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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.

Member 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.


Member 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 that?


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 set them.


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.

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