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Talking with Your Teen -- David Elkind, PhD


WebMD Feature

By David Elkind

What's the matter? Nothing. Where are you going? Out. Do you want to talk? No. Does this sound like typical communication between you and your teen? If so, explore these tips for starting an open and frank discussion about drugs, sex, self-esteem, and other vital issues. David Elkind, PhD, was our guest.

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The opinions expressed herein are the guest's alone and have not been reviewed by a WebMD physician. If you have questions about your health, you should consult your personal physician. This event is meant for informational purposes only.

 

Moderator: Welcome to WebMD Live, Dr. Elkind. Why do parents have such difficulty talking with their teens?

 

Elkind: Well, a lot of reasons. I think that young people, for the first time, can realize that they can think one thing and say another, that their thoughts are private. It's a whole new level of thinking. They have a certain concern about privacy, because they realize that what they're thinking no one else is thinking. They can now think about their own thinking, and they develop a sense of privacy. So when adults ask them, it's an intrusion on their newfound privacy, on their thinking. That's one reason adolescents are more reluctant to talk than children might be. They may not be ready to share their thoughts right away.

Moderator: Given their newfound sense of privacy, how do we engage them in conversation?

Elkind: One way is to listen. I think sometimes we're so eager to talk we're not willing to ask. Sometimes it's more important to share. We sometimes ask questions like an interrogator. If we share some of our experiences with them, what happened in your day, adolescents might be more willing to share their thoughts. They see us as being private and not willing to share ours, so if we share ours, they may be more willing to share theirs. That's one strategy.

 

Ideally we begin preparing for adolescence when our children are very young, when we listen and respond, giving them opportunities for them to respond. Sharing in this way, by starting when children are small, listening to them and involving them in decision-making, we prepare the way for better communication once they become adolescents.

 

Member question: I have four kids, the oldest being 13. When should I talk to her about sex and peer pressure into having sex, doing drugs, foul language, etc.? How do I approach these subjects and still get her to listen and understand?

Elkind: It's very important to talk to young people about sex, not just sexual relations but also about their bodies and maturation. Young people often don't know about the changes going on in their bodies, and the information is very useful; a book like Our Bodies Ourselves is an excellent one for this age group.

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