(NEWS CENTER Maine) — It's a question parents have been asking for generations: How do I talk to my kids about sensitive subjects like sex and drugs without making them uncomfortable and leading them to shut down?


Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Jack Burke suggests that the first step is getting off our moral high horse so that we can listen and teach. He also says it might be helpful to reframe the conversation to focus on risk, respect, and resilience.

Risk: “The point isn’t sex or drugs,” Burke says, “It’s about risk taking. We want to talk about what leads us to take risks – things like boredom, being lonely, feeling unpopular or left out.” Burke says it’s important to support our teens while they work through such normal stresses. “And we want to make sure we’ve given them tools for risk/reward assessment as opposed to grooming them for sainthood.”

Respect: Burke says listening is the most important aspect of respect. “This is very important,” he says, “Be careful of stealing their power, especially daughters.” When we promise to take care of their problems for them -- as in, “If anyone ever tries that with you, just tell me and I’ll…” – we may think that sounds supportive, but to a teen, it sounds overbearing.

Another way to remain respectful when talking to our teens is to talk about ourselves and how we have handled risk, modeling how to take responsibility for ourselves, rather than dictating a certain course of action for them. Then you can ask, “How do you want to handle this?”

Resilience: By respectfully listening and asking questions, Burke says we send the message that we won’t do their thinking for them, and we will always have their backs. Just as we made mistakes, so will they. Learning a lesson and moving on leads to resilience.