Ep 27: Awkward Talks with Teens

David McGlynn, author of "One Day You'll Thank Me" along with two other books, gets candid about tough talks. By stepping up and doing the awkward talks with his own kids, McGlynn developed some important insights about how to approach the toughest parenting conversations.

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Full show notes

How do you keep a straight face when your 12-year-old son calls his younger brother a “humongous dick weed?” Of course it’s not okay, but it can be a little hard not to laugh.

Starting difficult conversation with teens in moments like this can prevent small problems from turning into bigger ones. If you fail to do so, you might find yourself called into the principal’s office from work because your son got in trouble for swearing at his classmates.

This is what happened with David McGlynn and his boys. David is an associate professor of English at Lawrence University, and an award-winning author of three books: The End of the Straight and Narrow, A Door in the Ocean, and One Day You’ll Thank Me: Lessons From an Unexpected Fatherhood. He has written for Men’s Health, Real Simple, Parents, The New York Times, Swimmer, Best American Sports Writing, and numerous other literary journals. He has amazing stories to share, especially when it comes to starting difficult conversation with teens.

Honest Relationships

David’s third book, One Day You’ll Thank Me, shares many humorous anecdotes from his life raising two boys. What all of these stories boil down to, though, is one relatable struggle of a father trying to connect with his sons. When starting difficult conversation with teens, he found that it was important to have a strong connection first. Creating a strong connection with teenagers, though, is easier said than done.

Teenagers will do almost anything to avoid trouble with parents. They are especially well-versed in lying to get out of trouble. Research on teenage truthfulness shows that most teens lie to their parents. David was no exception, and he relates his experiences as a boy to his own sons.

As a teenager David was always willing to lie to get out of trouble with his mom. The one person he never lied to, though, was his dad. I really wanted to know the secret to this relationship that allowed such openness with his father.

David had an unusual relationship with his father. He only saw his dad four weeks out of the year growing up. Most conversations they had were via payphone. Cramped in a small phonebooth, talking through a wire, David says he felt like he was in a confessional booth. Starting difficult conversation with teens was easy with his dad because there was a sense of anonymity due to their physical distance. This alone is not what produced David’s honesty, however.

What David’s dad did that made him feel like he could be honest and open was NOT JUDGE. David says that his father always was, and still is, calm. Starting difficult conversation with teens was easier for David because his dad would never yell at, shame, or criticize him. With kindness and patience, his dad taught him over the phone how to be more truthful.

David’s dad taught him that parents should be calm, non-judgmental, and ready to listen before starting difficult conversation with teens.

Most parents, though, aren’t starting difficult conversation with teens via payphone. So, what is some more practical advice for parents?

Why Don’t Teens Wanna Talk? It Could be Tech

As a teacher, David learned that starting difficult conversation with teens was easier when parents empathized with the awkwardness. In his classroom, David has found that face-to-face conversations among his students had become more rare. Discussions were happening more and more over text messages, and he believes an element of connectedness is lost in this change. He observes that teens are using texting as a way of avoiding awkwardness in relationships.

Teens are awkward people, highly emotional, and sensitive. As they are still developing their social skills, starting difficult conversation with teens face-to-face can be a source of anxiety for them. Because of this, a lot of teens seem to be reverting to texting as a way to avoid awkwardness in conversations. Inadvertently, they can be missing out on opportunities to learn important social skills such as intimacy, trust, and reading others’ social cues. This can affect how willing teens are to embrace awkward, albeit serious, conversations at home.

David points out that no matter how much tech we put between us and other people, we are still human beings! We need strong, in-person relationships. He says that there is something powerful about looking someone in the eye and saying,

“I know this is not an easy topic, but it’s something we need to talk about.”

I love this because it ties in so well with our research at Talking to Teens!

Embrace the Awkward

Something we teach parents at Talking to Teens is to embrace the awkward and frame the awkward as a sign of love. Parents must acknowledge that although certain topics are awkward for both parties, starting difficult conversation with teens about these topics are necessary.

When it was time for David to talk to his boys about sex, he felt awkward and scared. He had found “searches” on the family iPad, and knew that his 8-year-old son was beginning to get adventurous in his online searches. He knew the talk was necessary, but was so afraid of messing up and making his boys feel uncomfortable about the topic.

“If I screw this up, they’ll never listen to me again…”

To find a way to make “the talk” less awkward, he asked his students about their “talks” with their parents.

Unanimously, his students responded by saying how awkward it was! Apparently, no parent had found a way to make the talk not awkward. David thought his students were being useless and unhelpful, until he realized:

“No matter what I do, the conversation is going to be awkward! Great!”

So David had the conversation with his boys, and it was very awkward, and it was great.

David says that the awkwardness was actually a gift! He explains it was good to brave the awkwardness and step up and do the talk––That’s what parents do. He relates it to the way that we don’t love disciplining our kids, but we know that our kids need to face consequences every once in a while.

Kids need to know that awkward conversations are normal, and it’s okay to just put them out there. The hope, David says, is that our children might come back later and share other awkward things that are going on so parents can help. Plus, he wants his boys to be confident that he and his wife will always be open to starting difficult conversation with teens no matter how awkward.

So Many Applications

Of course there are lots of nuances to starting difficult conversation with teens depending on what kind of conversation you want to have. That’s why we covered so many of these complications in one episode, such as:
  • Desiring “Grit” in Kids, While Also Managing It
  • Differences Between Raising Boys and Girls
  • Pros and Cons of Sports
  • Balancing Principles and Compromise
  • Teaching Teens They Can Do More Than They Think
  • More Nuances of the “Sex Talk”
David has some incredible (and incredibly funny) stories. It’s definitely an interview I won’t forget, and neither will you. Give it a listen today!

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Creators and Guests

Andy Earle
Andy Earle
Host of the Talking to Teens Podcast and founder of Write It Great
David McGlynn
David McGlynn
Writer: One Day You'll Thank Me, A Door in the Ocean, The End of The Straight & Narrow. Work in @MensHealthMag, @nytimes, @USATODAY. I lead my lane in the pool.
Ep 27: Awkward Talks with Teens
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