10 things you should be
talking to your teen about
As a parent, aunt, uncle, grandparent or friend of a young person, it is our responsibility to prepare young people for the future.
Sharing vital information with teens is a subject we are passionate about. Orphanage leavers that LOVE RUSSIA works with have been deprived of good honest information they need to keep them safe as they develop and start making choices in life.
Ready to hear the top 10 conversations you should be having with your teen?
These recommended topics of conversation for any child aged 13-19 need to be spoken about numerous times during your teens’ adolescent years. The key is to be a good listener, research, don't judge, share your experiences and be honest! This is a 'guide' as there are so many aspects of each subject than cannot be covered in just one article - but, use them as a chance to remain close to your teen during these changing years while they find their feet as adults.
1. Sex. Some conversation is better than none - sex cannot be ignored! Your teenager is likely to have already received some form of sex education at school and will have also heard plenty about sex from their friends. When talking about sex, make sure you listen and never shut the conversation down with comments like ‘Not under my roof!’ It is so important to allow teens to have open and frank discussions around sex so that they know they can come to you if they are having any difficulties in this area. Make sure they know about consent, including that when people are intoxicated due to alcohol or drugs, they cannot give consent. Whatever your moral view point on sex in or outside of marriage, your teen deserves to know about being safe. A lack of knowledge or taking risks can lead to a life-time of consequences. If they have the info, they have the choice - maybe offer to take them to talk to the GP or to go to a sexual health clinic if they need to.
2. Safe relationships / boundaries. Talk to your teen about the importance of being their own person in relationships. It is important that they maintain their own group of friends and also allow their partner to do the same. A healthy relationship is one where you feel comfortable to spend a mix of your time with each other but also time where you do your own thing and aren’t with each other. During ‘falling in love’ it is also important to know that there are neurochemical changes that mean we will not see our partners’ flaws as they actually are (Zeki S, 2007). This shows the importance of being surrounded by friends and family that care for you and who can point out any warning signs that you might not be able to see accurately. Again, this is a topic where your teen will be safest if you can be open and willing to discuss and listen to their experiences in this area without judgement.
3. Self-esteem. High self-esteem can often be confused with arrogance, and teens may prefer to go with the crowd (against their own instincts) in order to blend in. Your teen needs to know that it’s ok to stand up for what they know is right and people will treat them with respect as a result. If you think your teen is struggling with low self-esteem focus on their effort and accomplishments, not on mistakes. If they are upset about a mistake they have made, help them to change their perspective and view it instead as a learning opportunity. Encourage your teen to try new things and to set themselves mini goals. If your teen still seems to be struggling with very low self-esteem that is impacting their ability to socialise and enjoy life maybe consider seeking professional support from a counsellor for them.
4. Money management. You might think that because your teen hasn’t got access to much money right now, they don’t need to be taught about money management but now is the time! Learning good practices around budgeting and saving is better to do sooner rather than later so that they become second nature disciplines ready for when your teen does have to become financially independent!
5. Diet and exercise. You will quickly find that the best way to teach your teen about this is to model a good example to them yourself! A diet with a balance of foods that are good for you and foods that aren’t so good for you alongside regular exercise is ideal. Try to move the focus away from diets, image and losing weight and more onto being fit, strong and healthy. Avoid talking about weight when the whole family is together. Also, having regular meals together as a whole family (whatever that looks like) is very good for developing healthy attitudes to food.
6. Sleep. Talking to your teens about sleep is probably not the first thing on your list of things to talk about but it definitely deserves a place in the top 10. Sleep and getting enough of it is essential during teenage years as so much growing and learning happens during this time. Encouraging your teen to practise good habits before and after a night’s sleep is also important in order to have restful sleep. This could include having a ‘family charging station’ which is downstairs so that everyone leaves their phone downstairs when they go to bed. This is a good idea not just for your teen but for the whole family!
7. Alcohol. Let’s face it…having a drink is fun, until it’s not! Educating your teen on the risks associated with drinking is the type of conversation you should be having. Placing an all-out ban on drinking often leads to teens drinking anyway and hiding it from their parents which places them at an even higher risk. Instead, let them know that it is their choice but should be aware of what they are getting themselves into if they do drink excessively. Drinking increases the risk of accidents, regretful sexual activity and of being the victim of crime. Support your adolescent to use their teen years to develop a healthy relationship with alcohol.
8. Drugs. Conversations about drugs can be taken from a similar stance to your conversations about alcohol. While drugs are often more dangerous than alcohol, it is important that you don’t show panic or anger if you find out your teen has been experimenting. At this age your teen is responsible for their own actions but remember, you have an opportunity to shape their values. Pick your time wisely, e.g. when the subject comes up on TV. Educate them on the risks associated with drug taking (make sure you are properly educated on this first too!) and maybe share your own experiences. Make sure you don’t come across as too judgemental so that your teen feels you are still approachable!
9. Mental health / emotional well-being. Recent research shows that 12.5% of 5-19 year olds has at least one mental disorder. This means even if your teen isn’t suffering they are likely to know someone who is. Model a good example to your teen of being open about your own mental and emotional health to allow conversations around this topic to be natural. Express your feelings verbally without acting them out in negative behaviours e.g. shouting, alcohol etc. If your teen begins to open up to you about their mental health be ready to listen and even allow silences if your teen is taking time to put their feelings into words. Emotions are very intense during adolescence so make sure you don’t trivialise any of their feelings. Importantly, remember that helping your teen seek help for their emotional or mental health is no reflection on your parenting skills; it is very common at this age.
10. Social media. Social media is a huge part of most young people’s lives. Make sure your teen is aware of their ability to their alter privacy settings. If they decide to leave their accounts as public, make sure they are aware that this gives people the opportunity to take their private information and misuse it. Discuss what is and isn't appropriate to share online to keep them safe. Talk about cyber bullying and how social platforms allows bullies to hide behind anonymity. Let your teen know that you are there for them if they ever see something they are uncomfortable with or if anyone shares anything about them online that they don’t want sharing. Like with the other conversation topics make sure you take an honest, open and non-judgemental approach!
These hot topics are essential for parents or guardians to talk over with their teens…but what happens to teens brought up in orphanages that have no parents?
Many of the young people Love Russia works with have been brought up in orphanages. Because of the high teen to staff ratio and a culture that chooses to ignore many of these issues, young people are left in the dark. This means that when young people leave at age 16 and are abruptly forced into independence, they struggle to survive. By age 20, 90% of them will have turned to crime, addiction, become homeless or have died. Many get pregnant at an early age and due to their lack of life skills lose them to the orphanage system too.
Thankfully, for teens that are involved with Love Russia, they have the chance to have their futures turned around. Skilled project workers take vulnerable orphanage leavers under their wing and begin opening up conversations around these topics to equip them for survival in the big wide world!
Here's a project we ran recently where the sole focus was getting orphan teens to open up and talk about these issues!
While you chat through these topics with your teens please consider donating to support our work in educating and equipping vulnerable young people in Russia.
Zeki, S. (2007). The neurobiology of love. FEBS letters, 581(14), 2575-2579.
NHS Digital (2017). Mental Health of Children and Young People in England [PAS]