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It may seem, as a single parent of a teenager, that when it comes to talking to them about certain subjects it’s like talking to a brick wall.

It may appear that they are not listening or don’t want to listen but in fact, they are hearing what you are saying but tend to avoid responding to delicate and embarrassing subject matters.  You shouldn’t let this detour you from talking with your teens concerning important matters that will certainly arise in their young lives, most likely sooner than later. 

Having raised three teenagers as a single parent I know what a struggle it is to even get them to sit down and discuss topics such as sex, drugs, and alcohol use, much less getting them involved in the conversation.  I discovered and applied some handy tips to get my kids to talk about these subjects without them becoming uncomfortable and uneasy. 

Talking about sex

One of the most feared and avoided questions young children ask their parent is, “Where do babies come from?”  This question usually arises around the age of eight or nine.  Most parents will avoid the question or answer it with the “You’ll understand it when you get older” bit.  Kids are a lot smarter than we parents give them credit for and avoiding the question will only cause them to seek the answer elsewhere.  At that young age you don’t need to go into details about the biology involved with making a baby; you just simply need to answer the question in an honest manner that they can understand. 

By the time your child is a teenager he or she already knows the biology involved in making a baby.  They know what sex is and are almost certainly eager to explore it firsthand.  This is when you need to have a serious discussion with your teenager; not about the biology of sex, but the misconceptions surrounding sex.  I dealt with this topic in a game-like setting.  My children are all close in age, so at the dinner table one night I started the “game”.  I have three children, so I had three empty jars on the table and a stack of 30, one dollar bills in front of me.  I had a list of questions to ask them and for each question they answered, either if it was right or wrong, they got a dollar bill in their jar.  Some of the questions I asked were:

  • How does a girl get pregnant?
  • What are some methods of birth control?
  • What are sexually transmitted diseases?
  • Is having sex wrong?
  • What age should somebody have sex for the first time?
  • Are you ready to be a parent at the age you are now?

These were just a few of the questions I asked and surprisingly, the game went on for well over an hour.  With each question, we discussed the answers and then I explained the truth of each topic in detail.  They were not embarrassed and found the game to be very enjoyable.  You have to understand however, I had always been very open with my children and allowed them the opportunity to speak their minds from a very young age.  They were not timid about asking me questions or answering my questions.  They learned a lot from this game and they each ended up with ten dollars in their jar. 

Talking about sex with your teenagers doesn’t have to be painful; you just need to be creative, comfortable, and open with your kids.  They already know the basics; they just don’t always know the whole truth of the matter and it is your job to enlighten them with the truth.  The most important aspect of this “game” was to not talk down to my kids; I spoke to them as an equal player in the game.  And be prepared for some shocking answers; answers you might not want to hear and most importantly, don’t scold them for being honest. 

Talking to your teenager about drugs

As a single parent, this topic was far easier to discuss than the subject of sex.  I didn’t play any game when discussing this; I simply laid out the truth to them.  I told them I knew that they would all, at one time or another, want to explore the use of some type of drug.  I explained what the effects of the most popular drugs available to them would be.  I also told them, in all honesty, that as a teenager, I myself, explored the use of drugs.  This is not an excuse they can use against you and trust me, they will.  They will say, “You did it, so why can’t I?”  Your answer should be, “Because it is illegal, harmful, and will cause you to do stupid things you wouldn’t normally do if you weren’t under the influence of that drug.” 

Something you need to remember about teenagers is that they will almost always care more about what their peers think than what you think.  If their peers are using drugs, most likely your kid is going to use them too.  It is an unfortunate fact that by the time your teenager graduates from high school, he or she will have had sex, used some sort of drug, and has used alcohol.  Scare tactics seldom work; your best choice in dealing with matters such as drug use is letting your kids know the consequences of that behavior if they are caught using them.  Tough love is sometimes very hard to enforce, especially as a single parent, but it is most imperative that you make sure they understand that it is not ok to explore this avenue.  

Talking to your teenager about alcohol use

As a single parent you can’t be with your kids every minute of the day and there comes a time when you have to accept the fact that no matter what you say or how sternly you say it, they are going to drink alcohol.  It is very important to know who your kids are hanging out with; this is the first tip to keeping them from harm’s way.  Again, scare tactics seldom work when discussing the use of alcohol but a good dose of reality often will help them see the light.  Teenagers are often self-centered and have the mentality that they are invincible.  They truly believe that nothing bad could ever happen to them.  You can tell them what alcohol does to their body; you can tell them how sick it will make them; you can show them pictures of accidents involving drunk drivers, but in their stage of cognitive growth, they won’t grasp onto the fact that this could ever happen to them.  All you can really do is explain what happens to a person who is drinking and how it lowers their ability to make good choices.  The one piece of advice I have always stuck to concerning this topic is to tell your kids you don’t approve of them drinking, but should they ever be in a situation that they have been drinking and need a ride home, let them know they can always call you and you will be there for them.  You must also remind them that there will be consequences to this behavior but that will come after they wake up the next day.  If your kid is afraid to call you for help, he or she might find themselves in a car with a drunk driver which then could be a fatal mistake. 

The most important tip I can give you concerning this topic is to always know where your kids are.  Make it a rule that they call you and tell you where they are and who they are with.  They should have a set time to be home and if they don’t arrive at that set time, enforce the consequences to that behavior.  If they tell you where they are, go see if that’s where they are; they may get mad that you are checking up on them, but they will also know that you are watching which means at any given moment, you could appear and catch them doing something they know they shouldn’t be doing.  Make it a habit to know where your kids are; this is the best defense you have and the best tip I can advise you on.

The single parent and the teenager

You might find some comfort in knowing that being a single parent dealing with teenagers is not much different than two parent families dealing with teenagers.  Teenagers are a handful no matter what type of family they come from.  The most important thing to remember is they are human, they make mistakes, they need guidance, and eventually they learn from where they’ve been.  Setting boundaries and having open and honest discussions with your teens is very important; they need to know that you hear what they are saying just as much as you need to know that they hear what you are saying.  It’s not all doom and gloom; I enjoyed my kids as teenagers because we had and still have such an open relationship with each other.  I never spoke down to them and always made sure they knew I understood their point of view; even if it differed from mine.