Parenting: How Much Information Should You Share With Your Teenager?

Dr Daniel Amen and Tana Amen BSN RN On The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast

As much as parents may dread having those important conversations with their children, such as that one about birds and bees, these talks play a crucial role not only in their development, but in the family dynamic as well. In this episode of The Brain Warrior’s Way Podcast, Dr. Daniel Amen and Tana Amen continue their discussion on parenting and teens by answering some of the tough questions.

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Dr Daniel Amen: Welcome to The Brain Warrior's way podcast. I'm Dr. Daniel Amen.
Tana Amen: And I'm Tana Amen. Here we teach you how to win the fight for your brain to defeat anxiety, depression, memory loss, ADHD, and addictions.
Dr Daniel Amen: The Brain Warrior's way podcast is brought to you by Amen clinics, where we've transformed lives for three decades using brain SPECT imaging to better target treatment and natural ways to heal the brain. For more information, visit
Tana Amen: The brain Warrior's Way podcast is also brought to you by brain MD where we produce the highest quality nutraceutical products to support the health of your brain and body. For more information, visit Welcome to The Brain Warrior's way podcast.
Dr Daniel Amen: Welcome back. We are in teen week both sitting here, completely traumatized by our own teenage years and we stopped the last podcast with this one question, "How much should you share about your own reality as an adolescent?" But before we get that you have a review you're going to read?
Tana Amen: This is from nutrition tactics to supercharge your brain. This is by IN Health coach from the US and it says, "As you say, what I am doing, is this going to help my brain or is it going to hurt my brain? I am so protective of my brain and how to care for it. I'm learning from you every day from your podcasts, books and recipes. You are game changing for my life and my family and friends around me. I am a graduate of the Institute of Integrative Nutrition and the gut health course and I am passionate to help and change the lives of the people I love and those around me. So from the bottom of my heart, thank you."
Thank you so much for that.
Dr Daniel Amen: I know we're getting like 50,000 downloads every week. We are so grateful for all of you
Tana Amen: Yes. Thanks for sharing.
Dr Daniel Amen: We try to bring new topics that matter in your life. Last week we did mom week. This week we're doing teen week. So what do you think about sharing?
Tana Amen: So I'm going to start with you with a question that someone asked us. Okay? Because I think that I'm going to give you my opinion, but we all have different opinions. I'm not sure there's a rule on this. I mean, you as a child psychiatrist probably know that better than I do. Here's a question from one of our listeners: "What's the matter with asking my teenager or simple question? I'd like to know why is she so unwelcoming when I do?"
I have a theory and you're going to have a scientific theory. This is just my mom theory. It might be because they think you don't understand. That's my guess because most of my friends actually think I overshare with my daughter. Now I've made it age appropriate. I have not overshared my teenage years when she was 10. Okay. I didn't do that. But at each stage when I know that she's struggling with something, number one, we have a rule in our house and we just had this discussion last night with her again. We want to hear all of your thoughts. Everything is safe for you to discuss. But then you actually have to make it safe. Right?
So one of the things we do at the dinner table ... her friends have actually kind of freaked out when they come over for dinner because they're like, "Your family is so weird." Because we talk about everything. And the way we get them to talk, or her to talk, is by us sharing.
So I share with my daughter things about my teenage years and my childhood, but I've done it at each stage that she's at now. I may not go into detail. It depends on the situation. It really depends on the topic and the situation. I may not go into explicit detail depending on what it is, but I share the struggle. I share the challenges, I share the successes. I share all of that, but I'm very clear with her. I'm like, "I'm sharing this because a wise man learns from his own mistakes. A wiser man learns from someone else's. I'm not saying that I was smart. You are smarter than I am in a lot of ways." So that's my way of handling it. And because of that, she's incredibly open with us. Because I've made it safe.
Dr Daniel Amen: Which is what you want them to do because if you are like this person, "What's the matter with asking my teenager a simple question, I'd like to know why is she so unwelcoming when I do?" Whenever I read that I be in the quality of their relationship is poor. And often it's because mom is not a good listener because her mother was not a good listener. And if she's talking over the teenager then the teenager is not going to share, the teenager is just going to be in fight mode, right? If you are not sure someone's safe that someone is not being harsh or critical or demeaning, then ... I mean, what do they say in karate, right? You're always assessing the situation and is this safe? Or is it dangerous? And because who can hurt you more than anybody? It's your wife or your husband or your parents.
Tana Amen: Right.
Dr Daniel Amen: And so my first thought is the quality of their relationship is not good because they've not perhaps spent enough time together and there's not been enough listening. Because when there's enough listening, if you ask a simple question and the person feels like you're really interested in the answer and not expecting answer that you want, that you demand, then they're going to give you a bad attitude.
Tana Amen: Right. So I want to say, because you you also share. And I don't know what you're going to say or philosophy is, but you share a lot to the point that my daughter, between the two of us, she walks out with their hands over her ears, "Stop stop." And we don't even share like stuff that's bad. She just like, "No. No one needs to hear this from their parents."
But here's an interesting point. You asked me in the last episode if my mom was a good listener. She wasn't always a good listener, but here's what she did so. She always possibly overshared. She over shares. But what that did is she would even come in my room. One thing she did do was remember what it was like to be a teenager. She was really good at that and so she would come in my room at times when I really wasn't even thinking about talking to her about something. She'd anticipate the next step. She anticipated what I was going through. I'd be 15 and she'd come in and she'd want to have a serious sex talk and she want to talk about birth control and I'm not even there. I'm not even there yet.
But her point was she was going to anticipate it, so she didn't listen. She didn't even ask. She jumped in and I'm like, "Get out, get out of my room." I'm yelling at her to get out of my room. I don't want to hear it because it's like freaking me out.
Dr Daniel Amen: But she was doing the right thing.
Tana Amen: Right. Listen to me, this is what I'm trying to get at. I'm mad at her, sort of, sort of mad at her for like freaking me out and like trying to like talk to me about birth control when I'm like, "I'm not even there yet." But here's what it did. It opened the door.
Dr Daniel Amen: Right. And I think when kids are 12, you should be talking to them about sex and drugs.
Tana Amen: Well she did that, but now she was serious about ...
Dr Daniel Amen: Did I tell you this? 1987. The very first video I ever created was called 'An Intimate Parent-Child Talk.' It was about how to talk to your kids about sex and drugs. Neither of my parents did. When I talked to my mother about sex she'd just get horrified and turn green even though she had seven children. So I know she knew something about it. But you know, there was no information coming there. Certainly not from my dad because he wasn't home. And so kids then learn bad information or [inaudible 00:08:28] information and I think sharing ... I love what you said, age appropriate. So you're not sharing vivid details with seven year olds but as they get older, talking about how it works, some of your experiences -
Tana Amen: Some of my mistakes.
Dr Daniel Amen: And what you would do differently.
Tana Amen: Right. It's important. That's how they learn.
Dr Daniel Amen: If you if you just lie to them, like you were the perfect parent, you were the perfect teen and they know, well that there's no way that was possible.
Tana Amen: Or they think, well then she's never gonna understand what I'm going through.
Dr Daniel Amen: Right. So remembering what it was like, appropriately sharing, but also sharing the lessons. Not at a time when they can't hear you. And that's why you do things with kids, with children and teenagers. When I do therapy with a teenager we'll often go for a long walk. Why? Because if we're just sitting across from each other in my office, it's not a natural situation. And parents they get so mad because they think, "I'm paying all this money for the child to go play cards with Dr. Amen." And we just use the cards as a distraction.
Tana Amen: So we go for drives and when I take Chloe for a drive, she not only opens up but if I take her and her friends for a drive, I know everything going on at school. It's the craziest thing. They just suddenly. And I'm like, I literally turned around and one of her friends one time and I'm like, "Do you talk to your mom about that?" She's like, "No, no way." It's the weirdest thing. They just open up. But I want to just reiterate sometimes ... because that question that we started with. Sometimes kids will act mad at you or be mad at you for bringing something up that's embarrassing to them.
Dr Daniel Amen: But do it in an appropriate time that doesn't embarrass them.
Tana Amen: Right. But even though my mom, even though I was like, "I don't want to talk to you about this, go away. This is freaking me out that you came in my room talking to me about birth control and I'm not even ready to have that talk yet." I freaked out at her in the moment, but it planted a seed with me that, "Oh, it's safe to talk to my mom when I am ready." That's what it did. And she knew that. Somehow my mom just knew that. It's like a hit and run. I'm going to plant that information and I'm gonna take off because now she knows. I know and she knows she can talk to me.
Dr Daniel Amen: And they're more likely to listen to you if you'll listen to them.
Tana Amen: Right.
Dr Daniel Amen: Another question we have is, "What impact does a parent's mental illness have on a child?
Tana Amen: Oh, that's hard.
Dr Daniel Amen: And it's a lot.
Tana Amen: Yep. Get it treated.
Dr Daniel Amen: Because my uncle who was a priest then turned therapist, said something I really liked. He said, "Children are like violins. They play the stress of their parents with their behavior."
Tana Amen: That's interesting.
Dr Daniel Amen: It's so important. And you know how I got most of my adult patients? Is they bring me their kids and during the evaluation pretty quickly I got smart enough to go, as I evaluate the children, "Let me evaluate mom and dad too." Because if I treat a child, I send them home to a mom who has ADD that can't concentrate, or a dad who's bipolar, who's completely unpredictable. That's not going to be good for the child. So here at Amen Clinics we are family psychiatrists for the most part. But having a mom that's depressed or a dad that's angry or inattentive or psychotic. My son in law grew up in a family with a mother that had paranoid schizophrenia. That really does a number on your own development, your own sanity. And gratefully he sort of worked through that in therapy for a long time. But it's so important for you to take care of your own mental health so that the children don't feel responsible.
Tana Amen: Yeah. That's part of why I did two years of therapy when Chloe was little. When I realized that I was beginning to repeat .. even though I wasn't repeating the same pattern from my childhood, I'd actually become very defensive about the childhood and my childhood pattern and the chaos in my house. But even that defensiveness was, in its own way, a problem. And I just realized that I was developing habits and I'm like, "I don't want to be this kind of mom," and that's why I went to two years of therapy. I really didn't want to pass on those same habits.
Dr Daniel Amen: Stay with us. More from teen week when we come back.
Dr Daniel Amen: Thank you for listening to the brain warrior's way podcast.