As parents, we work to provide safety and education for our children from the moment they’re born. This work continues throughout the adolescent years—but it can unfortunately become a minefield of conflict. Cultivating respect and patience for your child’s process and learning how to communicate effectively can help ease the journey. Below are some ways to approach common issues that you and your teen may be struggling to address together.
How do I talk to my teen about sex?
Odds are that your teen is as nervous about the topic as you may be, possibly more so. The more comfortable and knowledgeable you are when you broach the subject, the easier the conversation will be. To make sure your teen sees you as a trustworthy and safe person to talk to, try the following:
- Practice discussing sex with close friends. They can help you learn to address touchy subjects in a more relaxed, confident way.
- Get current. While sex is a basic part of human existence, it’s constantly evolving. Your teenager may be facing situations or issues you never had to deal with. Make sure you are up to date on sexual terms and concepts, as well as current issues that are affecting teens.
- Share ideas and concerns with other parents. Our Raising Awareness Programs (RAPS) allows parents and guardians to host gatherings to talk about timely issues impacting teens and their families, including sex and sexual health. Response for Teens professionals will join you and your guests to share their expertise and create opportunities for discussion and Q&A.
How do I talk to my teen about relationships?
Romantic relationships look very different in the 21st century than they used to. Gone are the days of “going steady” and monogamous relationships. Nowadays, youth use technology to flirt, and many prefer “hooking up” or “hanging out” to serious dating. Social networking sites, apps, and cell phones are an integral part of teens’ romantic lives, from flirting to breaking up. To engage your teen in discussions about healthy relationships in the digital age, here are a few tips:
- Stay plugged in. Develop an understanding of the major role that social and digital media play in teens’ romantic relationships. Try not to be judgmental or talk too much about what dating “in your day” looked like. Listen to the language your teen is using to identify peer and romantic relationships, and ask what that language means to them. Want to get caught up on the latest technology and how it affects teen relationships? Check out our program for parents and professionals, “Safe Surfing: Helping Youth Stay Safe Online.”
- Focus on respect. Love can be a tricky, subjective idea without clear definition. Instead of focusing on what love looks like, help your child think about what respect looks like in a relationship. Ask them to think about how their partner can show them respect and how they can show self-respect. The more your adolescent develops a solid sense of self-respect, the more that translates into learning what respect from others looks like.
- Talk about affirmative consent. Encourage your teen to ask for consent and engage in honest communication and dialogue with friends, family members and partners. Model consent and respect by actively listening to your teen and respecting their boundaries whenever possible.
How do I talk to my teen about gender identity?
If your teen is exploring sexuality or gender outside of narrowly-defined cultural norms, they may be experiencing judgment—at school, in social situations, or even within the family. Counter that judgment with compassionate, thoughtful words and actions:
- Listen. Be open to whatever your teen has to say. Work to create a space where they feel safe talking about their thoughts and concerns.
- Push your own boundaries. Take time to reflect on your personal comfort zones. Do you experience discomfort around people who live lifestyles different from your own? Locate friends in your circle with whom you can share concerns and process your feelings. Notice how you feel when someone accepts or rejects what you are saying. This will help you cultivate empathy for your teen’s experience.
- Honor their sense of self. If your child requests you use pronouns that are different than what you are accustomed to, work to adopt those pronouns. It can be challenging to change lifelong habits, and harder still to shift your perceptions of your own child, but it is paramount that they feel accepted and seen for who they are (or are becoming).
- Seek out resources. As a parent or family member of a child who identifies as “gender fluid” or is experimenting with gender identity, you may have questions, confusions, or concerns. Response for Teens can provide you, your child, and their allies with information, education, and support.
- Parent & Family Connection is a support and education group for Jewish parents and family members of LGBTQ youth and young adults. Our program consists of monthly meetings, a peer mentoring program and community events.
- Alliance is Response for Teens' annual summer program for LGBTQ teens to enjoy time with friends and meet other LGBTQ high schoolers in the area.
- Our Resources section offers links to other outstanding LGBTQ-focused organizations and sources of information and support.
How can I support my child’s mental health during adolescence?
Adolescents may experience challenges to their mental health and safety as they begin to explore the world in an increasingly adult way. Remember that you are the expert when it comes to your child; therefore, you play a critical role in knowing when they may need support. Here are some ways to identify and address issues:
- Know what to look for. Has there been a noticeable change in behavior, either at home, socially, or academically? Are they isolating themselves in their room? Are they not eating and/or sleeping regularly? Are they expressing anxiety or intense worry? All of these are be signs that they may need help.
- Speak to your school counselor. See if they’ve noticed anything unusual or have any concerns.
- Consider counseling. If you determine your child does need help, Response for Teens is committed to providing skillful professional counseling and other support services to teens and their families as they navigate this often-difficult journey.