“Raising teenagers is a piece of cake,” said no one — ever. In 2014, our kids are exposed to and influenced by things that would cause our parents to faint from embarrassment. When you listen to popular music or watch movies, it’s easy to understand why kids are maturing faster than any generation before. Our job as parents is harder than it has ever been and it is more important than ever that we stay connected, engaged, and in constant communication with our kids.
I have two sons, ages 20 and 18, and a daughter who is 15. I started having babies early, with my oldest being born just months after I turned 18. I faced a lot of challenges from the start, but that has motivated me to give my kids all the information and tools they need to make better choices than I did.
When it comes to talking about difficult topics — sex, drugs, rock and roll, life, death, etc. — I never felt intimidated or nervous. It was extremely important to me to have a close relationship with each of my kids and to me that meant very open communication, honesty, and sharing thoughts and life experiences.
I’ve always been a very open person, so it seemed natural for me to talk to my kids about anything and everything. I knew that I wanted them to feel comfortable talking to me about their lives. Open communication starts with the little things — sharing how our day went and talking about our lives. When you have that kind of connection, talking about the tough things in life seems like a natural progression of the conversation, not a dreadful chore on a list.
I have always told my kids the truth — at age appropriate levels. One rule of thumb I use is: If they ask me a question about a particular topic, they are old enough to be answered. I knew that if my kids were going to be willing to talk to me about serious issues, they had to trust me. Being honest gave me credibility. Trust doesn’t get earned over night, it builds over time and I started very early with my kids.
If you wait to have the hard conversations with your kids until they are teenagers, you’re already late. Be honest, encourage open communication from the start, and talk to your kids early and often. I take a lot of comfort in knowing that when the going gets tough, my kids know that they don’t have to get tough alone — we always talk it out together.