How to Best Talk to Your Teen about Sensitive Issues

By Dr. John Mayer Posted March 02, 2015 under Guest Authors, Talking to Your Teen

I am always excited to share a technique that has had great success with the parents I consult and has been very successful to me as a parent. I call it the ‘Surgical Strike Technique’ for talking with teens.

I initially developed it for myself as a result of approaching that dreaded time when we get social and familial pressure to conduct, “The Talk.” You know, the birds and the bees, where do babies come from, SEX TALK. No one is comfortable delivering this talk to kids, not even a clinical psychologist who can do it so skillfully with someone else’s children!

I have never been a fan of holding long-winded, educationally focused discussions about family life, social, emotional or personal issues with people under the age of 18. There are many reasons why these talks are doomed to fail. The most poignant of those reasons are based on facts we now know about adolescents’ cognitive abilities, developmental maturity, defense mechanisms and psychological stage. Such talks simply fall on deaf ears and are ineffective, thus a waste of time.

So, what’s a parent to do? Here’s where the Surgical Strike Technique comes in. I have found it extremely beneficial to slip these discussions into moments and I mean MOMENTS of everyday family life. Something on a TV show, a movie, on the Internet, etc. may stimulate one of these notoriously sensitive life topics. BAM! That’s when I stop everything and invite discussion. Now, as mentioned previously, it isn’t effective to lecture about this. Instead, I start the conversation with a manner I call, “Aw…sucks.” For example, after hearing some news on the car radio I might say, “Geez, man, that’s bad, what do you (kids/teens) think about that?” And if I don’t hear anything in response, which often happens, I share my 3.5 cents on the topic. It seems pretty simple, but you will be surprised by how the spontaneity of this method will generate more conversation. Don’t expect your child or teen to do cartwheels as a result of your brilliant interventions, but know that what you say in these moments is getting through to them. I guarantee it. 

Dr. John Mayer is a leading expert on teenagers and families. He is an active clinical psychologist as well as a consultant and lecturer. Dr. Mayer is also the author of over 20 books and 50 professional papers. Two of his three published novels tackle the problem of substance abuse. On his web site,, you will find podcasts, articles and videos on teenagers and families. You can also check out his fiction author site at And finally, you can connect with Dr. Mayer on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.