How to Have Productive Conversations with Your Risk-Taking Teen

Being the parent of a teen requires you to be “bi-lingual.” Teenagers see and feel and experience the world in their own way. They speak of these realities in a (verbal and non-verbal) language that many parents find puzzling. Even so, it is the job of such parents to discover new communication approaches. This goes double — or triple — if your teen is taking risks in their daily life.

It’s not enough to tell them what they are doing is dangerous. You need to turn this information into a productive conversation. Productive, in this instance, means both effective and supportive.

The Risks Teens Take

It’s no secret that teens take negative risks. You may be worried your teen is engaged in the following:

  • Drinking
  • Smoking
  • Drugs
  • Sexual activity
  • Reckless driving
  • Bullying/Violence

Some of this can be explained by understanding that their brains are undergoing some specific changes. These changes can lower impulse control and heighten reward sensitivity. More abstractly, the teen years are a time of new emotions and experiences. They can finally rebel in a real way. Your teen is also subject to intense peer pressure.

Chances are your teen does not want to hear any of this. Neurology? That may sound a lot like what’s boring them in school. And don’t dare tell them that it’s a “phase” that even you went through. They desperately need to feel unique. Being mysterious and misunderstood often comes with the teen territory. The sense that “no one understands” their particular struggle is very real to them.

So then, how do you respect their needs while protecting their safety?

How to Have Productive Conversations with Your Risk-Taking Teen

Ask, Don’t Assume

You will have assumptions but don’t indulge them. Instead, put them aside and give your teen a chance to talk. Ask them about their feelings and perceptions toward, say, drinking. How they answer can change a lot about how you proceed.

Will they fudge the truth at times? Of course. But it’s more productive to start from a place where they feel heard.


Speaking of being heard, keeps things respectful. You may not respect some of their choices but you must display respect for your child. Honor their confidence and give them the opportunity to share as much or little as they like.

Tell Your Story (if asked to do so)

If (a big “if”) your child asks you to talk about your teen experiences, be honest. At first, an admission of messing up can and may be used against you. In the bigger picture, this is yet another way to gain trust and show respect.

Talk About Peer Pressure

Your teen may feel pressured to make unhealthy choices. It is essential to find this out. A general conversation about peer pressure can help. This gives them room to bring up personal details within the context of a larger topic.

Pay Close Attention

Some “conversations” do not involve speaking. Pay attention without being intrusive. Get to know your kid’s friends, their schedules, and their interests. Stay aware of changes in behavior, health, and academic performance.

Be Patient and Supportive — No Matter What

No one can blame you for wanting to solve this problem ASAP. You love your child and you’re scared for them. But they aren’t little ones anymore. Yes, you must establish and enforce rules. But at the same time, you must walk a fine line. The goal isn’t to “win.” The goal is to support them as they learn to make new choices.

You Might Need a “Language Coach”

Deciphering teen language and behavior is tricky. It really helps to talk with a seasoned counselor. Gain some insights and benefit from their experience. Being a supportive and loving parent is a challenge. Asking for help makes a whole lot of sense. If your teen has you worried and you don’t know how to address it, try therapy. They might need an additional adult sounding board and you might need new communication tools. Read more about teen counseling and contact us soon for professional guidance.

Getting Started With Teen Counseling in Lakewood & Longmont Colorado

We invite you to call us at 720-551-4553 for a free 20-minute phone consultation. You can schedule your appointment via phone, email, or the contact page on our website. We offer both in-person and online counseling. We’re open to whichever option you feel more comfortable with.  We look forward to hearing from you!