First the facts
The transition from teen brain to adult brain completes in the early to mid-twenties.
In the 8th grade, when asked who they would rather talk to about a problem or who they would go to for advice, most kids say it depends on the topic.
My classroom survey consistently reveals 3 topics that 95% of teens aged 14 and over choose NOT to talk about with their parents: sex, alcohol and drugs.
About 80% of 8th graders and about 95% of high school students would rather talk to friends than to adults to get more information about sex, drugs, alcohol or to get support for a problem.
Many teens state they may talk to their parents about these topics in general, however when it comes to their own curiousity about sex, drugs and alcohol or their actual participation or use, the numbers shift dramatically toward 95% not talking.
Many parents believe that their kids are talking to them openly about whether or not they are having sex, using alcohol or other drugs.
Truth is, the numbers simply simply don't match!
From my experience running a confidential teen reproductive health clinic serving teens 14 through 21, I can state with confidence that there is a time lapse between the initiation of sex and substance use and the time when most kids talk openly with their parents. That fact, coupled with the fact that most teens report that they prefer to talk to their peers is a breeding ground for dangerous risk behavior with long term consequences.
So what's a parent to do?
Encourage your teen develop an adult support system to pick up where they leave you off! Guide them towards adults you trust to support them!
In my classroom work with preteens and teens, I suggest 5 people from 5 places in their lives to comprise their support system. People they feel comfortable going to for help, support, information and resources. The people on their list have to be over the age of 25 so they are working with adult brains. I encourage teens to talk to their peers for support but remind them that their peers brains are just like theirs! Many teens even report talking to their animals, which I strongly encourage! My dog gives me undivided attention and my cat never leaves my lap, purring all the while I share my secrets ... but they have yet to help me come up with an action plan :)
Most kids include at least one of their parents on their list. But just parents is simply not enough! When prompted, kids identify the following people as potential prospects for thier support systems: best friend's mom or dad, teacher, guidance counselor, coach, counselor, aunt or uncle, older cousin, older brother or sister, friend of the family, neighbor, representative from a youth serving agency, such as a teen outreach worker. Help your teen identify the people that can support them and know that ultimately, they need to have a list they are comfortable with.
The purpose of this list is multi-faceted. I encourage kids to include non-judgemental people they can talk to about a problem as well as someone they can call to get them out of a jam, i.e. a party gone bad, a scarey dating situation, a ride to avoid driving under the influence. Keep in mind the people on their list must show up in support. It's their own list. If anyone on their list gives conditional support that makes getting out of a difficult situation a hassle, then they have the right to cross that person off their support list. It is their list ... and the intention of the list is to support them no matter what. Period.
A special note to parents
Your kids want your support. They know that you will hold them accountable for their actions ... and between you and I, they secretly hope you will! The most important thing you can do for your teen is to be clear about what your values are and why. That said, be clear that it may take some time for your teen to assume your values as their own or come up with their adult value system. Therein lies some tumultuous times!
So, if your kid calls you to help get them out of a scarey situation, just go and help them ... no questions, no conversations, no reprimands, no accountability or no consequences until things have descalated, until every one is safe, straight and sober, and until everyone can calmly communicate. It may even take a day or two to get there, but it's worth the wait in terms of connecting with your teen!
If that is not possible for you to do, you might just find yourself crossed of your own teen's support list. Remember, their support list is theirs. It is intended to support them with problems, issues and situations they need help with. It's to get them out of a dangerous or scarey situation. Period.
Need some support?
In some ways, based on my years of working with teens and risk behavior, I understand your teen's behavior better than most parents do. But as a parent, you know your teen better than anyone does.
Together ... think of the possiblities for you and your teen!