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What parents should know when talking to their teen

Last Modified: 5/22/2018

Communication can be complicated, especially with a teenager in the house. Thankfully, Melissa Buesching, community outreach coordinator, Parkview Center for Healthy Living Warsaw and Connie Kerrigan, RN, BSN, director of outreach, Parkview Behavioral Health, offer some guidance on the subject. This article is a great read for parents and teens alike.

Why do you think teens face so many more challenges today?

“A stable, solid family unit really makes a difference. We can tell a lot by assessing what the home environment looks like and whether it is healthy or not. Teenagers face a lot of confusion and uncertainty with themselves and life in general. In today’s world, divorce, broken homes, drug and alcohol abuse, depression and gangs are just some of the many things teenagers face. While still there, the worries of yesteryear, like puberty, pimples and prom, are trivial in comparison to some of the larger social struggles. The challenges our teens face now are much more serious, life threatening and life altering.  Additionally, the dynamics in the home have changed; the school setting has changed. Let’s face it, the world has changed.  Everything impacts our kids!” – Melissa Buesching

“Body image distortion is a big one, too, as they are constantly bombarded by images that have been altered. The image that media portrays of other people’s successes and the seemingly glamorous lifestyle they live adds this pressure to be something that’s unattainable. Social media makes everyone else appear happier, healthier, smarter and wealthier. There is also the pressure that if you make a mistake it could be displayed on everyone on social media and the feeling that everyone knows about your mistake.” – Connie Kerrigan


What are the biggest sources of stress for teens?

“According to a 2013 survey by the APA, (American Psychological Association) teenagers are experiencing what they think are unhealthy levels of stress, especially during the school year.  In fact, school is the top source of stress for teens. Getting into a good college or deciding what to do after high school is the second-biggest source of tension.

The mind and body are closely connected, and stress can affect the entire body.  In fact, the survey found teens experience both emotional and physical symptoms of stress, including feeling nervous, anxious or tired, procrastinating or neglecting responsibilities, feeling overwhelmed, having negative thoughts and experiencing changes in sleeping habits. Problems with concentrating and changes in eating habits are also linked to stress. It’s normal to have some stress in life. But if stress persists at high levels for a long time, it can have lasting negative effects on health. Long-term or chronic stress can cause anxiety, high blood pressure and a weakened immune system, and can contribute to diseases such as depression, obesity and heart disease.

Stress at one time or another affects everyone, and it can feel overwhelming, however, with the right tools, you can learn to manage it before it takes a toll on your health. This can also lead to a more overall positive outlook on your life and well-being.” – Melissa Buesching

“I would add peer pressure, preparing for life after high school and constantly being bombarded by technology.” – Connie Kerrigan


What are some of the mistakes parents make when talking to their teens?

“It’s hard to stop thinking of your teen as a kid. Just like with your profession, you have to have the skills to keep up with them as they evolve. Yes, they're probably moodier now than when they were young, but, you have to be prepared to address things like curfews, dating, having a new driver in the family and the friends he/she chooses to spend time with. No doubt, your teen is going to test your limits and your patience, but they still need you, your love and your guidance.

Some of the common mistakes we see parents make when talking to their teen are:

• Lectures rather than discusses
• Ignoring the obvious
• Not following through with rules or consequences
• Setting unreasonable goals
• Pointing out only the negative and expecting too much
• Leaving the educating up to someone else
• Not focusing on family time
• Assuming good grades mean there isn’t a problem
• Not taking the time to understand teens today
• Giving up too soon

No one is a perfect parent, but being persistent and patient are key to nurturing that relationship.” – Melissa Buesching

“Being reactionary in the moment as well as not fully listening. Put down your phone, step away from the computer and take time to listen. If they are talking they want your insight and advice.” – Connie Kerrigan


Why is it so difficult for parents and teens to communicate?

“Parents and teens both need to learn how to communicate effectively. Below are some thoughts for both the parent as well as the teen.

For Parents:

• Don't lecture your teen, have a conversation. Conversation involves at least two people.
• Don't attack.
• Show respect for your teen's opinions. Teenagers can be surprisingly easy to talk with if the parents make it clear that they're listening to the teen's point of view.
• Keep it short and simple. Remember when you were a teen and your parents lectured you, and you thought, “Will you please stop; I get your point!” End the talk  before your teen gets to that point.
• Be yourself. Don't try to talk like your kids or their friends. Remember, you are the adult. You are the parent. You are not their friend.
• Seize the moment. Take those special opportunities when you’re alone and not rushed to have a conversation with your teen. For example, when you’re in the car, home late at night, or relaxing on a family vacation. These can make for some of the warmest, most rewarding moments with your teen.

For Teenagers:

• Try to understand the situation from your parents' point of view.  If your goal is to be allowed to stay out later on Saturday night, for example, try to anticipate what they are concerned about, such as your safety and your whereabouts. 
• Address their concerns honestly and directly. Try saying something like, "If I am allowed to stay out later, I will tell you in advance where I'm going to be so you know how to reach me," or "I'll call you to let you know what time I'm going to be home, and that way you won't have to worry about it."
• Don't go on the defensive.  If you feel deeply about the subject of the conversation – for example, your clothes, friends, politics, or hobbies – stick to your guns, but listen to what your parents have to say.
• Don't criticize or ridicule their viewpoints.  Show them and their opinions the respect you want them to give you.
• Make requests. Don't issue a list of demands.
• Make "I" statements. Explain your concerns by saying things such as, "I feel you're not being fair," or, "I feel like you're not listening to my side." Avoid "you" statements, such as "You don't know what you're talking about."

Having an open line of communication is ideal for both of you. It’s a great way to build trust.” – Melissa Buesching

“Parents and teens have very different communication styles, and the words they use and the reality they see may be different than what you imagine it to be. Sometimes we can shut them down out of fear, by telling instead of listening and directing versus getting them to come to their own conclusion through questions aimed to elicit their own thinking on a subject.  We all live in a high-pressure world and sometimes slowing down may feel frustrating for everyone involved. Parents may prefer to talk face to face and yet teens may wish to communicate through text messaging as this is how they communicate in general and sometimes face to face can be considered by many to be annoying and intrusive.” – Connie Kerrigan

How can parents influence their teen’s health in a positive way?

“Parents can talk openly with their teens about all types of health issues, including both physical and mental health. They can also talk to them about what good health means. How getting enough sleep and good nutrition helps to fuel both your mind and your body. Don’t tell them not to eat something that you may consider unhealthy but keep healthy snacks, fruits and vegetables on hand and readily available. Check in once in a while and ask them if they had any. Instead of focusing on the soda they drank or the morning trip to Starbucks, keep the focus on proper hydration, with water bottles for them to grab. Nagging about the choices they are making may make them resistant to trying the things you want them to try. Pick your battles.” – Connie Kerrigan


What would you say is the most important thing for a healthy parent/teen relationship?

“Being open and willing to hear things you may not want to hear. Try to remain calm and matter of fact when they ask you questions, and by all means don’t be afraid to bring up those difficult topics yourself. Although they may protest, both of you hope they get their information from you versus someone else, and by talking about difficult topics it builds a bond of trust between parent and teens.” – Connie Kerrigan


What resources are available for parents who are concerned about their teen?

“There are plenty of resources out there and you don’t have to make it alone. Your primary care doctor/pediatrician is a great source of information. There is also the Behavioral Health Help Line ((800) 284-8439) where they can speak with a mental health professional. The school nurse is also a great resource and partner in keeping your teens healthy and supporting them through difficult times.” – Connie Kerrigan



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