Build a strong relationship. An honest, open and supportive relationship is the best tool you can have, in order to talk to us about important issues. It sends the message that we can talk to you about our problems without being judged. We’ll only come to you for answers if we think you’ll be receptive to our questions. So, how do you send the message that you’re open to talking to us?
Respond positively when we ask you a question and give us an honest (age-appropriate) answer.
If you’re busy or don’t know the answer, tell us. Let us know that we’ve raised an important question, you’ll look up the answer if you don’t know, and you’ll sit down and talk to us when you’re free.
Then, follow through. Make time to sit down with us and look up the answer if you promised to. This lets us know that you take our questions seriously, and we’ll be more likely to come to you again.
Start talking to us about the issues at a young age. We are exposed to difficult issues at a much younger age than previous generations. Many times, we may not fully understand the complicated nature of these subjects.
Research shows that as children, we most often go to our parents for answers. But as teenagers, we tend to turn more to our friends, the media, or people outside the family (Children Now). That’s why it’s important that you talk to us when we’re young, before we start getting inaccurate information from other sources.
Initiate conversations. Often, you wait for us to approach you about an issue, but many of us are reluctant, particularly if we haven’t talked to you about difficult issues in the past. It’s important to seize opportunities to initiate conversations on these subjects.
Every day, life presents opportunities to talk to us about different issues. Making the most of these helps build a dialogue. So, if we’re watching a movie and it shows one person bullying another, ask us what we thought about those actions. If there’s a newspaper story about teenage pregnancy, discuss it. If a television commercial talks about drugs, take a few minutes to talk about it. We tend to be more receptive to informal discussions about difficult subjects – it feels less like a lecture.
Have discussions that are age appropriate. While it’s important to talk to us about difficult issues at a young age, the way you do this will be very different if you’re talking to an 8-year-old, rather than a 15-year-old. For younger children, try to use short, easy-to-understand words. As teenagers, we usually want more detailed information.
If you’re dealing with young people of different ages, try to talk to us separately. Youth at different stages of development require a different approach. You risk overwhelming the younger youth or boring the older youth if you talk to us together. Older youth also tend to dominate the conversation, making it more difficult for younger youth to have their voices heard.
Regardless of what age we are, you should avoid using cliché statements like “when I was your age…” We tend to feel that advice stemming from events a few decades ago is irrelevant. Even if well-intentioned, these statements often come off as patronizing.
Don’t shy away from difficult subjects. Many adults are uncomfortable talking to us about issues like sex – you’re not alone! But we need to have those conversations. Talking to us is the only way you can make sure we’re getting accurate information.
If you’re really uncomfortable, try reading some books on the subject to build your confidence and come up with a strategy. It’s also a good idea to give us other resources or the names of trusted websites where we can go for more information.
Be honest. Honesty builds a trusting relationship, which is important to communicate effectively with us. It may not be appropriate to go into detail with younger children, but try not to leave any gaps in our knowledge. If you do, we tend to create our own answers, which can lead to confusion and unnecessary worry on our part.
Listen. Give us your undivided attention. Don’t have a serious conversation with us while vacuuming or making dinner. Your full attention sends the message that our questions are legitimate. Listening also means asking questions to gauge our level of understanding. For example, instead of responding right away, ask what we think first. That way, you can tailor your response to fit our needs. Listening also lets you know when our attention is wandering. If we start losing interest, come back to the subject later.
Talk about the issues repeatedly. Most of us have a short attention span and can’t handle a lot of information at once, especially when we’re younger. It’s important to revisit our conversation on an issue over and over, even if we’re older.. Ask us what we remember about our previous talk and correct any misconceptions or fill in missing facts. This will make sure we understand the issues properly (Children Now).
Don’t try to fix the problem for us. Instead, ask us questions to explore our feelings about what we think we should do. And instead of telling us what to do, help us examine our options and come up with our own solution. This teaches a valuable life skill, empowers us and helps us feel closer to you.
If we ask, “what would you do?” feel free to share your honest opinion. But make it clear that it’s your opinion. Let us know that there are other ways of handling the problem and that it’s okay if we choose to deal with the issue differently.
For more information on talking to youth, visit the links below:
Children Now: Talking With Kids About Tough Issues
National Anti-Drug Strategy: Tips on Talking with your Teenager
Centre for Addiction and Mental Health: Ten tips for Talking to your Kids about Substance Use
Centre for Addiction and Mental Health: Tips for Parents On Building Healthy Relationships
with their Teenagers – From Dr. David Wolfe (In French only/En français seulement)