10/25/2012 01:33 pm ET Updated Dec 25, 2012

20 Things You Need to Say to Your Teenager

Kids these days are have so many choices. They're exposed to a lot, much of which they are not equipped or mature enough to handle. Parenting is a tightrope act whose finale is the ultimate goal of churning out capable, responsible and independent adults.

In a few short years, our babies will be out in the world and out of our direct control. Instinctually, we want to protect them from hurt, danger and trouble. Realistically, we cannot be there all of the time, no matter how much we want to be or how many tools there are available for us momstalkers.

What's a parent to do? Let's have a look at our choices.

Plan A: We can bubble wrap our kids, protecting them, watching their every move and making sure that they don't make mistakes or get into trouble.

The downside? When do they have the chance to explore the world and gain some street smarts? What if they want to do something and Mom says no? Will they abstain? Or do it anyway and then be forced to lie?

Plan B: We can go hands-off and let our teenagers take the wheel, allowing them to run free and make their own choices with minimal supervision.

The downside? It's hard to be a successful driver without lessons, and even the most responsible, mature teens need guidance from those who have lived longer. Teens are still children, and children need a certain amount of structure and rules to thrive or there's a possiblity that all hell can break loose. And that can be very dangerous.

Plan C: We can find balance. We can have rules that act as a framework for living, bubble wrapping when it comes to real danger and placing our proverbial hands in our pockets when it's time to spread some wings.

The downside? Not sure I can find one.

Our job as parents is to keep our teenagers safe and out of trouble while giving them enough slack on their leashes so they can learn to make good choices. It's a difficult balance. We need to give them the information that they need to assess situations without giving the solutions; we need to teach them to function within rules without creating constricting ones.

We need to communicate insteading of dictating; support instead of controlling.

OK. So how?

Well, not to state the obvious, but... DO state the obvious. Don't assume that they have thought of everything. After all, they're rife with hormones and the impulsivity of youth. Ask specific questions. Don't think they'll tell you things just because you're standing there. Teens hate being asked questions, but just posing the query gets them thinking.

Trust me. It's true.

It's better to be embarrassed now than sorry later. There is nothing at all wrong with a little frank pre-work in the form of questions and reminders.

These are some that I have used. I'm serious. All of them. I don't beat around the bush.

The Questions:

  1. What are your plans? Who are you going with? How are you getting home?
  2. Will there be parents at this party?
  3. Is that what you want people to think of you?
  4. What are your dreams?
  5. Who are you talking to? How do you know him/her?
  6. Are you your best self when you're around those friends?
  7. What did you do last night? And after you left that place? And after you left that place?
  8. Have you ever looked at porn on the Internet? Do you know the consequences of looking at porn on the Internet?
  9. Have any of your friends had sex?
  10. What did you do in school today?

The Obvious:

  1. Don't leave your drink unattended
  2. Don't talk to strangers online
  3. Do not send naked pictures of yourself to anyone
  4. You don't have to hook up just because everyone else is
  5. Drugs and alcohol are dangerous. Be careful.
  6. Act like a lady/gentleman. Treat others with respect.
  7. Look both ways before you cross the street
  8. What goes on the Internet stays on the Internet
  9. If you have had sex (and you don't have to tell me if you have), make an appointment at the doctor. Here's the number.
  10. If something bad happens to you, I can't undo it. Use caution.
  11. (I don't ask questions like "Do you have a boyfriend?" unless I'm teasing. Those are a waste of a good questioning opportunity, and exist merely to satisfy my own curiosity or demonstrate my ability to make my kids turn purple with embarrassment.)
These questions and statements are designed to open up communication. Sometimes they do and we have a great conversation. Sometimes, the kid just wanders off -- hopefully thinking about what I've said. If you want to have these talks with your teen in a scenario where they can't walk away, take your kid for a drive. They seem more communicative when they're trapped in your car.

Do you have any to add? Any that you would avoid? Why?

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