Monday, January 9, 2012

Why Parents Avoid 'The Talk' with Their Teens

I've written two books, Conversations with the Wise Uncle and Conversations with the Wise Aunt - one for boys and one for girls. Both are fictional accounts about an older relative mentoring a young person during the teen years to give the child a "heads up" about important issues.

The inspiration for these books came when one of my best friends told me about his teen years. When he was 12, his uncle took him out for breakfast. In addition to potatoes and eggs, they shared a long talk. His uncle was relaxed and fun to be with, not at all like his dad, who was stern, demanding and hard to talk to.

In a friendly, casual way, his uncle talked about what the boy could expect during his teen years. He described the physical changes that were about to happen to him as he matured into an adult. He talked about peer pressure, risk-taking behavior and the consequences of sex, drugs and alcohol.

At the end of the talk my friend's uncle said, “Now I want you to promise me something. When your friends want you to go along with them and something inside you doesn’t feel right, I want you to stop and think about what could happen. I want you to remember the things we talked about. Will you do that?”

My friend told me this talk with his uncle was the most important conversation of his life, that it helped him steer clear of all kinds of trouble during his teen years. Not that he was a perfect kid, whatever that is. But most of the time when he was tempted to do something he knew he shouldn’t, and usually it was something fun or exciting, he remembered what his uncle told him. He said having an uncle who leveled with him about the consequences of bad decisions was the luckiest thing that ever happened to him.

Many adults don’t feel comfortable talking to kids about these things. I know this because I've been engaged in a long-term anecdotal research effort, in which I ask adults about their teen years. I have yet to find another person who had anything like this "heads-up" talk when they were young. I know I didn't. How about you? Were you one of the lucky ones?

Hence the inspiration to write this book - to suggest to parents what to talk about and how to talk about it. And if desired, to give the book to the teen to read as a supplement to these conversations.

But why is it that parents fail to talk to their kids about these things? Why are they reluctant to coach them about things like sex, peer pressure, and addictive substances? Here's what I've come up with so far...
  • Their own parents didn't talk with them, so they don't have that model to work from.
  • Their memories of their own teen years are mixed and muddled.
  • They aren't sure what needs to be covered, or how to go about it.
  • They're afraid they'll get it wrong, give bad advice.
  • Times have changed. Teens today face some new issues.
  • It may be hard to get their their teen to listen to what they have to say - the old "generation gap."
These concerns are well-founded. Here are some issues today's parents may not realize that teens need coaching and encouragement about...
  • Teen brain development - awareness of the sensitive period for developing critical thinking skills.
  • How alcohol and drugs can permanently limit building the foundation for this area of intelligence.
  • How skills and habits are formed.
  • Why character strength and other personal strengths are crucial to success and how to develop them.
  • Why communication skills are crucial to success and how to develop them.
  • Why working on personal development as a teen will give them a huge edge later in life.
You can see why I wrote the Wise Aunt and Wise Uncle books. Even parents who would do anything to give their kids an edge to grow into happy, successful adults could feel inadequate to the challenge of coaching them in these areas.

Sneak preview...

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2012. Building Personal Strength . (Permission to use image purchased from


Unknown said...


Judy H. Wright- Auntie Artihcoke said...

Hello from Montana, Although my actual name is Judy Helm Wright, I am also known as Auntie Artichoke.

Auntie is an honorary title given to wise women who love unconditionally.

Aunties and Uncles play such a major part in the raising of responsible young adults.

Grateful our grandkids have Aunties And Uncles who have had the talk with them.

Judy H. Wright