How to Tackle Tough Topics with Your Teen

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How do you tackle tough topics with your teen? Having gone through the teen years with five kids, I’ve found there are a lot of difficult topics that parents and teens have to navigate through together. Talking about alcohol, drugs, pornography, premarital sex, and many other issues can be very uncomfortable, but very necessary.  So, what should a parent do?

First, share with them right up front that you realize this is difficult to talk about but it’s too important to ignore.  Tell them that this is just a private conversation between the two of you and that you won’t share it with anyone else.  Also, let them know that your parents didn’t talk to you about these things and you wish they had. Or, that they did talk to you and you want to make sure that they have this benefit as well.

Second, let them know that you love them no matter what. They need to know that there is absolutely nothing that they can do or say that will ever take away your love for them. Now, if they do share something with you at some point that is shocking or disturbing, remember your commitment to love them through it. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t express sadness or disappointment over it or discipline them; it just means that you shouldn’t go ballistic with shouting or mean or angry words, or withhold your affections from them.

Third, tell them the reason you are talking to them about this—the reason you will or will not allow something— is that you want what’s best for them…that you always have their best interests at heart. It’s important for them to understand that you will do anything if it will help them…that you’d even take a bullet and die for them, if necessary.

Fourth, let them know that the decisions they make will ultimately be theirs but that those decisions will have consequences. Some will be natural consequences, others will be imposed consequences. You should make sure you clearly lay out what those consequences will be.  In some cases, it may even help to write out what they are in a written contract that your teen signs.

Fifth, let them know that you have always, and will always, speak the truth to them and that you expect them to always speak the truth to you, even if it hurts.  Your relationship must be built on a foundation of truth.

Sixth, let them know that you are always there for them no matter what they say or do.


If you’ve had to talk to your teenagers about tough topics, I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas on what worked. Or what didn’t. Please comment below.

Related Resources:

Drinking and Drugs TALK
Waiting for Sex TALK

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Bryan Chalker

    Thanks Mark – perfect timing for this article. My son’s been asking more and more questions, and I’ve needed encouragement like this to deal with them.

  • Guest

    My children love to have sleepovers and I am not fond of them.  Recently spoke with a friend whose son was sexually abused by someone they trusted, and one piece of advice she gave me was to never allow the children to have sleepovers, even if it’s someone I trust.  

    I prefer to have children sleep over at my house so I know what’s going on, but it’s difficult to cut off sleepovers to other homes when I have previously allowed them.  So, I tried to explain to my kids why it concerns me.  It always has concerned me but I couldn’t seem to express it for fear of creating fear in them.  Anyway, my son really wanted to have a sleepover at his friend’s house and he said, “I promise I won’t get molested!”  Just goes to show how naive he really is, and really doesn’t help me to feel any better about sleepovers.  Any advice?

  • Kintu Mulimira Christine

    My daughters have come home from boarding school today and they need this kind of information, especially that they are beginning their long holiday.  Thank you for allowing God to use you in a tremendous way. 

  • Linda

    Great info..

  • Mark Merrill

    My pleasure, Kintu. Please let me know how I can further serve you.

  • Mark Merrill

    Justin, that’s really good to hear.

  • Mark Merrill

    Bryan, be strong and courageous!

  • Ed Miller

    This is great advice Mark. Our kids are grown, but we followed most of your advice in this post. One of the things that we did with our boys was design a Teenage Challenge for each of them. We had them read and discuss various topics related to navigating the teen years successfully and growing into adulthood. At the end of the year, I took each of the boys on a special trip where we had fun as well as some heart to heart discussions. We had some great discussions on some very difficult subjects. I think it worked so well because we were bonding and having a great time together. This enabled us to talk openly and freely. It was great.

  • Michelle

    This is great advice, but how much should we tell our kids about what we did? Our 13 year old is asking Dad if he smoked pot… How much do we tell them while being honest but not too much info?