What Should You Tell Your Teen About Your Past?

Teaching your teen all they need to know to stay healthy and safe can feel like a daunting task. You want the best for them, but sometimes there are situations where you didn’t make the best decisions when you were younger. As you empower your teen to make the best decisions they can in their life, it’s important to find a balance between giving them advice and not oversharing stories that could actually be damaging for them to hear. Here are some tips on what you should (and should not) share with your teen.


Being bullied can be a very isolating experience and if your teen is being bullied, they might feel completely alone. If you have experiences with bullying that can help your teen, sharing these might help them feel comforted to know someone has gone through the same thing. Offer them advice on how to get help, who to speak to and how to recognize their self worth. In other words, if you have stories that can help them feel empowered, this is a great moment to share them.

Teen Bullying

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Substance Abuse

When teaching your teens the realities of substance abuse, your instinct might be that it’s a good idea to share all of your past experiences (if you have some) to warn them about the risks they are facing. In fact, studies suggest that sharing your past experiences with drugs and alcohol takes away the seriousness of substance abuse from your kids’ mind and actually makes them more likely to try it. In other words, it normalizes the behaviors associated with drug abuse.

Instead, helpful information to share might be about your experiences learning about the risks and realities of drugs. Explain how it was important to know the drugs of your time, just as it is important to know the drugs of their time. Drug culture is constantly changing and it’s important that your teen stays up to date on the risks they are facing.


Relationships are also a tricky line to balance when sharing with your teen. Ultimately, the question to ask yourself is what’s helpful to them? More than anything, teaching your teen to love and respect themselves and about sexual safety is key. But sharing about past mistakes with risky sexual behavior might not only be harmful, but is ultimately irrelevant to what they need to know.

What Parents Share with Teens

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Mental Health

One issue with mental health that still permeates is the stigma associated with it, which can lead to isolation. As you share about past experiences with mental health and mental illness, try to frame it in a way that shows the positive steps you took, things that helped you and where you’re at in your recovery. Telling them about how you might have needed to get help – and that it was ok – is a great lesson for them to hear. In other words, avoid instilling fear and sharing the unnecessarily “scary” details as this depiction of mental illness is already rampant enough.

General Rules

As a general rule, it’s important to be open and honest with your teen, but it’s also important to think about what will truly benefit them. If you find yourself sharing about failures or mistakes you made, be sure your teen knows that you don’t condone these actions. Ultimately, remember that it’s important to be their parent, not simply their buddy who is trying to fit in.

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