Awkward Talks We'll Have With Our Teens That Our Parents Never Had With Us

mom and daughterBack when we were teenagers, there was essentially just one "big talk" we could expect to have with our parents: The "just say no" conversation ("no" referring to sex, drugs, and anything else potentially dangerous). Now, though, the world is a very different place, requiring us to have very different talks with our teenagers. The only thing that hasn't changed? Those talks are still unbearably awkward!

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Of course, many of the things we want our kids to avoid are the same things our parents wanted to shield us from: Unwanted pregnancies, STDs, drunk driving, trouble with the law, failing grades ... the list goes on and on. Basically, it comes down to this: We don't want our teens to completely screw up their futures and/or die. That part is simple. What's complicated is that now there are all kinds of new ways for teens to get into trouble (even if they are ultimately just variations on the old ways).

Take sex. Now, in addition to worrying about the same potential consequences of unprotected sex that have been around since the dawn of time, we also have to worry about what part technology is playing in our kid's sex life (or, hopefully, lack thereof). Back when we were kids, there was no such thing as sexting, and if you were bold enough to take a few risqué Polaroids, the worst thing that could happen would be that they would get into the wrong hands. To be fair, that was a pretty bad thing, but now that there's THE INTERNET, which means leaked sexy pics can lead to downright devastation. In some states, teen sexting can even lead to a felony conviction (not to mention suspension from school and widespread humiliation). And while you'd think most kids would be savvy enough at this point to be turned off by all the risks involved with sending naked pics of themselves to some other Snapchat-happy kid, as the mother of a 14-year-old, I'm told that this style of X-rated communication is completely commonplace among high schoolers ("But not me, Mom, GOD WHY WOULD YOU EVEN THINK THAT?").

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So when we talk to our kids about sex now, that conversation has to go way beyond birth control basics to include social media etiquette, privacy, and the dangers of ever, ever, EVER hooking up with some anonymous person online. Because good lord, we've all seen enough episodes of To Catch a Predator.

Then there are the ever-changing gender-specific behavioral standards. Women are finally being encouraged to be sexually empowered, and slut-shaming is finally being recognized as wrong, and those are definitely good things; at the same time, these shifting tides require us to reframe our expectations. It's not so much about warning girls that boys "only want one thing" like parents of past generations did -- it's more about making sure kids of both sexes respect themselves and their partners. (Something half of the adult population is still working on!)

Then, of course, there's the drinking and drugs thing. Maybe you're the kind of parent to take a hard line on all substances and, as such, refuse to even acknowledge the possibility of your kid ever having a beer at a kegger. Or maybe you're a more pragmatic type who would naturally prefer that your kid never pick up a "punch"-filled red Solo cup, but wants her to know that if she does, she can always call you for a ride -- and she'd better do that instead of getting in a car with another kid who's been drinking! (Either way, you'd better make sure you mention date rape drugs, which can show up in any sort of beverage.) All of that is pretty much the same stuff our parents had to deal with.

But drugs are a different story, with marijuana's evolving legal status and a host of new (scary) synthetic options out there that didn't even exist when we were in high school -- not to mention a prescription drug addiction epidemic that poses a huge risk to teens (we've all heard horror stories about kids going into their parents' medicine cabinets and knocking back potentially lethal amounts and combinations of pills). I'm no expert, but with all of these developments and society's attitudes toward drugs shifting -- at least on a certain level -- I feel like the drug conversation between parents and kids has to be one that's especially open and as judgment-free as possible. This generation of teens is one that does its own research, and they're not going to take our word for it if we issue an across-the-board "drugs are bad" decree. ("But Mom, have you read this study on cannabis?") We've got to be educated, thoughtful, and calm when we talk to our kids about substance abuse, always keeping safety as the number one priority. Every family's different, of course -- but the point is, what worked for our parents in this area isn't necessarily going to work for us. 

One thing's for sure: Talking to your kids about any of this stuff is really, really hard, possibly harder for us than it was for our parents. The only comfort? Things should be even harder by the time our teens have their own kids, and won't that be fun to watch?

 

Image via iStock.com/Susan Chiang

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