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Tricky Conversations

November 30, 2014 by HealthyFamilies BC

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Many parents feel uncomfortable talking with their teenagers about topics such as sex or drugs. But tricky conversations can give you the opportunity to guide your child towards sensible and responsible decisions.


A tricky conversation covers any topic that might be embarrassing or controversial for either you or your child to discuss. It could also be something that might cause a heated discussion or a blow-up between the two of you.

Sex, sexual orientation, masturbation, drugs, alcohol, academic difficulties, work and money are all topics that families can find difficult to talk about. It’s normal to feel uncomfortable discussing these things.

Managing tricky conversations

There are no scripts for tricky conversations and difficult topics. But it’s a good idea to think about these topics before your child asks. That way, you might not be so surprised or caught off guard when your child asks a tricky question about sex while you’re driving!

Here are some tips to help you manage these conversations:

  • Try to stay calm. Reassure your child that you do want to discuss the issue. This can help your child feel he can talk to you about anything.
  • Make sure the first thing you say to your child is something that lets her know you’re happy that she wants to talk to you. For example, “I’m happy that you trust me to help you with this”.
  • If you need a bit of time to gather your thoughts before you talk, set a time to talk later. Make sure it’s soon – don’t wait until the next day. The longer you wait, the harder it will be. Your child might go ahead without your input in the meantime.
  • Listen to your child. This means giving your child a chance to talk through what’s going on, without trying to fix the situation. Often, teenagers in particular aren’t expecting you to fix things – they just want you to listen.
  • If your child wants your help with a tricky situation, read our article on problem-solving for steps to finding a workable solution.
  • If your child wants your opinion, let your child know how you see the situation rather than telling him what to do. For example, “I would prefer it if you didn’t have sex until you’re older. But if you’re going to, let’s talk about making sure you are as safe as possible”.
  • Avoid being critical or judgmental, or getting emotional. If you need to let off steam, choose another adult to talk to when your child isn’t around.
  • Thank your child for coming to you.

A study on communication about sex found that teenagers are less anxious and are less likely to avoid talking to their parents about sex when parents are receptive to their teenagers’ ideas and opinions. Staying calm and composed, and keeping things informal can also help those lines of communication stay open.

Benefits of tricky conversations

Tackling tricky conversations together with your child is a sign that you have a healthy relationship.

It will help keep your relationship with your child close and trusting. Research shows that when parents are warm, accepting, nonjudgmental and uncritical, teenagers feel more connected to them and are more likely to discuss issues with them in the future.

If you know what’s going on in your child’s life, you’re better positioned to help her manage difficult situations. Discussing difficult topics with you gives your child the opportunity to explore her choices and work out whether they’re the right ones for her.

Try not to avoid tricky conversations with your child. If you do, he might end up making choices that have negative consequences. For example, a sexually active teenager who doesn’t ask for advice about contraception might end up with an unwanted pregnancy or a sexually transmitted infection.

Did you know?
Teenagers are more embarrassed talking about sex than their parents are. If your child wants to talk about sex with you, it means her need for help or discussion is outweighing any discomfort she might be feeling.

When your child won’t talk

Some teenagers are very reluctant to start difficult conversations with their parents. This might be to do with age, gender or past experience. For example, some teenagers might have had an angry or disapproving response from their parents in the past. This can put teenagers off discussing controversial topics with their parents.

If your child doesn’t want to have difficult conversations with you, you could try the following:

  • Try to set aside some time each day to talk with your child. Ask open-ended questions and let her know that if she wants to talk you’re happy to listen. This might help her feel more comfortable coming to you in future.
  • If your child won’t talk to you, it might be helpful to find another trusting adult he can talk to. You could suggest a relative, teacher, counsellor or neighbour.
© Raising Children Network Limited, reproduced with permission.

Resources & Links:

HealthLink BC: Talking With Your Child About Sex

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