Last week, I spoke at the Central Asian Regional Congress of Medical Women’s International Association on the topic From Texting to Talking: 3 Proven Strategies for Connecting With Your Teen. After the talk and over the course of several days, participants approached me with their questions and concerns. Thailand is completely on the other side of the world. The Thai culture is very different from North American Culture. I had a lot of trepidation regarding this talk and even more trepidation about how I might address any questions raised, given the differences in culture. After a few questions from participants, however, it became evident, as it often does in professional meetings in which I’ve made this and similar presentations, that parents and health professionals around the world have the same concerns about teens.
No matter where I speak, I am most often asked to provide insight on self harm or a history of suicide attempts, suicide pacts and drug use. There is no doubt that these are some of the most difficult topics for any parent to discuss with their adolescent or young adult child. Apart from the subjects themselves being complex, the topics are confounded by that universal parental tendency to moralize and lecture. Think about your own experience as a parent. If you’re not a parent, you might be an uncle or aunt or a professional who works with youth. Can you honestly say that you have never succumbed to providing a lecture or opinion? As I write this, I am recalling a few disastrous “parenting speeches” for which I have been responsible. These were not my finest moments.
Self harm, suicide pacts and drugs are topics to curl any parent’s toes, but there is only one thing you must remember when this topic comes up for discussion. You must remember to focus on the teen’s or young adult’s voiced concerns. Focus so hard to understand that you forget to say any judgmental or critical thing about the topic. The nuances of complex issues are convoluted and teens want to understand an issue before they make a decision about it./
You can provide support. Acknowledge how much courage it takes to begin to speak about these issues. Help an adolescent to find the best possible information about the topic. Just don’t preach, lecture or pontificate. Please, please resist reducing these topics to questions about what is right and what is wrong. Picture yourself with Duct Tape over your mouth. Most young people come to the best choices in the long run, so you can confirm your faith in them.
I answered questions about these subjects with very similar words to those noted above. I hope I wasn’t too preachy or directive.