Back To School: Staying Connected To Your Teen

By | September 4, 2014

counselor teenager teen therapist justin stum

We live in a world that thrives on instant gratification. The prevalence of mobile devices and tablets provides a forum of content on demand. Unfortunately, although we have a plethora of facts at our fingertips with our trusty smart phones, the answers to our complex social questions and emotional quandaries are not always so instantaneous. As our youth have come to rely on the immediate response of text messaging, global positioning satellites, and the all knowing Google, the answers to the questions like, “Why doesn’t he think I’m pretty?” or “What do I do to fit in?” aren’t nearly as simple. In a sense, our children have been constantly surrounded by the clear cut, black and white, definitive answers of text on a screen when more often than not, the answers to these complicated life questions don’t necessarily come in the form of written content.

Changing Times
No matter how much parents feel like they can relate to their adolescent or teenage children, this society and the social expectations are not the same as they were twenty years ago. Often many parents tend to overlook the fact that we’ve enabled this deep rooted dependence on technology, yet still expect our children to react and respond as if they truly have the emotional experience and social know-how to handle this fast paced and complicated world without some help every now and again.

With school back in session, it is imperative to establish open lines of communication so your child knows that he or she can always come to you. Creating this sense of trust in your teen can sometimes be a little challenging, but if you clearly communicate your expectations as well as ensure they know you can and will listen to them, and I mean really listen, they will come to you with their concerns, questions, and thoughts.

Learning To Listen, Really Listen
Establishing a pattern of listening, even if you don’t agree with your teen, will provide a solid path they will continue to walk again and again as they open up to you. For example, if your teen finds themselves in a compromising or unhealthy situation, the last thing you (as a parent) should want is for your child to avoid calling or telling you about it, for fear of reprimand or punishment. I’m not saying that all discipline is to be avoided during these adolescent years, but a healthy balance will do wonders for building trust. Reiterate that you are always there for them if they are ever caught in an unsafe or uncomfortable situation. Clearly communicating that you will always love them even if you don’t support decisions they make will also help maintain open dialogue.

Set aside a regular time to have heartfelt and connected conversation with your teen. This doesn’t mean setting up a formal chat necessarily either, those tend to be too structured and teens resist them, instead create and look for windows of opportunity when your teen will be the most receptive to some conversation that begins “light” and flows wherever it can go. For example, driving with them in a car, talking casually while around the house, opening up a dialogue while waiting a a sporting event, etc are some examples of times you could start some healthy and light conversation about what’s going on for them. You’ll have to be creative; telling them you would like to have a sit-down talk is anxiety producing and will invite the very behavior you want to avoid, their not opening up! So, get creative, think more deeply specific to that teen, and make/create/find time for conversation. Sometimes, they may pass because it doesn’t feel ‘cool’, and that’s ok, but make sure there is ample opportunity for them to have your undivided attention, just in case they do want to tell you something significant.

Emotions And Lots Of Them
Emotional insecurity is incredibly common among teenagers today, yet it’s important for teens to understand that their feelings and struggles do not define or control them. It need not be assumed that teens know their parent’s level of love and concern for them. In truth, no child is ever too old to receive praise or compliments. Remember, you can and need to freely offer your verbal approval. Phrases like “I’m so proud of you, how you …” or “I love the way you…” or  “I can tell you really …” can prove helpful in them hearing you can see their growth.

Remember, a lot has changed since you were a teenager. Although the concepts are the same, the way that today’s teens face dilemmas is not. Do not try to convince your child that you know how they feel. You don’t, and even if you try really hard to understand, you probably won’t, at least not fully- simply because our society has evolved considerably, just in the last decade alone. It is important for parents to remember that healthy communication with an adolescent or teen is not about telling them what they should do.  Healthy communication is about establishing mutual respect and trust. Teens unfold as they come to learn where they fit in their family and the greater community. They need parents that love them enough to hold the line. Often with most parent-teen relationships, the best way to ‘communicate’ with your adolescent is to simply listen.

Often parents feel overwhelmed and upset they are unable to manage a adolescent or teenager in their home. At times, parents feel as if there is no way out, or that nothing can cure the reactivity and arguing at home. I want you to know that you can work and engage with your child in healthy ways. By discovering and properly dealing with the roots causes of the conflict, you can put a stop to the patterns that exist and the frustration that can and does occur for parents attempting to raise and teach their teen. There is hope!

You might also want to read my other article on a similar topic, “Accountability, Responsibility, and Freedom: Maturity with Developing Adolescents

I work with preteens and teens from all over Southern Utah. Typically the nature and flow of the sessions is determined by your child’s needs and information cleaned from an initial parent consultation. In these sessions your teens receives a comprehensive assessment, detailed feedback regarding the strengths and areas of improvement, and concrete details on moving forward to owning their thoughts and feelings. Consistency and accountability is taken and your teen will manage and facilitate the treatment process by tasks between therapy sessions. I work concurrently with parents, in addition to the teen session, so parents can support the counseling process while at home with their teen.

Learn more about counseling and therapy for teens and adolescents by clicking here, teens and adolescents.

Justin Stum is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah.  As a relationship and emotional wellness expert, he has been treating individuals, teens, and couples for over a decade assisting them in creating and maintaining connected healthy relationships. He can be reached online at or by phone at 435.574.9193

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