How to Talk To Your Teens About Sensitive Topics

By Barbara Greenberg Posted November 01, 2013 under Guest Authors, Talking to Your Teen

Ask any parent what their main source of frustration is with their teen and you will soon hear about how hard it is to get these sweet but sometimes surly creatures to talk. Seriously, how on earth is a parent to talk to a teen about sensitive topics like medicine abuse if they can't even get their teen to talk about how their day was? Well, I am here to fill you in on exactly how to get your teens to talk to you and engage in a conversation with you. I wrote a book on this topic, I've spoken to hundreds of teens over the years and I even raised one. So, I guess you could say I am in the know. And now, I am going to share my secrets with you.

Research shows that teens make better decisions, deal more effectively with peer pressure and even have better self-esteem if their parents consistently talk to them about sensitive topics in just the right way. Having said that, let me start by giving up my secrets:

1. Keep in mind that your teens really do want to talk to you. They won't tell you that because that would be oh so wrong for a teenager to admit; right? They want, however, to talk to you at their own rate and pace. In other words, they will respond to certain styles of conversation better than others. Got it? Stay with me.

2. Teens respond better to indirect requests for information. Instead of asking, “Were there drugs at the party?” you might do better with a less direct request for information such as “Who was at the party?” Teens are more likely to answer these indirect questions and then start spilling the answers to the questions that you really have in mind.

3. Now, once your teens start talking, do NOT interrupt. Let them keep talking. If you interrupt them, the dialogue may end abruptly. Please control yourself. Your goal is to get the information; remember? 

4. By all means, do not become emotional in response to what they are telling you. If they sense that you are “freaking out” or over-reacting then they will simply shut down. Believe me when I say that I know how hard it is to remain calm at all times. Keep in mind that your goal is to get the information. You can freak out privately but not in front of your teens, okay?


5. Be physically available and present to listen. Believe it or not, teens tell me that their parents are often distracted or preoccupied when they want to talk.

Look, these are just some guidelines. Try them. I promise that they will make the dialogue go more smoothly with your teens. Every topic including drugs and sex needs to be discussed with your teens. No topic should be off the proverbial table. Not talking about things does not make issues go away. Good luck and let me know how these tips serve you!                            

Dr. Barbara Greenberg is a clinical psychologist who specializes in the treatment of adolescents and their parents. She was the Director of an Inpatient Adolescent Unit for several years. She is now in private practice in Fairfield County CT. and is the Adolescent Consultant at Silver Hill Hospital in New Canaan CT. Her blogs and media appearances can be viewed at