How to Tackle Tough Topics With Our Teens

“Mom, you’d be surprised how many kids do drugs at our school. There aren’t as many this year as there were last year, but I bet it’s still more than you think.”

We were on our way to Six Flags Magic Mountain where my 16 year old Alexandra was meeting a handful of her friends for a last afternoon of fun before the end of spring break. And as we often do during our drives together we were talking freely about an important topic.


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As  much as I would love to believe that none of the kids at our school do any drugs I knew she was right.  It would be naive of me to assume that our kids are  immune from exposure to drugs just because they attend a small private school where I know most of the families. Drugs happen in all sorts of families and no matter where our kids go to school, with the exception of home schooling of course, our children will be exposed to drugs sooner or later.  It happens in every school environment whether it be private, public, magnet or specialty schools.

I had brought up the topic with my daughter because the week prior, while enjoying a peaceful afternoon at the beach, one of my friends had shared her concern about her son. “I’m worried that he smokes too much pot,” she said, “and that his friends are being a bad influence.” Although her son no longer attends our school he was a classmate of Alexandra’s for many years and they have remained good friends as I have remained friends with his mom.  So they hand out together occasionally.

Now that kind of conversation in and of itself may be shocking to you if you’ve never broached the topic with some of your friends, or if your kids are still very young,  and I am grateful to have friends with whom I can freely discuss topics such as these.  I personally have never been interested in or drawn to drugs and for that I am thankful.  I know many people who feel differently about it, however,  and I respect their position.

I have also seen first hand the devastating consequences that drug use can have and for that reason I feel it is imperative for my daughters to be well educated on the topic. One of the most important things I can do is have an open and honest dialogue with them about this and other somewhat uncomfortable topics.

I first learned the importance of this when I was in eleventh grade.  I came to the US for a year and lived with an aunt and uncle of mine in New Mexico.  They had both experimented with drugs in the 70’s and had met on a rehab retreat. Early on during my stay with them, they sat me down and said to me “If you’re tempted to try any drugs, let us know and we’ll do it together.”  What?? Now mind you I come from a very conservative French Catholic family and I was blown away by that suggestion. Truth be told it was a smart thing for them to do.  If their purpose was to scare me off it was a good tactic. But really what they were saying is that, should I choose to experiment I should do it in a safe environment with people who genuinely care about my well being.  I never took them up on their offer but I also have never forgotten that conversation.

Whether the topic is as intense as drugs, sex, alcohol or as complex as friendship or dreams, I’ve learned the importance of establishing a “safety zone” and laying down a foundation of trust and intimacy.


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When I was pregnant with my second, daughter, Natasha,  a friend who was seeing her oldest off to college said to me “Make sure you always set aside some privileged one-on-one time with each one of your children.  Whether  you set aside an hour a week or 15 minutes a day, make sure each one knows they have your undivided attention whenever they need it.”  That advice has served me well.  Because we live in LA my special one-on-one time often happens in the car. It’s not planned that way, it just happens spontaneously. I learned so much about Natasha when she was competing in Martial Arts. Her competitions were always at least an hour away and on many occasions we drove to Las Vegas, just the two of us.  Those were treasured times!

Even at 7 my little Sabrina takes advantage of that time.  She and I drive about an hour each way on Saturdays to train in silks and trapeze and that has naturally become our special “Share” time.  My favorite thing to do, however, is to lay down with one of the girls and hold in in a hug while we talk.  It creates a safe and loving environment for both of us.

However you choose to set up  that special time it’s important to keep a few things in mind:

Make sure no topic is taboo
It’s amazing the vocabulary our children will suddenly acquire when they go to school!  I learned early on the importance of responding calmly to whatever questions my girls would ask and to have an intelligent discussion about whatever topic came about.

Keep an open mind and don’t be judgemental!
The best way to keep your child from sharing with you is to make him feel bad about his thoughts or feelings. No mater how horrified you might be about something your child is sharing always respond with gentleness and understanding. Your child must always feel safe, especially when he knows he is treading on dangerous territory.

Let your children know that you love them unconditionally and always will
God knows we hope and pray that our children will inherit our values and make nothing but the right decisions!  But the reality is that there will be times when we do not understand some of their actions. But no matter what path they choose, if we are to maintain open lines of communications, they must know that we do and always will love them unconditionally.  And that we will be there to catch them and help them back on their feet no matter how far or how many times they fall.

I am grateful for the relationship I have with my daughters and the trust that comes from having an open and honest dialogue with them about everything and anything.

While I can’t control everything they do I can at least give them the ability to think about the consequences of their choices and how to make wise decisions.  It doesn’t mean that they won’t stray or be tempted by their peers to do things I would not approve of, especially once they leave the nest.  But as long as we can have an honest discussion about it, then I believe we will be okay, no matter what.

How do you let your children know that they can come to you with even the toughest of burdens?  Do you have privileged time set aside with each one of your children?  Have you had to talk about things that make you uncomfortable?


  1. Our kids are still on the younger side but we have already started the talks with them. Its so hard to have the conversations with them but it has to happen.

    • I have found that to be the best way to approach our relationship Holly. It was clear to me from the very beginning that I wanted my girls to feel safe about discussing every topic that came to mind. I always welcomed questions and no matter how ill prepared I felt to handle a question I also answered the best I could. My 7 year old always has so much to share when I put her to bed, it’s beautiful!

  2. You are absolutely correct, we do our best to talk about everything and it’s surprising how easy it is because you love and care for your kids. You would think these difficult topics would be harder based on the nature of the topic, but it really isn’t. You’d rather have them hear these things from you, anyway, as opposed to their friends.

    • You are so right Lisa, when you do something out of love it comes a lot easier. And absolutely, avoiding a topic or issue does not make it go away, it simply leads our children to someone else. And if that someone else is a peer with ulterior motives, or someone who does not have their best interest at heart, the results can be devastating. Your kids are blessed!

  3. When I was a kid, every topic was taboo and it really set up a wall between my parents and I. I REALLY hope I am setting my kids up for an open relationship.

    • I think many of us grew up this way Sara, perhaps because our parents did not know better. I’m sure that because you know first hand the problems that avoiding tough topics can lead to, you will set the right foundation for your children and they will feel like they can trust you with everything and anything. It starts from the very beginning, by simply talking and showing genuine interest in everything they choose to share with us. We’re here for support if you need it 🙂

  4. My mum was of the same opinion when it comes to safety zones and even though she had to worry about drugs with her kids it was certainly good knowing that a) we had a safety zone if we wanted and b) no topic was off limits.

    • I think that having that safety zone is the only way to invite complete honesty with our kids. The challenge is of course to respond with gentleness no matter what our children share with us but I would rather hear something difficult from my child and know that I have their trust than find out through a friend or another parent that one of my daughters had gotten into trouble.

  5. Valerie, the teenage years are certainly interesting as kids start transitioning to greater independence. I agree it is important that no topic should be taboo and that we need to find the balance between giving good advice and being so judgmental that they tune us out. I’m happy to have a very frank relationship with my son though it has taken some work by both of us to achieve it.

    • You make and excellent point Paul in that a trusting relationship is something that can only be achieved when all parties are committed to it. I think the most challenging part is to not be judgmental… Part of being a teenager is testing and pushing… trying out different things to find out what feels right, and to some degree rebel… If our teens never question our choices they aren’t really becoming independent or understanding why we have the rules we do.

  6. That is really good advice, to carve out some one-on-one time each day with each child. I’m inspired to start doing that now while mine are young, so it becomes a habit. I definitely want my kids to know they can talk to me about anything.

    • You are right to want to start when they are young Meredith! I treasure that time with my girls. Most of our conversations give me insight into their beautiful minds and hearts! We talk about everything.. from struggles with friends, to concerns about an issue or another, questions they ponder and yes, occasionally the “tough” topics as well. My oldest will be off to college in a year and I know I will miss laying in bed with her and our many heart to heart conversations 🙁

  7. Thanks for these great tips. I hope that my kids will be open with me when they are older. I want them to be able to come to me with anything!

    • You are welcome Melissa!. It starts with small and simple conversations and just making sure that you make yourself available for some one on one time every day, even if it’s just a few minutes.

  8. Such great tips! Thanks for the reminder!

  9. My kids have been so open with me throughout their teen years. I’ve been shocked by some of the things that go amongst their peers. I have always felt so blessed to have had the lines of communication we’ve had.

    • I am so happy to hear this Liz and you are obviously a great mom. We as parents set the tone. It is scary what some teens experiment with and even scarier to me is the fact that for the most part their parents aren’t aware of what is happening.

  10. These are great tips and a great reminder for keeping communication open with our kids.

    What gets me is the mom says “I’m worried he smokes too much Pot”… Too much? He shouldn’t be smoking it at all!!! Why hasn’t she put an end to that when it started?

    • That is precisely why it is so important to have these conversations with our children, because there are parents who have very different opinions about the topic than we do. I agree with you completely, I don’t want my kids to ever touch drugs, but just look at the number of adults in support of legalizing marijuana. In this case I am grateful for my friend’s trust in sharing her concerns with me that led to a wonderful and open discussion with my daughter.

  11. Catarina says:

    Good advice. A friend of mine has a teenage daughter who asked if she could pierce her navel. My friend said of course you can, no need to ask, just do it. Her daughter never pierced her navel. Would she have done it if her mother had said no? Most likely.

  12. Hi Valerie – I love your approach. I am afraid that I am one of the parents that found it difficult to talk about serious things with my sons . after all, I was the parent, he was the child and there was a huge line drawn between our two positions. I’m so glad to see that has changed now and there is much more communication between parent and child then there used to be. I see that with my own sons and their children and its great to see.
    Thanks for sharing.

    • Lenie I think that is generational to some extent. I didn’t have that kind of open communication with my parents growing up. I don’t think it’s because they did not want to, we just didn’t talk about certain things. And I don’t think they would have ever imagined that we would be exposed to certain things like drugs in our direct circle of friends. They did impart a lot of wisdom and as I look back I realize I was blessed with their attention in different ways — Mom was my girl scout leader from brownies until I left for college. She and dad also taught my catechism class when I was in high school. So the roots for open communication were planted and I’ve expanded on those.. I now have the most amazing relationship with them and we can talk about EVERYTHING! Things I am dealing with now, and looking back at my childhood. It truly is a blessing. I’m sure you have a much more open relationship with your sons now and your grand children 🙂

  13. One of my fears with my children is that I am not doing enough to make sure those lines of communication are open. I do the best I can but I just hope that its enough. You gave some great advice that I definitely took to heart.

    • I have complete confidence in you Kim. The greatest challenge for working moms like you and I is to remain available when we are the most tired. What I have found is that those conversations will pop up when you least expect them to, and often when you’ve got other things to do. I still lay down with my 7 year old when I put her to bed because when everything quiets down the downpour begins… She always has so many things to question and analyze! Just remember I’m here if you need me 🙂

  14. Hi Valerie,
    You’re obviously a great Mom because love communicates constantly. Your straightforward honesty and openness with your children creates that level of comfort and safety that enables tackling tough topics with relative ease, rather than trepidation.

    Parents who struggle with talking about various issues with their teens need to read your post, which is why I’ll be sharing it.

    Kind Regards,

    • Thank you from the bottom of my heart William for these beautiful words and for sharing. I do the best I can and I I’ve learned to trust my instincts when it comes to those kind of things. I also have phenomenal parents and though I didn’t have that kind of relationship with them as I was growing up, at least not in that same way, I can talk to them about ANYTHING! And they are always there for me. We’ve taken them through some tough times for sure but the love they give my siblings and I is pure gold. I can honestly say that I am one of the richest women in the world because of my family..the one I grew up with as well as the one that God has entrusted to my care.

  15. Great advice! My son is an only child and while he pretty much gets me all to himself, there is a difference in playing with mom and doing nothing but talking together. Every now and then, we lie on my bed and just talk about stuff. He’s only 4 but we talk about the kids at his school, what he’s learning, what he likes, etc. No toys, no tv, just us,peace and quiet, talking. Its a great bonding time and I hope that it helps me be able to come to me to talk about anything. I truly believe that having that open line of communication with your child is the key.

    • Michelle that is beautiful and exactly how I started with my oldest. She still comes to me and asks “Mom can we cuddle?”. Sometimes we just hug and keep quiet and I know that’s what she really needs, just knowing that my arms are always open. Other times we talk and talk about whatever is on her mind… school, making the right choice with college, life, friends… it is such a treasured time and I know I will miss it sorely when she leaves for college. I have that special time with each of my three girls but each one is unique and fills my cup in a very special way. Cherish that time with your son — it truly is priceless!

  16. My son talks about all the pot/drugs going through his school. It’s scary, but we talk open and honestly with him (which I think is vital) so that when/if he’s in a bad situation he will come to us.

    • That is exactly our mindset Heather. I can’t control whether my daughters will eventually be tempted to try pot or something else. I pray they don’t but if they do I would much rather know about it and hear it from them than anyone else. It’s imperative for me that they know that no matter what choice they make, with drugs, alcohol or any other big issue, they can be brutally honest with me and share. If they make a choice that I would rather they didn’t I want to understand why, and for them to know that even if I disagree with that choice I will always love them, respect them, and be there for them. Keep doing what you are doing, it’s the best we can do 🙂

  17. Where we live in NY, there is a huge heroin problem right now. It’s heartbreaking. So we’ve been talking to our kids for over a year now about how drugs can hurt you and why you shouldn’t do them – and our children are only 5 and 7. We want them to know that they can come to us first with any questions they may have and we will always be honest with them. NO scare tactics – just plain and simple honesty.

  18. Valerie- My daughter has created a program on drugs on her school district. The program reaches out to children in grade school so that when they get to high school they have full knowledge of drug abuse. My grandson is 12 and it is having an impact on him as well as his friends. The theory is that if children become aware at an earlier age they are less likely to use drugs when they are teenagers. I hope her program works.

    • Wow Arleen, your daughter is amazing! It is so important for young people to tackle those tough topics and I applaud her decision to take action in such a bold way. I pray her program is hugely successful!

  19. Great advice. I have a 12 yr old and I have to say the teen years scare me. Thanks for this advice.

    • The teens years are scary Cara, and I am sure every generation of parent has felt “now more than ever!” Our kids are being raised in such a permissive society that establishing clear and firm boundaries from the very beginning is so important. The best advice I can give you is take it one day at a time… and remember the teen years can also be the most magical! It is so rewarding to watch our children come into their own!

  20. I kinda worry about heavy topics because I never really dealt w/ a lot of issues as a teen..i never did drugs, smoked, drank..I just didnt. I didnt care to. I wonder how I will deal w/ it as a parent.

    • I was like you Trisha, those things did not interest me as a teen and they still don’t. But I have also seen how dangerous avoiding the topic can be. The most important thing to remember is that even good kids from good families can and will be curious so keeping those lines of communication open at all times is essential. I also encourage you to find people close to you you can turn for support when the real tough conversations come around. You’re such a devoted mom that I am sure you’ll find the right way to approach these topics when the time comes 🙂

  21. I think one on one time is totally needed like you mentioned. A clear line of communication and your child feeling like they can come to you with anything.

  22. I love how open you are with your kids- and how open they seem to be with you! My boys are still very young {3 months and 4 years} so we haven’t had any tough topics yet but I hope to grow the type of relationship with them where they can come to me with anything.

    • Thank you Shell. We lay the foundation for an open relationship from the beginning and the most important thing is to remember never to respond with judgement. I’m sure you already enjoy some beautiful conversations with your four year old. This is the age where they really start to ask, and ask and ask. Relish that time and always answer with compassion and honesty and even though at times the questioning can become exhausting this is when you set your foundation, and learn to discern what needs your real undivided attention.

  23. As Shell says,

    I admire how open you are with your kids. Hopefully when I have kids, it will be the same and I’ll have encouraged them that any topic is not off limits. Great post!

    • Thank you Carl! Being open and honest in our relationships is essential, whether it be with our children, a spouse or even friends. If you approach all of your relationships that way it will the natural way to be with your children when that season in your life comes around 🙂

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