The teen years have long been known as a time of emotional “storm and stress.” This teen turbulence sometimes shakes a parent’s confidence in parenting. Although it is normal to a certain degree for teens to turn more toward friends and seek less time with Mom and Dad, parents may become concerned about what they see as a teen’s gradual dissociation from the family. Counselors offer various options to parents about how to keep their relationships with their teens as open as possible. Below are some strategies counselors might use:
1. Provide education for parents regarding normal adolescent development. The counselor may describe that the teen brain is rapidly developing and refining judgment, problem-solving, and decision-making abilities. Frankly, the teen himself may feel overwhelmed and frightened with all the hormonal/physical and emotional upheaval he’s experiencing. This step can allay parents’ anxieties about what they are “doing wrong” or “should be” doing.
2. Give assurance to parents they will make it through this difficult time. Once parents understand their teen is in a transition that is supposed to happen, their fears are reduced.
3. Gather information from each family member to hear each one’s perspective on the current problem. The counselor will then use this data to develop the family’s treatment plan.
4. Encourage parents to continue with (or re-establish) activities the family members do together. Taking a weekly bike ride or assembling to cook dinner assures family members continue to have fun with one another. These rituals send a strong message to teens that “we are still a family” and can enjoy each other’s company.
5. Recommend to parents that they have daily “face time” with their teens. Eat breakfast together each morning or insist on family dinners at least 5 nights a week to keep the bond intact.
6. Coach parents on how to open the lines of communication with non-threatening questions. When a parent asks a teen, “What grade did you get on your math test,” it doesn’t prompt much open discussion. However, saying, “What’s going on” in a friendly, “I’m interested” tone or “tell me about your day and I’ll tell you about mine” are more effective conversation starters.
7. Clarify for parents the importance of really listening to their teens without making judgments or engaging in negative thinking. For some parents, it seems to come naturally to tell kids what they are doing “wrong” or what they “must” do. These tactics are not conducive to a teen’s opening up and will most likely produce the opposite effect.
8. Suggest parents not set up their teens by inquiring about subjects that tend to lead to arguments. If a teen feels put on the defensive, the conversation might result in a disagreement.
9. Inspire parents to show true curiosity in the teen as an independent human being with his own mind, opinions, and interests. Doing so lends a sense of excitement to the parents’ relationship. The teen will be eager to share what he thinks if he senses someone is truly interested. What kind of music does the teen like? Listen to it, discuss its melody and meaning with the teen. Inquire about a particular song. Take an interest in his style of dress and ask about it in an interested way rather than, “What on earth are you wearing?” In essence, teens are like most people in this regard-focus your chats on what they like/dislike without judgment and they will most likely talk.
10. Motivate parents to give the teen a break once in a while. Doing so can go a long way in establishing consistent, peaceful contact with him. Asking him, “What would you like to do on Thursday” or “how about you pick the movie we’ll see” are fantastic ways to allow teens choices in the family setting.
11. Continue to see the family as a unit in therapy. This action promotes openness, closeness, and acceptance of one another among the family members.
12. Ensure parents let their teens know what they are doing right. This behavior sends the message that parents have confidence in their teens, which is a real self-esteem booster for the teens. This factor itself may draw teens in more toward the family.
13. Plan to see the teen for an individual assessment. In the event the counselor hears information that implies the teen’s struggles are more severe than normal development produces, the counselor can gather more data. Obtaining additional info will aid the counselor to determine if more in-depth treatment is warranted.
Counselors have an arsenal of strategies to assist adolescents and parents in traversing stormy waters. Helping families to improve communication during difficult periods in family life ensures a happier, healthier existence for all family members.