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My daughter started middle school this year (she is 11) and tonight at dinner she told me that during an assembly some teachers had shared tragic stories about friends and family members who abused drugs and/or alcohol. One story involved a teen who drank until he passed out and then died from choking on his own vomit.

Our conversation evolved into us talking about the kinds of situations she might be exposed to as she is getting older and how she might act in those situations. We talked about what she could do if she was at a party where kids were drinking and/or passing out. I wanted to emphasize ways that she can stay safe, help her friends stay safe and most importantly that she can always call her parents if she's in a dicey situation and needs help.

She assured me there was nothing to worry about because she would never drink or touch drugs. I told her I think it's great that she feels that way now, but that should things change I would rather have her talk to me about it than feel that she can't because she once promised she would never do those things.

At the end of our talk, she asked me if I drank alcohol in high school and if I smoked pot before I was 18 (where we live recreational cannabis is legal for 21 & up). I told her that I did experiment a bit and gave her some context around that and told her I wished I had waited until I was older. She seemed satisfied with that for now, but I know these questions will come up again.

My early teen years were traumatic and I was rebellious and self-destructive. My later teen years and 20's were pretty colorful as well. How do I balance honesty and open communication with keeping communications age-appropriate and constructive? Do I just edit out large parts of my life experience?

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up vote 12 down vote accepted

Sounds to me, like you and your daughter had a very healthy and honest conversation - and trust me when I say, those are the kind that work.

I worked with adolescents for ten years as a health and science teacher as well as was advisor to a class of about 20 eighth grade kids each year. Considering the fact that I had around 100 kids each year I taught, you can say I've got quite a lot of experience with this age group (not to mention training) and there is nothing they appreciate more than honesty packaged with the respect to know how it is today may be different from how it is tomorrow.

The students I had whose parents took an open "I'll answer their questions, but not neccessarily volunteer every bloody detail" were often the parents who really did know what was going on with their kids, struggle and strain or peace and perfection and everything in between.

I'd say, just make sure your conversations stay with that same goal in mind and also always get the idea across that you made mistakes and see your choices during your teen years as self-destructive. I'm guessing from what you've already said that she is a smart kid who will want to learn from your mistakes rather than follow them anyway.

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+1 for "I'll answer their questions, but not necessarily volunteer every bloody detail". If you start by being honest, then your kid(s) will know you're being honest later on as well. My high school students used to ask me personal questions about my teenage years, and I answered them honestly but appropriately. But it also meant that when they asked me if I'd ever smoked pot and I told them No, I have not, they knew I wasn't lying to just to make myself look good. It's all about building trust. – Meg Coates Nov 22 '13 at 22:55
@balanced mama, your answer was beyond reassuring to me. After this conversation with my daughter ended, I felt a bit blindsided and wondered if I had revealed too much. What you said about your students and their parents confirms what I felt intuitively to be true, and so far the approach seems to be working. One of my biggest priorities is to keep the communication flowing so that when the big stuff happens, I'm in the loop. – beansa Nov 30 '13 at 4:03
I am so glad! Going forward, it will be nice to have that confidence in yourself and your intuition. – balanced mama Nov 30 '13 at 4:06

The answer largely depends on your daughter. How do you think she'd react?

Full honesty is fine, and the approach my spouse and I took. At times my kids held it over my head a bit, but they knew us better for it and it worked out well for us. I think it might have helped them get a good idea of how the world worked and not to make bad assumptions.

The main big fear with honesty is that they'll follow in your footsteps. I just don't buy it. Some kids might tell themselves, "Mom did this so why can't I?", but this is just a rationalization. The kid could come up with one of a hundred others if they didn't have that one.

A lot of hiding and even lying is also fine. It's not going to hurt anything to polish it up a bit. If it's a big lie, just understand what that means about what you think of your kid.

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