Communicating Your Values

How do you communicate your values to your teen? Isn't it a given that the “biggies” — drugs, sex, alcohol, and other reckless behaviors — are off limits? There are only so many ways (and times) you can say “Don't do drugs.” But there are other things you can do.

Modeling and Honesty

Just as at any other time in your child's life, you need to model the behaviors you'd like to encourage. Teens are very perceptive, so make sure what you say matches up with what you do, even if your teen isn't around. If you drink and drive and think your kid won't know, you're running the risk of your child finding out, copying the behavior, and seeing an example of your dishonesty.

Teens will often try to find cracks in their parents' perfect facades by saying such things as, “Oh, so you never had sex before you got married?” or “Sure, like you never tried alcohol before you were twenty-one.” Take note: this is the rare invitation for you to do the talking rather than listening and waiting for your teen to open up. Rather than lying or using smoke-and-mirrors, tell your teen the truth about what you did … and how it affected you at the time and in the future.

Question

How much detail should you include?

Enough to tell the story, but not enough to teach your child how to engage in the behavior. If your teen seems very interested in say, how you rolled a joint, respond with, “You don't need to know the details. The point is that I did it and I'll always regret it because ….”

It's important to include the repercussions of your behavior in the story because, remember, teens are not quite able to figure out these long-lasting implications for themselves. You can say something like, “I'm so glad I didn't have unprotected sex. Two weeks after she broke up with me, my high school girlfriend got pregnant by another guy, and he ended up having to quit school to get a job and raise a family.”

Well-Rounded Teens

Teens need a mix of scheduled activities to keep them stimulated, and unstructured free time for thinking, creativity, and a social life. Unless your family particularly needs the money, consider prohibiting your teen from getting a part-time job and instead using his time for an activity that builds life and career skills, such as an internship or volunteer position. This is much more valuable than learning to waitress or fold clothes for what amounts to a few hundred bucks — unless you think your teen needs to realize how poorly unskilled jobs pay and how hard it is to be on one's feet for an eight-hour shift. In the end, a teen needs to be well-rounded, with more in life than just school and the Internet, so find other interests and nurture them.

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