Discussing Self-Control with Teenagers

By self-control we mean having sex, if we mean using drugs, drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes. This is a time when you really want to ask questions rather than give the child a lecture. You want to make it a collaborative conversation between you and your teenager. So, instead of saying something like, “I heard those kids that you’re hanging out with are really wild at parties and I don’t want you to go there anymore,” it’s better to say, “What’s your opinion of what those kids are doing when you’re at a party together,” so that you’ve got a conversation happening instead of just a lecture.

Kids don’t respond well to lectures. Kids do not change their behavior based on a lecture that their parents gave them, but they really respond to being respected and hearing their opinions. And then, just letting some air be there in the conversation. Don’t think you have to jump in and fix everything right away. Let the child think. If you’ve got a little bit of time, which you should have, to give the child time to think and come up with his or her own theories about things, it’s a very excellent exercise in creating a child who’s a thinker instead of an order taker. And this is what you want. You want someone who thinks for him or herself. Then, when you hear the opinion from your child, give them heartfelt appreciation for telling you whatever it was. So say, “When you tell me what’s on your mind, I feel really connected to you and really like there’s a ton of warmth between us, and I can’t tell you, that that just makes my day.” So, that’s a way to keep the dialogue going between your child and you.

You want to be a trusted source of information, and you want to be a trusted listener to your child. And the best way to do that is to simply listen. Ask questions and listen. You will know so much more about your child’s activities if you have an asking and listening kind of relationship than if you have a lecture kind of relationship with your kid.

Keep that dialogue alive. Keep sharing how you feel about things. Do that directly while you’re having a dialogue. There’s nothing wrong with saying, “You know, I really don’t like smoking because it just damages people’s bodies, and that is the last thing I would want for you. I’ve been taking care of you this whole time, I’m not going to stop now. Since we were pregnant with you, we ate good food, we made sure that you were healthy. We made sure you got the sleep you needed. We made sure you had the roof over your head. We made sure you had clothes on your back. We made sure you had everything you needed for school. We’re not going to let go now and say OK, go ahead and smoke cigarettes and damage your body. We’re going to share our strong feelings that we don’t want you to smoke. We don’t want you to do drugs. We don’t want you to engage in alcohol at an illegal time in your life, because those things are dangerous for you. We’re going to just continue to protect you. So, you can use mom and dad for an excuse if you need to. Say to the kids going to the party, “I got to call my mom at 10:30. I’m sorry I can’t be with you right now.” Let them use you as an excuse.

That way you’ve got a relationship around these things instead of a kid who becomes an island. And that’s really what you want is to stay connected to your kids during this time.