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When and Where to Talk to Teens

by Jane Wangersky | April 8th, 2016 | Communication, Teens

teen talk popcornIt may seem like there’s never a good time or place to talk to your teen — but there are moments here and there. You can’t book them, so you have to watch out for them and use these moments when they come.

When are they likely to come? Here’s what some authorities say, plus my take on it.

On a drive, or even a road trip, if it’s just the two of you. The Office of Adolescent Health calls the car “a good place for having conversations that are slightly uncomfortable. You don’t have to look at each other and it can be a private setting.” All true. Also, your teen has to sit fairly near you, unlike on the bus where they can pretend you’re strangers to each other. I would add a couple of cautions: Do this while you’re driving, not your teen. (They need uninterrupted practice.) If they remind you that you’re always warning them against distracted driving, let them know that talking to someone in the car is nowhere near so distracting as talking on the phone. Also, don’t assume the conversation is over once you pull into a parking space. If your teen wants to sit in the car and talk some more, go ahead — don’t worry about what people may think. If your teen gets out and runs off, that’s fine too.

The OAH also says “Spend time watching TV or a movie with your teen and use what happens to the characters as a way to start talking about your own values. Movies and TV shows are great conversation starters because they shift the focus away from teens to characters they might identify with.” True, as long as you resist the urge to preach. It’s certainly better than trying to restrict your teen’s viewing to stories where no one does anything bad. Some of the movies I mentioned in this article may be helpful: In The Martian, characters cope with ethical issues as well as survival. Eilis in Brooklyn has to make some far-reaching decisions. In Groundhog Day, Phil realizes that, with each day a reset, he can get away with anything — but should he try?

Finally, my own $.02 on when and where not to talk to teens about serious stuff: Family meals. Yes, I said you have to seize the moment. But mixing heavy talk and food can lead to issues, including physical problems. Don’t bring up difficult topics yourself, and if your teen does, make an appointment with them to talk about it later — and keep it.

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