Talking with Your Teen -- David Elkind, PhD
Talking about sexual
relations is difficult but often parents can use a vehicle such as a movie or
book; for example, the movie American Beauty talks about issues that
come up and you can address them as long as you make it clear every time you
watch a movie you won't be talking about sex. But it makes it a little easier
than talking about it in the abstract.
As far as drugs and alcohol
use, certainly kids hear a lot at school and with their friends and so on.
Probably the best way is by example.
A child may learn about not
smoking at school and then throw his mother/father's cigarettes in the garbage.
When they become a teen, they are more likely to smoke than not to smoke. The
same is true with drug and alcohol abuse. The best way to teach young people
about responsible alcohol use and not smoking is by parental example. That is
the most important determinant of whether children will abuse these things when
they become adults.
question: I think kids learn a
lot about the biology of sex, but very little about the emotions involved. I
want to talk with them about the feelings involved, but they are embarrassed. I
think the biology is only one part. And in school they can't talk about
emotions and values. Do you think I'm on the right track?
Elkind: Yes. That's what I was talking about with the use
of a fiction story, play, or movie. There are a lot of feelings involved. It's
about the human relations, and that's what we have to stress. It's not just
plumbing, it's respect and consideration for the other's feelings. And that is
so important in any relationship, not just a sexual relationship.
question: With that new sense of
"privacy" also comes a new sense of "independence" and feeling
like they don't have to listen to you anymore. How do you deal with
Elkind: That's part of adolescence, the sense of
independence and freedom. To a certain extent, to the respect the young people
are feeling that they can make their own decisions, it's important to set rules
and limits. Even though they will fight against limits, it's important that we
It's also important not to
make rules that we can't enforce. That is, you can't stop a young person from
taking a drink or smoking when you are not around. So it makes little sense to
prohibit them from doing it. It is important to say, "I don't want you to
do these things for whatever reason, but if I do catch you doing things, there
will be consequences."
They need their independence
to make decisions, but they still need limits. They have to be clear, and
penalties need to be announced in advance.