One of the most difficult things to go through as a parent is watching one of your kids struggle with some of the same things that you did at their age. The question I often hear from parents is... "Should I share my mistakes and failures with my teen even if I'm embarrassed with the choices that I made?"
My short answer is "Yes". Now, I should give a disclaimer that there are likely some exceptions to this so use your best judgement. At my core I believe that the more open and honest we are in relationships, the deeper they will go. If you want your teen to open up to you and share things that are difficult (and sometimes even embarrassing with you) take the first step forward and share some of your 'junk'. I call it "the risk of being real". When we take the risk there's often a reward on the other side in the form of a trust deposit with that other person. Vulnerability equals vulnerability. We are more likely to open up when someone else goes first. You can be that someone for your teen.
Before you share, I would encourage you to take your child's age, situation, and maturity into consideration. A dear friend of mine went through some serious struggles with drugs... the heavy stuff. It nearly cost him his job, his marriage, and his house. He knew that one day he would need to tell his daughter his story but he also was wise to wait until she could fully understand and comprehend what he needed to share with her. He gave hints that "daddy struggled for a while" and "went to meetings to help him stay healthy". Sharing these things prepared his daughter for the conversation without dropping a bomb all at once.
Whether it's drugs, alcohol use, sex, or something else parents are often afraid to tell their teen not to do what they did for fear of looking like a hypocrite. My friend, youth development guru David Mahan once used the illustration of a bear trap to challenge this thinking. He said "Lets say there's a bear trap in the woods. As a teen, I'm walking through the forest and I stumble onto it. Thankfully it misses me and escape but I almost lose my leg. Now lets say that years later that I'm walking through that same wooded area but this time with my son. I know the trap is there and that we are coming up on it. I don't say anything but then my son catching it, it snaps on him, and he completely loses his leg. What would you say to me? You would ask me why in the world I didn't tell him."
The point of the story is that you have to protect your kids, tell the truth, and ALWAYS look out for their best interest, even if it means confessing some things on your end. What one thing could you share from your past that could benefit your teen today?
Love speaks truth
Jeff Veley is a youth speaker and social skills educator who's considers being a guardian to an at-risk teen one of his greatest gifts. He builds relationships with young people through open, honest dialogue. David Mahan is CEO of Frontline Youth Communications in Columbus, Ohio. Jeff and David have had the pleasure of working together in prevention programming aimed at helping teens make healthy choices when it comes to avoiding the risks of sex, drugs, and alcohol.