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Talk About Tough Subjects

Back when our children were small, who could have imagined what life would hold for them: pressures surrounding sex, alcohol, drugs, and a bewildering array of messages, choices, and consequences.

While it's a rare parent who doesn't want to say, "Let me help you sort things out," we also recognize that our children's need for independence grows as they do. And talking about touchy subjects can be especially difficult when teens tend to tune us out.

Create Time to Talk

Driving a teen to soccer or to meet her friends at the mall may seem like just another chore, unless you recognize it as an opportunity to talk. Of course, you may have to get the conversation going. Try telling your child a little about your day or inquiring about her friends, before asking her how things are going.

If you aren't available to chauffeur, try to make a "date" on a regular basis to do something you both enjoy together, like cooking, hiking, or going to a concert or museum. Once you're accustomed to time alone together and have created a comfortable level of sharing, try approaching a touchy subject.

Do Your Research

"Before I discuss topics like sex or drugs with my son," one father says, "I do a little homework. Often it's as simple as checking the phone book for hotlines or asking my doctor to recommend some pamphlets. If my son is not willing to discuss a touchy subject, I can still give him a number to call or an article to read. And, of course, I tell him I'm always available if he needs my help."

Avoid Confrontations

Don't mount a personal attack, deliver a sermon, or convene a family conference to open a dialogue on a tough subject. No matter how serious the subject, it's important not to be heavy-handed or focus exclusively on your child.

Say you've read an article or heard about a troubling situation from a colleague or a friend. Share this information with your teenager; then ask her opinion rather than offering yours. Suppose you're discussing AIDS, and you mention that many people feel "It can't happen to me." Has your child heard similar opinions? Do her friends discuss AIDS among themselves? What are some strategies to stay safe? When a teen feels that the two of you are exploring a subject together, she's likely to share her own thoughts.

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