Do As I Say Not As I Did

By Nancy Da Silva

How To Talk To Your Teens When You Were A Wild Child Yourself

You try your best to guide your teen down the right path and help them navigate the tricky pitfalls of temptation and peer pressure. As you watch your child grow you want them to become strong and happy as well as physically and emotionally healthy. You want them to have all the advantages you may not have had yourself growing up.

You hope you can impart the right lessons on your child, but what if those lessons were hard learned through the mistakes of your own past? How can you teach your child to do the right thing when your own past is less than squeaky clean? Is it a case of ‘do as I say, not as I did?’ and then you risk sounding like a hypocrite or do you keep the past where it belongs and simply focus your advice on the present, without brining your own past behaviours into the equation at all?

For Diana, a 42 self employed office manager from Florida, it was important that she straddle the fine line of sharing her experiences in the hope that they would be of benefit to her children without sharing too much that could actually be more of a hindrance. “I can only hope that they understand that the life experiences I have been willing to share with them were offered out of complete love in a manner that would be helpful and not as a need for friendship & acceptance so they can see how "real" I am. They are still children and should be treated as such. I am sure if some things were told it would only shock them & hinder them rather than help them. I would never risk leading them in the wrong direction all in the name of honesty. Because quite honestly a partial truth to me when it comes to your children is not a lie! They are simply too young to handle great enlightening truths as they have not gained the life experience or wisdom to go along with it to understand their true meanings, purpose or the lesson involved.”

So while sharing can be beneficial to your teen, you should consider their age when talking about your own history. You can share certain things with a sixteen or seventeen year old about past experiences involving drugs or sex that it would be best for you to hold back on with a thirteen or fourteen year old child. This is not to say that you shouldn’t talk to your thirteen year old about sex or drugs, but simply that you should stick to maybe vague concepts that you’ve learned growing up yourself rather than specifics.

You most likely grew up during the sexual revolution, the 70’s, when free love and experimentation was the norm. For the most part, society never really got its equilibrium back from the complete openness and lack of restraint in that era. We’re still dealing with the fall out which includes AIDS and other STD’s along with unplanned pregnancy statistics that never seem to be getting any lower. There were also the physical complications brought on by the experimentation with drugs.

Beyond the physical, these years of experimentation might have left emotional scars in the form of having trouble forming close romantic relationships because of the loss of intimacy that ideally is a part of sex. You may have also been traumatized by the loss of a close friend to a drug overdose.

The sad truth is things haven’t changed all that much, only now it’s our children dealing with things like drugs and unplanned pregnancies and STD’s. So should you use your experiences to help your navigate these rough waters? Can what you’ve been through be of some benefit to your teenager?

The most important thing you can do when having these talks with your child is to bring the issues up before your child is stuck in the middle of them. Also, make sure you talk with your child and not at them. For example, if you’re watching a movie and a scene involving drugs comes on the screen talking at your child would be ‘I better not catch you doing anything like that.’ This antagonistic approach establishes a divide between you as the big bad parent and your child will instinctively want to rebel because he feels you don’t respect him. Talking with your child would be more like, ‘I had a friend when I was around your age and he died of an overdose. I miss him a lot and I couldn’t imagine what it would do to me if I lost you to something like that.’ It establishes that you’ve had experience with that kind of thing and also that the reason you don’t want him engaging in that behavior is because you love him so much. By showing that you have experience with an issue like drugs you open the door for your child to ask you questions, furthering the dialogue between you.

Mary, a 41 year old mom from Missouri is also a believer in tailoring how much you share to the age of your child. “Yes, I believe in telling my kids the truth. I might only tell part of the story and as they grow older give more information to them.”

The fact is there’s no hard fast rule about what to tell your teenager when about your own experiences but the important thing to realize is that no one will have more of an influence on your child’s early thoughts on things like sex and drugs than you will. Your past has value to your child’s present and by willing to share the lessons you learned you not only show your child that you love them, but that you respect them enough to be honest with them, making it more likely that when the time comes, they’ll be honest with you.