How to Talk to Your Kids About Prickly Subjects

julie ross

Editor’s Note: Certain parenting books really get my interest…from the title alone! And a recent find, “How to Hug a Porcupine: Negotiating the Prickly Points of the Tween Years,” is a perfect example. Love the analogy – we all know how tricky…and prickly parenting can be! The author, Julie Ross, Executive Director of Parenting Horizons, and a Mom Since 1988, shared some great tips with The MomTini Lounge on talking to your kids about sex, drugs, and alcohol. We can’t learn enough about this touchy but critical “to do” in our job as Moms. Here’s Julie’s Guest Article written for The Lounge…

julierossportrait__2007_kh.jpg Talking About Sex, Drugs, and Alcohol By Julie Ross

Across the board, research indicates that the more information children have about sex, drugs and alcohol, the less likely they are to engage in risky behaviors. However, what if you’ve put off these conversations until the tween years: that uncomfortable period of time when your child’s body is changing, her emotions are in flux, and her resistance to taking advice may be at an all time high? Here are some tips to help you start and continue these important (and perhaps lifesaving) conversations:

1) Know the facts. When you’ve finally gotten your child to sit down for a talk is not the time to be fumbling around for the right words. Prepare ahead of time so that you know exactly what facts, issues and values you are going to communicate in this first (of many) conversations. If you have to rehearse it out loud in the bathroom mirror so you won’t blush, do so. There’s nothing that makes a tween less likely to listen than an uncomfortable parent.

2) Give your tween a choice about when to have the conversation. Do not, however, make the choice open-ended or it will never happen. Say something like: “I want to make sure you have the information you need about sex / drugs / alcohol. Would you like to have the conversation now or at 5:00?”

3) Don’t be deterred by the age-old “Oh Mom, I already KNOW all that stuff.” Say: “I’m sure you already have the information and it’s my job to make sure that I, personally, communicate it to you as well. When would you like to meet?”

4) Acknowledge your child’s feelings if s/he’s uncomfortable. Say, “I know this is awkward, and you don’t have to say anything unless you want to. All you have to do is hear me out.”

5) When you discuss sex, remember that kissing, petting, oral sex and anal sex are all sexual activities and must be explicitly mentioned and discussed. Be sure to include your values about sex by saying something like: “Sex is an important and life-changing decision and should not be taken lightly. It’s an intimate and pleasurable experience, but only with the right person and in the right context.” Exhibit trust by saying, “I know that you’re responsible and trustworthy, and that you will not take a relationship to the next level too quickly.” Children live up to our expectations, so it’s important to communicate our positive expectations, not our negative ones.

6) When talking about alcohol, state your expectations about alcohol use clearly. You might say something like: “Underage drinking is illegal and I know that you’ll respect that and not experiment.” Talk openly about alcohol poisoning and the dangers of drinking to get drunk.

7) When discussing drugs, have the facts. There are many new designer drugs on the market that you may not know about. In addition, household products are often used as mood elevators or depressants: educate yourself about these as well. A good resource for up-to-date information about drugs is www.theantidrug.com.

8) Keep the lines of communication open. Talk about sex, drugs and alcohol and their related dangers openly, honestly and often. When communicating your values, refrain from “laying down the law” in an autocratic fashion. Remember that your tween’s primary developmental drives are to separate from you and prove that s/he’s different from you. If you come across as harsh, unyielding, unwilling to listen or judgmental, it will drive your tween away and cause rebellion.

Editor’s Note: I love Julie’s tips — they’re direct, but not confrontational. They add a healthy dose of her expertise without being preachy, and hopefully, they open some dialogue in your families! What tips do you have to keep the conversation going?

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