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  • Writer's pictureJill Whitney

How was it for you? Telling teens your past experiences

Updated: May 6, 2021

Drawing of an open book with a magnifying glass and objects inside
Artist with amnesia: illustrations on this page by Lonni Sue Johnson, whose brain damage benefited memory research

When it comes to talking openly with your child about sex and relationships, a good first step is looking back and taking stock of the formative experiences that shaped you and your values. Here marriage and family therapist Jill Whitney of Keep The Talk Going suggests what you could say and explains why modelling openness makes you more relatable…

Maybe you’ve always meant to talk more with your child about sex and dating but kept putting it off. Now they’re a teen or preteen and you know you need to open a conversation but you don’t know where to start. How can you get beyond the wall of groans, eye-rolling and “I know all that”?

One way is to start with information they don’t already know – because you’ve never told them and they couldn’t have learned it at school or from friends. Tell them something about your own teen or preteen years, especially the things that were challenging for you.

There are lots of possible topics. Here are some ideas of what you might share with your kid:

“When I was your age, it was hard for me…”

“That I developed earlier/later than everyone else, and I felt so awkward”

“That I had a huge crush on _____ and she/he didn’t even know I was alive”

“Because I couldn’t stop thinking about sex and worried I might be some kind of freak”

“Because I wasn’t at all interested in sex and worried I might be some kind of freak”

“Because I was so nervous around girls/boys I could hardly speak”

“That I was confused about things other kids were talking about but didn’t know who I could ask”

“To talk with my partner about birth control and STI protection. I took some risks I shouldn’t have”

“Because I felt ready to start dating and it was awful that people I wanted to date didn’t seem interested in me”

“To know how to treat people well. Looking back, I see how hurtful my behaviour must have been to some people I dated”

“Because I was so self-conscious about my body. All I could see were my flaws”


This approach to conversations works because:

It humanises you It reminds your teen that you actually were their age once and things didn’t always go smoothly for you, and maybe, possibly, you might actually understand a little bit about what they’re going through

It’s not lecture-y You’re introducing topics related to bodies, sex and dating but you’re not implying that you know more than your teen does. This makes them more likely to listen

No response is required Asking teens direct questions tends to make them shut down. Making a statement about your own experience invites them to talk or ask questions but doesn’t push them

It normalises insecurities, questions and emotional/relational challenges If kids see only the curated, smiley-face version of their peers’ lives, they may think they’re the only ones who struggle with relationships and sexual feelings. Of course that’s not true. Telling your child something about your own challenges brings that home

Your willingness to be vulnerable makes it easier for your child to be vulnerable with you It’s hard for most teens to admit they need information or help from parents. Your taking a risk by talking about what was hard for you models how it can be done and increases the chances that they’ll turn to you when they need guidance

This article was originally published as TalkStarter For Teens: What Was Hard For You As A Teen on Keep The Talk Going, which is run by Jill Whitney, a licensed marriage and family therapist dedicated to improving communication about relationships, sexuality and intimacy

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