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Talking With Your Teen About Sex, Drugs, and Money


WebMD Feature from "Good Housekeeping" Magazine

By Margaret Renkl
Good Housekeeping Magazine Logo
Smart strategies for communicating with your kid on the tricky terrain of sex, drugs, and money



A whopping 82 percent of parents say it's important to talk to teens about sex, for example, but admit they have no clue when or how to do it, reported a 2007 survey by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. But here's an incentive to figure out a way to talk to your teen about condoms and keg parties: "Kids really want their parents to talk to them about issues like this," says Richard M. Lerner, Ph.D., professor of child development at Tufts University and author of The Good Teen: Rescuing Adolescence from the Myths of the Storm and Stress Years. "Research shows that most adolescents share their parents' values and want to know what they think." That's reassuring — but you may need some help navigating past the eye-rolling stage. Read on for experts' and parents' best advice on getting these crucial conversations going.

Drugs & Alcohol

In theory, this conversation should last all of 10 seconds. You say, "Don't drink, and don't use drugs that weren't prescribed for you," and your kid says, "OK, Mom."

In real life, however, every teen in America has heard repeatedly about the dangers of alcohol and drugs, and yet, by eighth grade, 32.9 percent have tried alcohol, 22.1 percent have smoked cigarettes, and 14.2 percent have used marijuana. But teens whose parents talk with them about drugs are half as likely to use them as those whose parents don't, says Steve Pasierb, president of the Partnership for a Drug-Free America.

Talking tips: The world, sadly, provides conversation starters for this subject almost daily: a rock star's overdose, a classmate's DUI. These tragic episodes can be teachable moments, says Lee Ann Davidson, a mom of three in Birmingham, AL. "We've had relatives who became addicted to alcohol and drugs, and I've never hidden these things from my kids," says Davidson. "I wanted them to see firsthand the harmful consequences of the bad choices these people made."

Lecturing doesn't help kids internalize this kind of lesson, says Pasierb, but give-and-take does. Start a real back-and-forth discussion by saying, "How sad about Amy Winehouse. Seriously, have any kids at your school gotten into a tough spot with drugs?" Or, "I heard your school's starting quarterback is sidelined because he broke his leg driving stoned. Does that mean the scouts won't see him now?" Inviting a dialogue keeps the conversation away from confrontation, so your kid can hear what you say, even when you focus on your expectations of him.

Also know that this generation of kids responds best when you warn them what a threat drugs and alcohol present to their health and future, according to Partnership research. So rather than say "Drinking is illegal" or "Using drugs is bad," try, "I love you, and I want you to be healthy and happy." Then drop a relevant fact — "Wine and beer can impair driving as much as hard liquor."

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