Some of the most important conversations begin with a simple question.
Adolescence is a time of enormous change, physically, emotionally and socially. It is a difficult time for many parents. Young people say that they WANT to talk to their parents about sexuality, especially about values and relationships. They believe their parents’ opinion is important and they would like to be able to go to them when they have questions. If parents show they are open and willing to talk about these topics, teens will ask.
In general, the questions teens have for parents are of three types:
- Knowledge or information
- Values or what is right
- Is this normal?
Knowledgequestions (such as “What is a condom?”) can be some of the easier types of questions for many parents to address. If you don’t know the answer, it’s an opportunity to find the answer together with your teen.
Values questions (such as, “Is it OK to have sex before marriage?”) indicate teens are trying to figure out what they believe in, their own values, and what’s right for them. This is also an important task of adolescence. While many parents want their children to embrace their own values about sex, sexuality, and relationships, as teens grow into adulthood, they may test, rebel, or decide differently for themselves.
Is this normal? questions (such as, “My girlfriend says her breasts are not the same size. Is thisnormal?”) These might be about physical or emotional development. Teens might not ask these questions about themselves directly but about friends or classmates. With so many changes happening, teens really do want to know what is normal.
The A-B-L-E method can serve as a “door opener” to positive, long-term communication:
- Always answer the question if you can. If you don’t know the answer, tell them that you will find it together. If you aren’t sure what you want to say, ask for time to think about your response. (For example, you might say, “That’s a good question. I’d like a little time to think about what I want to share with you. Can we talk about it tonight?”)
- Be brief and to the point. You want to avoid lecturing or giving long-winded speeches.
- Be honest and avoid judgment. Be careful not to use “door closers” such as “You’d better” or “You should,” or “You’ll do as I say.”
- Leave the door open to more conversation. After you answer the question, ask one or more of the following questions:
- “What do you think?”
- “What else would you like to know?”
- “Did I answer your questions?”
- “Is there anything else you want to know about this subject?”
- End with a supportive comment such as:
- “I appreciate your coming to me and I’m always here to try and help you with answers to your questions.”
- “Thanks for asking me. I value your coming to me with questions like this.”
- “Thanks for asking my opinion. If you ever feel you can’t come to me or your mom/dad, I hope you’ll go to ________ (name of trusted adult).”
Widen the Circle of Trust
One of the developmental tasks of adolescence is to become independent from parents and prepare for adult relationships and intimacy with others. It is normal during this time for teens to seek out adults other than parents to get advice and support. It doesn’t mean that you aren’t important to them or that they don’t trust you or love you. It just means that they are becoming adults and widening their circle of trusted adults who are important to them and can help them with issues or problems.
Parents should recognize that this may happen and give their teens the names of other adults they feel share their values and would help their teens in difficult situations. These adults may be another relative, a teacher, a youth minister, a counselor, or a close friend. Parents should tell their teens that this person will help them and if they want, this person will help them come to the parent.
The questions teens ask often depend on their age and stage of physical, emotional, and social development.