4 Tips for Talking With Your Teen About Risky Behaviors

There is a central, carefully chosen word in that headline.
If you were to change “with” to “at,” it would change the outcome completely. Talking
with your teen is a two-way conversation
that involves listening as opposed to
lecturing or talking at your teen.
Think about it, the more you try to tell teens what to do or how to do it, the
less likely they will follow your advice when you are out of sight. It’s how
teens are wired! That doesn’t mean you should refrain from teaching or counseling
them, but try to approach the conversation differently and in a way that your
son or daughter will be more likely to hear you and talk with you. Here are four
ways to talk with your teen about risky behaviors with less eye rolls and
one-word answers:

1.      Ask permission. Risky behaviors account
for the majority of teen injury and premature death. In the face of these
challenges, parents and others who influence teens need concrete, actionable strategies
to support teens in smart decision-making. They key to having a genuine
conversation with your teen when it comes to subjects like sex, drugs or
alcohol is asking permission. A normal part of teen development is their
struggle for control. Asking permission gives them a sense of control over the
discussion and a feeling of respect. When permission is asked and given, teens
are more open to hearing what you are telling them. You could start with
something like this: “I would like to
talk with you about what happened at school. When is a good time today?”

2.      Use empathetic statements. Reflecting
with empathy creates a safe and supportive environment between you and your
teen that you can use to build on. “You
had a hard day at school today”
makes for a more productive start to a conversation
than, “Stop complaining. When I was your
When using empathy, the choice of words is critical. Anything too extreme,
or too overstated, or a reflection in the form of a question, may elicit
further resistance.

3.      Ask open-ended questions. As easy it is
to default to lecturing, it doesn’t lead to a productive and honest two-way
discussion. Open-ended questions are the backbone of learning more from your
teen. They are questions that are not easily answered with a yes or no
response. They set the tone for communication and allow teens to think through
their risky behaviors and possible alternatives to those behaviors. Open-ended
questions create forward momentum to help teens explore their reasons and
options for change. If you’d like to have a conversation with your teen about
drinking alcohol, you could say, “How
will you handle being offered alcohol at a party”
instead of “Are you planning on drinking at the party?”

4.      Find their motivations. An important
part of helping your son or daughter make safer and healthier decisions is to
find out their reasons and motivations for safer behaviors. Open-ended
questions play a critical role in this. Instead of asking, “Why
didn’t you come home right after school like you said you were going to?”

try changing the “why” to a “what.” Ask: “What
made you late coming home?”
Ask your teen what they would need to do in
order to be home from school on time, and share your feelings about staying at
a friend’s house unsupervised and how that could lead them into risky situations.

These strategies and others are outlined in more detail in
my book Teen Speak, just released on Sept. 6. In Teen
I combine my professional expertise in adolescent behaviors with a
(metro Detroit!) mother’s intuition. As
a parent, you are placed in an influential role to help keep your teen safe and
healthy. But that’s no easy
task. Teen Speak provides a detailed
road map on how to get a conversation started about all types of risky
behaviors, using real-world examples of teen-parent interactions and sample
responses to common scenarios to support positive change and safer

For more information about Teen Speak and to get
your copy today, visit PossibilitiesForChange.com/TeenSpeak.

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