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Talking With Teens: A Critical Parenting Skill for the High School Years

Written by:  Lane Gormley, EdS, LPC, NCC

Teenagers are endearing and interesting; but they can be challenging for their parents to deal with – for several reasons.  One of the reasons may be you.  You are most likely the person who changed their diapers not so very long ago.  It is difficult for you to believe that the child to whom you read Go Dog Go now wants to wear spike stilettos and black eyeliner.  It is hard to look upward into the face of the once tiny boy you used to take Trick or Treating.  Teens are undergoing enormous physical, mental, and emotional changes.  Their hormones are in an uproar.  Some researchers write that their brains will not be fully developed until they are in their twenties.  Midway between childlike innocence and apparent adult sophistication, their demeanor can be unreadable and their personalities as changeable as spring weather.

Developmental psychologist Erik Erikson (1902 – 1994) wrote that it is the primary developmental task of the 12 to 18-year-old person to discover who they are as individuals, separate from their family of origin.  This is why teens often align themselves with peer groups who seem all-important to them.  They may be preoccupied with what peers are wearing, what music they are playing, and how they themselves fit into a given group.  They are “trying on” identities.  They may change friends and groups if they find that they are at odds with the values and behaviors of either.  They may feel so different from their peers that they withdraw entirely until they find social connections later.  Remember…  this is their developmental task.  It is their “job”, and it is a hard job.

The problems that can arise during this developmental stage are complex.  What if their chosen peers are sexually promiscuous or addicted to alcohol or drugs?  Or goalless and unmotivated?  How far will your child go to fit in?  On the other hand, if teenagers do not find out who they are, they will not establish a clear identity.  They may never learn who they are.  So, to summarize, it is their job to define themselves as separate from you; and it is your job to make sure they do that safely and to structure that “identity crisis” (Erikson’s term).  This is the built-in conflict of the adolescent years.

This conflict must be mediated carefully.  When someone is two, we can, quite frankly, stop them from doing harmful or dangerous things.  When they are 12, it will be MUCH harder, and when they are 17 or 18, we can just forget it.  The best way to help them is to model consistently the behaviors we hope they will learn.  As Albert Schweitzer said,

Example is not the main thing in influencing others.  It’s the only thing. 

How we talk to this special age group is critical.  They are highly sensitive because their developmental task is difficult, and they frequently feel uncertain about whether or not they are achieving adulthood.  When you “talk down” to them, you make them fearful that they are not succeeding; this can destroy channels of communication and incite violence.  Here are some ideas that might make talking to teens easier:

  • Try to maintain an ongoing dialogue with your child.  If you have a heart to heart talk with your child only when you have something to criticize, don’t be surprised if he or she avoids you.  Ask about their day.  Say something about yours.  Try to share one or more of their interests; share some of yours with them.  Don’t wait until something has gone wrong to try to bridge the generation gap.
  • If you have a concern, think about it first.  Choose your battles carefully.  If you disapprove of everything, your disapproval of any particular thing will seem meaningless.  If you find nothing to praise in a young person, they might lose confidence and fail to develop into an integral and centered adult.  I, for example, am not going to make a big fuss about green or pink hair – hair will grow out – but when it comes to drugs, I am very clear about what my concerns are and what my experience as a therapist has been.
  • Be open and direct about what your concern is.  State it clearly and do not let it become a “lecture”.  Teens do not like to be lectured to.  I don’t either.  Here is an example of how to start a difficult conversation:

I know how much you love Peter and how long you have been friends.  You are such a loyal and caring person, and I am so proud of you.  What I am worried about is Peter’s drug use.  I am worried that the stress of school and peer group pressure might make it hard for you to resist doing what your friends are doing when you are having fun togetherNaturally, I can’t stop a 17-year-old from doing what they intend to do; but I would like for you to promise me that you will think carefully about this and that you will discuss it with me.

  • Listen to their response.  Listen respectfully.  You may learn something.  Sarcasm is inappropriate.  Again, If you talk “down” to someone who is trying to grow up, they may not listen.
  • Ask questions.  Show that you are hearing and considering what they are telling you.
  • Share relevant experiences from your own life that could illustrate why you are worried.

I remember when I was your age.  A close friend of mine since grammar school used cocaine for fun because her friends were doing it; but later she couldn’t stop.  She didn’t graduate, and it took her a long time to get clean and move on with her life.  She calls that period of time “the lost years”.

 

  • Set limits.  Explain what you will have to do if rules are not followed.  It is also important for teenagers to know why we are setting limits.  “Because I said so” is meaningless and may be interpreted as a power trip.  Tell them that you set rules and consequences because you love them and because you want them to be safe.

OK, I know… I know…  Sometimes they just won’t listen.  Here is a story about that:

Sixteen-year-old Alexandra asked her parents if she could have a tattoo.  Her parents said absolutely not.  A thoughtful and intelligent young woman, she prepared a presentation about tattoos to convince them.  Her report included the history of this ancient art and its use in indigenous, tribal, and modern cultures to display the symbols that human beings revere.  She included the symbol she had chosen for herself and an explanation of what it meant to her.  Her parents were impressed with her intellectual approach to the problem and the work she had done, and they told her so.  But… sorry — no tattoo.  Alexandra did not understand the reasons for their decision so, without their permission, she went out and got the tattoo.

If you like to read, you might like Erikson’s books about development.  One of them is Childhood and Society.  There are also some very good books about raising teenagers.  I like Kevin Leman’s Have a New Teenager by Friday.  The books are widely available.

 

If you are particularly anxious about your teenager, or if you think that their issues should be addressed professionally, please ask them to come and talk to us.  You can come, too, if you think

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Social Reviews

Ray of Hope Counseling Services IconRay of Hope Counseling Services

4255 Wade Green Road Northwest Suite 414, Kennesaw

3.4 51 reviews

  • Avatar Brandi McEachern ★★★★★ 8 months ago
    I highly recommend Lana Green! She was awesome at working with my child during a transitional time in my child's life. She was great at keeping us focused on age appropriateness in a wide array of topics. She determined my child's … More interests and developed bonds in this manner. Highly recommend her services!
  • Avatar Michael Porzio ★★★★★ 8 months ago
    I highly recommend Jaime Jenkins!! She was able to connect with my eldest son and get him to open up comfortably immediately! Typically it would take someone working with him quite some time for him to open up.
    Jaime is highly skilled
    … More and showed it by navigating my son's avoidance, his natural defense mechanisms.
    Jaime truly cares about the children!!! She watches them, listens to them, not just their words but their whole demeanor/body language. Sometimes their actions (what they do) and body language are screaming one thing while the therapist is being told/presented with something else.
    Jaime is an experienced therapist with the tools needed to connect and discover the core.
    Her methods at making children comfortable are unparalleled.
    Jaime was awesome at working with both of my children in this very traumatic time of their little lives. She will help. She will see what others are trying to hide. She will go to bat for your children. Jaime truly cares about those children! The children are what's most important, they are our future!
    Thank you for everything Jaime! I am so grateful you were chose by their mother/worked with their mother. God knew what he was doing putting you in our boys lives!!
    -MP
  • Avatar Nelli Vergilis ★★★★★ a year ago
    I loved my tele session. It was easy to connect and talking to my therapist felt even more productive, as I was not stressed by traffic. Ms.James made me feel supported and heard. And I learned how to handle my hurdles better at the … More very first session. I recommend this practice. You can live anywhere and have a wonderful therapist at your fingertips. THANK YOU.
  • Avatar Christy Berrio ★★★★★ 8 months ago
    Giana is truly amazing! She has helped our family in more ways than one and we’re truly grateful for her!
  • Avatar Vanessa Erario ★★★★★ a year ago
    Excellent experience at Ray of Hope @ Kennesaw, Ga. Ms. Jamie J. is so awesome and wonderful. My two young children see her and they and myself love her and enjoy the visit, atmosphere and professionalism. My children can be shy at times, … More but opened up right at the first hello. I would refer anyone to Ray of Hope and to Ms. Jamie J. She helps in so many ways with my children and myself. We have made so much progress and we could not be more happier. Thank you!
  • Avatar Michaela Estes ★★★★★ a year ago
    I see Mrs Gianna and she is Absolutely AMAZING!!
    By far the BEST counselor I ever had. She genuinely cares and she shows it every session... I had a rough past before I got to her, and she makes the progression to a better you, much more
    … More easy.. she walks you through how to better yourself and never fails to remind you she is there. I’d give her 10 stars if I could. DEFINITELY WOULD RECOMMEND
  • Avatar Danielle P ★★★★★ a year ago
    Jamie Jenkins is great! I feel like she is the perfect therapist for me. Validating and open-minded. She knows I like my conversations to be more casual and she is accommodating in that way because formality makes me shut down.
  • Avatar Erica ★★★★★ a year ago
    Ray of Hope has been really great for myself and my kids to have an outlet you talk about life and the challenges we face. I would recommend this to anyone who is looking for someone to talk too. It is well worth it.
  • Avatar Waeni Watuma ★★★★★ a year ago
    I have been going to Ray of Hope for a year now and it has changed my life honestly - everyone there is so nice and I love my therapist she is amazing ! Misty is honestly heaven sent.
  • Avatar Phoenix Bray ★★★★★ a year ago
    Love Ray of Hope Counseling. Meghan Michalewicz has helped me through some tough stuff and I am so appreciative of the advice.
  • A Google User ★★★★★ a year ago
    I loved my tele session. It was easy to connect and talking to my therapist felt even more productive, as I was not stressed by traffic. Ms.James made me feel supported and heard. And I learned how to handle my hurdles better at the … More very first session. I recommend this practice. You can live anywhere and have a wonderful therapist at your fingertips. THANK YOU.
  • Avatar Nina Cantrell ★★★★★ a year ago
    Giada Martini is a very genuine, kind person that makes you really feel she's there for you personally & not just professionally. Her office is very easy space to be in to boot!
  • Avatar Victoria Thomas ★★★★★ 2 years ago
    This place is such a tranquil respite if you need somewhere safe to unwind, process grief, heal, or feel strengthened on your journey. Gianna Martini has been an absolute godsend, and I don't think you'll find anyone more caring, … More empathetic, and compassionate. She's kindhearted, an intuitive listener, insightful, and wise. Gianna truly cares about her clients, and I've so appreciated her support and wisdom.
  • Avatar Anonymous Anonymous ★★★★★ a year ago
    Lane Gormely is the absolute best. Her experience is undeniable-hands down.
  • Avatar Casey Graebner ★★★★★ a year ago
    Great counseling service for my son who is dealing with some hard problems. Very helpful.

Ray of Hope Counseling Services
2.0
Based on 19 Reviews
Princess O.
Princess O.
2021-03-23 07:44:54
Called hoping to make a new patient appt. was told no nights/weekends available in my area unless I'm a self pay. Are u serious! So let's avoid using the...
K T.
K T.
2021-01-26 15:09:10
I scheduled with Lana Greene for my 11yr old daughter but got put with Amy Rozett. Worst counselor appointment I've ever been to and I've been to many...
Nadine M.
Nadine M.
2020-12-16 09:44:07
I called on behalf of my son to book an appointment. He has a generalized anxiety disorder and we are looking for a new psychiatrist for him. Many offices...
Ashley T.
Ashley T.
2020-01-14 12:03:44
I can't attest to the qualifications of the therapists, but the office staff isn't the best. I left two messages (because no one ever answered the phone) to...
Vicki T.
Vicki T.
2019-07-26 22:36:28
I love this place and feel especially grateful for Gianna Martini who has been a godsend to me. A very intuitive listener, she's kind, caring, and...
Shelly K.
Shelly K.
2019-03-22 11:46:51
Receptionist extremely rude and unhelpful, needs some training on customer service.
Lisa S.
Lisa S.
2018-05-01 09:56:20
I am going here for a multitude of reasons. Mainly for my almost 9 year old to have someone to talk to. Lauren Sanders is AMAZING. We both love her and...
Brad C.
Brad C.
2017-02-08 11:26:06
Despite all the bad reviews all over the internet of this place, I decided to give them them a go anyway. MISTAKE. The billing system and the way they...