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Talking With Your Teen About Sex, Drugs, and Money

Drugs & Alcohol continued...

Pasierb suggests a "water-torture approach" — many short conversations (less than five minutes each) from ages 9 to 19. The repetition reduces the pressure by giving you many chances to make your points.

Keep in mind, too, that your kid may want help finding a way to get off the hook when peers encourage him to chug a beer or try a joint, says Lerner. I've armed Sam with a diplomatic exit strategy: Don't make a fuss, apologize, or explain. A simple "No, thanks," may be all it takes. But if he's pressed, he and I have colluded on this excuse, "Dude, my mom's a German shepherd. She can smell anything illegal from a mile away."

What to cover: Parents need to be informed about issues like which prescription drugs kids target, what huffing involves, and exactly how alcohol impairs judgment, as well as the latest developments. To get up-to-date facts, visit Partnership's site at drugfree.org.

Getting around the roadblocks: Fear of hypocrisy frequently hinders parents from tackling this topic, says Pasierb. Very few of us these days can honestly claim we always just said no. There's no right answer about whether to fess up or not: Tell as much as you're comfortable with, recommends Pasierb, and remember the conversation isn't ultimately about you; it's about keeping your kid safe. Lerner adds that when parents admit that they've made mistakes, that it hasn't always been easy to live up to their own values, kids are actually more likely to believe them. With her own children, Lerner said, "I did some dumb things in college, and I regret them, and here's why."

Money

Dollars and cents may not sound like life and death, but kids find plenty of ways to mess up seriously with money. Only a quarter of teens have any clue how credit card interest works — which may explain why the average college student carries nearly $3,000 in credit card debt. And a bad credit rating can affect a kid's ability to buy a car or a house, or even to get a job.

But too often parents don't address these issues while kids are still at home. "Many parents are insecure about their own financial knowledge, so they don't know how to frame their advice, or where to begin," says Carrie Schwab-Pomerantz, president of the Charles Schwab Foundation.

Talking tips: To get the conversation going, start involving your teen in the family's financial life. That doesn't require revealing the nitty-gritty details of your income and debt load, but you can, for instance, let your kid see you paying bills on Saturday morning, and invite her input on budgeting decisions. Say, "Money's tight, but we might be able to go to the beach for a few days if we're careful. How could we save up a bit?" Just realizing the trade-offs involved in saving and spending is a big step toward financial savvy.

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