don’t interrupt or talk over them. Be sensitive and patient if they wish to discuss later.
Validate with words and actions; show that you understand their feelings and thoughts. See from their point of view, and then say or act on what you see.
(use an) Easy manner: Use a little humor, smile, ease them along, be light-hearted. Use a soft sell rather than a hard sell. Leave your attitude at the door.
Describe the situation, stick to the facts (no judgments), and tell the person what you are reacting to.
Express your feelings and opinions about the situation. Don’t assume the other person knows how you feel or what you are thinking!
Assert yourself by asking for what you want or saying, “No,” clearly. Don’t assume others will figure out what you want… they can’t read your mind!
Reinforce (reward) the person ahead of time by explaining positive side effects of getting what you want/need. You can also clarify the negative consequences, if necessary.
Mindful: Stay Mindful! Keep the focus on the goal, maintain your position, don’t get distracted, and don’t get off topic. Ignore attacks, threats, comments, or attempts to divert you. Just keep making your point.
Appear effective and confident. Use a confident tone and manner; make eye contact.
Negotiate: Be willing to give to get. Offer and ask for solutions. Say no, but offer to do something else or solve a different way. Focus on what will work.
These skills have helped me in so many ways.
When we can calmly talk to our kids, have an open and honest conversation with them about our worries, and support them in non-judgmental ways, we can build trust that will lead them to come to us when they are in need.
We may be screaming on the inside, but that is our stuff. We need to be effective! Save the meltdowns for behind closed doors! But tell them you totally freaked out, so that you can model effective behavior. It’s much funnier to tell someone about a meltdown than to show them. 😉
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[This article does not create a client-counselor relationship. This article is general counseling information and is not to be considered legal or medical advice. Please consult with your mental health professional before you rely on this information.]