After 24 years of working with families, you would think I would have all the answers. The reality is that I don’t. People ask me all the time, “How do you talk with your children about certain subjects?” I then ask them to specify what they are talking about. The answer is often about sex, drugs, alcohol, dating and other subjects. I think to myself, “Why are you asking me?” Then I stop and think about how nervous and afraid I was when doing this with my own children. The world can be overwhelming to parents on a daily basis.
In the United States you have to have a license to drive, hunt, fish, and work in many different fields such as medicine, law and therapy. We study for these exams and read books and listen to teachers who have years of experience. For parenting, there are no classes or exams that you have to take, and you can't really count on the information that's out there. It is all about life experience.
I have found over the years that the best way to talk about these subjects with your children it to be totally honest with them. Is it scary? Sure it is! Children and teens are very inquisitive and want to know what you think about things. They may not come out and say it, but they want and need your input. Hear me on this: They want you to talk with them about these subjects.
Let me give you a few tips I have used in the past and it turned out pretty well for me. First, communicate openly with your children. If they ask a question, no matter how young they are, answer it. If you don’t know the answer, tell them you will find out and get back to them. Remember, the reason they asked the question is because they have heard about it at school or from a friend. I believe you would rather have the answer come from you than from a friend who has no clue what they are talking about. Secondly, hear what your children are saying. We all listen to our children but are we really hearing what they are saying? There is a big difference. And lastly, make these conversations a daily thing. Talking with your children about sex, drugs, and other tough subjects is not a one-time gig. It should occur every day. Be open, honest and transparent with your children. They may act like they “already know all this”, but in the end, your children will respect you more than ever before. It shows that you have an undying love and concern for your child. Don’t be afraid; you can do this!
If you need help in any way, Hope Clinic for Women can help. We offer a parenting program that will teach you how to talk to your children about all these subjects and many more. Just remember, it does not show weakness to ask for help when you need it.
Terry Cheatham has worked with teens and their parents for more than 20 years. He currently serves as a counselor at Hope Clinic for Women, where he specializes in male and couples counseling, parental issues, and prevention education. In addition, he serves as an adjunct professor of psychology at Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tennessee. Terry received his bachelor’s degree in law from Abilene Christian University and his master’s degree in counseling from Trevecca Nazarene University. Terry and his wife, Karise, have three children.