Adolescents & Teens

Raising Teenagers: Find the Balance Between Too Much and Too Little Control

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By Sarah Wilson, PhD

The teenage years are hard – on the teens, on the parents, on the entire family. After years of being your kid’s trusted confidant, you start getting put on the backburner as they begin claiming their independence. Raising teenagers is a new adventure filled with curfews, driving lessons, dances, and those notorious mood swings. A new territory is thrust upon you all at once. So how do you modify your parenting approach to match the needs of your teen? How do you find the balance between being a helicopter parent and the cool parent?

Remember your teenage years

It may feel like ages ago, but remember that you were once an angsty, know-it-all, teen. Try putting yourself in your kid’s shoes and remember what it feels like to be a teenager. The societal pressures, friend drama, family dynamics, and school stressors – all of this is new to your teen, just as it was once new to you. It’s important to remember though, that while you were once a teen, you were not your teen. Don’t project onto them. Raising teenagers is not parenting as you would’ve parented yourself. Unless you have evidence that your kid is sneaking out at night or skipping school, don’t assume that just because you did it, they are too. It’s important that you parent according to the unique needs of your teen.

Set clear boundaries

As your teen seeks freedom, it’s crucial that they receive enough to feel like they have a social life, but not too much where they believe they can get away with whatever they want. For example, raising teenagers means letting them go to that party, but defining the rules that go with it – set a curfew, require them to text you when they get there, and make sure their phone is on in case you need to get in touch with them. This is a good balance of control because by forbidding your teen from going altogether, they’ll only want to go more (and may even find a way). By sending them off with a “have fun! See you tomorrow”, you’re inviting a lack of boundaries. Test the waters the first few instances and if they respect your boundaries, you can become more flexible with time.

Provide reasons when you can

As you’re raising your teen, it’s vital to remember that they are beginning their transition into adulthood. Teenagers are inquisitive; they are no longer six years old, where the answer “because I said so” will suffice. When you set boundaries with your teen, explain your reasoning behind them. They may not always like or agree with your reasons, but you are the adult and you still have the ultimate authority. By giving them an explanation, you’re showing them respect and inviting them to do the same.

Give them an opportunity to practice independence

Relinquishing control is hard, but your teen will find ways to be independent whether or not you let them. They will, however, be less likely to rebel or experiment on their own, if you give them an area of their life to take total control of. Allow them to play that sport, join that group, have that side job, or get that pet they’ve been wanting. Give them permission to take something on, and ensure they remain accountable for the hard stuff too. If you agree to give them the dog they’ve been begging for, make sure they take responsibility for it. This might require them to stay in on weekend nights because the puppy still needs to be housebroken. Your teen needs to learn by experience that with independent decisions comes independent responsibilities.

The teenage years can feel especially difficult because, during a time when your child still needs you most, they act like they don’t. Remember that even as they push you away, they still crave your love and attention. Continue developing a healthy and balanced relationship with them by navigating this process together.
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Dr. Sarah Wilson is a marriage and family therapist associate at the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin. Working with families and teens, as well as couples, are her areas of counseling specialty. Dr. Wilson can be reached for scheduling at 512-270-4883, ext. 104, or request an appointment with her on the RCC Austin Scheduling Page.

Social Media Stress: The Stunning Growth of A Teen Epidemic

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By Mirela Bitkowski, MA

Social media has become an ever-present force in our modern lives and this is especially true for teens.

However, this new technology, which was intended to provide greater connectivity between people, has also created a new set of problems for teens.

Social Media Stress: Sleep Problems

Many teenagers struggle with sleep issues, especially with today’s demands of school, extra-curricular activities, sports, and even work. Teens should be receiving between 9 and 9 ½ hours of sleep each night, yet they often fall short of this mark at around seven hours.

Social media, though, has injected yet another distraction into the equation. Why?

  • The desire to check for incoming messages.

  • Wanting to respond to those messages.

When we have less sleep and poor sleep quality we are less able to adequately cope with stress and are more likely to experience mental health problems such as depression. Sleep isn’t a convenience, it is a necessity!

Social Media Stress: Cyber-bullying

Unfortunately, bullying has been a common experience for many students. Yet, those bullies have now moved from the school hallways to the online world, and they are attacking their victims mercilessly. There have even been stories in the news of teens who were the subject of cruel bullying and later committed suicide.

The effect of bullying online is amplified, as it can seem as if everyone believes in what the bully is saying. On top of that, everyone else has the ability to see those hateful words.

Social Media Stress: Shaming

One part of the bullying that occurs online is the shaming of a teen by their peers.

This can be because of:

  • The way they look.

  • Actions they did offline, such as doing something embarrassing at school.

  • Content that they themselves have posted and then the content was used against them.

  • Rumors being spread both online and off.

The effects of shaming on girls:

The effects of social media stress on girls are especially troubling. Sadly, according to the Pew Research Center older teen girls between 15-17 are 41% more likely to experience cyber-bullying than other groups. One study found that while cyber-bullying for boys increased 3% from 2006 to 2012, the rate for girls was 10% over the same period of time.

Problems that girls face daily are only amplified online with terrible consequences. “Slut-shaming,” for example, has crept into the lexicon to describe shaming girls and women who either intentionally, or not, post sexual content online.

What Can Parents Do About Social Media Stress for Teens?

As with so many issues negatively affecting teens—such as drugs, alcohol use, or having sex—parents need to have frank conversations with their teens about social media. Don’t wait until they are 17! If they are on social media, then the discussion needs to happen now.

Some things to remember for a discussion include:

  • Refrain from being reactionary or dramatic.

  • Be open and empathic to your teen.

  • Ask your teen to share with you why social media is important to them, how they use it, and what benefits it has for them.

  • Continue to ask questions about what they perceive as dangers in social media (what they already know may surprise you).

  • Encourage them to have a healthy balance of online and off-line time.

  • Role-model handling social media stress to your teen by having your own boundaries around its use.

No question, social media will continue to be a driving force for today’s teens, especially as they mature into adults. It is important for parents to be aware of the potential risks of social media and to have frank discussions with their teens about the topic.

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Mirela Bitkowski, MA, LPC Intern, works with parents, teens, and families at the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin. To schedule your session with Mirela, call her at 512-270-4883, ext. 103, or request an appointment on the RCC Austin Scheduling Page.

Topsy-Turvy Teen? 7 Healthy Habits That Can Make a Big Difference

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By Mirela Bitkowski, MA

The teenage years can be pretty chaotic.

Lots of changes, lots of new experiences, lots of learning and struggles.

Making the transition from carefree child to responsible adult isn’t a walk in the park. Though, for some, it comes easier than for others.

Cultivating healthy habits is crucial for navigating this turbulent phase of life.

How can your teen develop good habits? Habits that not only help them stay more balanced and focused but that will serve them a lifetime?

Developing Healthy Habits That Make a Difference

Sound habits can help teens during the exciting yet challenging time of adolescence while they still live with their family, but even more so when they move away from home. Often, it’s only then when they confront the baggage of bad habits they may have racked up. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Consider these 7 helpful habits that can stabilize your teen:

1. A Good Sleeping Routine

A lack of sleep can affect a teen’s overall health. Research shows that a lack of sleep can increase mental and emotional challenges, lead to poor academic performance, and even put your child at risk for obesity. Teens who get serious about sleep are usually much more balanced emotionally and physically.

A good sleeping routine that will help your teen relax would include going to bed at about the same time each night, turning off the electronics 30 minutes before retiring, and perhaps listening to soothing music or taking a warm bath.

2. Healthy Eating Practices

Healthy eating includes various aspects, such as making the choice to eat sufficient nutrient-rich food, drinking plenty of water during the day, eating timely and regularly, and not eating in a hurry. A body fueled with healthy food will help your teen stay energetic, focused, and calm.

Paying special attention to snack habits is also crucial. Often teenagers have a need to unwind after coming home from a long day of school. They may habitually grab for anything that’s in reach—a bag of chips or cookies—and go zone out on the couch watching TV. However, to encourage healthy eating habits, it’s highly important that teens learn to detach eating from decompressing.

3. Daily Physical Activity

Regular exercise or physical activity has a ton of benefits—especially when you get into the habit while young. It helps to maintain a healthy weight, boosting energy and mood, prevent diseases, and lowers stress throughout one’s lifetime.

Encourage your teen to incorporate activities such as walking (perhaps the family dog), jumping on a trampoline, jogging, or playing outdoor games into their daily routine. Being active will help them to stay fresh—mentally and physically—and prevent them from spending too much time in front of the TV, the computer, or playing video games for too long.

4. Concern for Bodily Health and Hygiene

Seeing the importance of a regular physical checkup isn’t automatic for teens. But early prevention will decrease future regrets. Bad habits such as smoking, consuming too much sugar, and drinking alcohol can increase their risk of illness, diseases, and other life-threatening health problems.

Moreover, taking care of personal hygiene may seem an annoyance for some teens. Yet, regular baths or showers, brushing and flossing teeth, and keeping their surroundings and clothing clean are habits that contribute to their overall well-being. Showing concern for these matters should not be underestimated.

5. Attending to Mental and Emotional Health

The teen years are full of stressful situations—tons of changes, tons of new experiences, tons of struggles. It’s good to get into the habit of knowing how to handle stress and worry. Too much can not only zap the joy out of their life but also harm their health. And chronic anxiety can lead to depression, insomnia, physical ailments, and more.

It’s important that teens learn how to take time out and refresh themselves. Practicing meditation, deep breathing, or mindfulness can help them handle stress better. What is more, taking time to really get to know your thoughts, feelings, and responses to various trying situations can help teens to be more confident, content, and self-assured.

6. Strong Boundaries and Support Systems

To make their health and well-being a priority, teens must learn to set healthy boundaries. Saying “no” to a demanding friend, not giving in to peer pressure, developing a sound and healthy body image, or choosing to reduce their busy schedule is not being selfish—it’s good sense.

Developing a reliable support system and strong relationships will serve your teen a lifetime. People who can assist them, accept them for who they are, and encourage them to embrace their flaws and grow are one of the best things for all aspects of their health.

7. Wise Time Management

Using time wisely isn’t a strength of most teenagers. Helping them to establish good study habits and overcoming procrastination is imperative for their future. Time management comes even more into play when your teen graduates high school. If your teen moves on to college, or decides to work immediately after high school, they will not have anyone to look over their shoulder telling them what they need to do. Developing good time management skills during the teen years is an important part of managing life when your child leaves home and launches into the next phase of their life and development.

Part of managing time has to do with not spending endless hours online. Not only does it waste precious opportunities, but it can cause a lot of stress, negatively affect a teen’s eyes, and even lead to internet addiction.

Clearly, if you assist your teen with developing these healthy habits now, you’ll be able to make a big difference in their life. They’ll be able to maneuver those confusing adolescent years with much more grace and balance.
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Mirela Bitkowski, MA, LPC Intern, works with parents, teens, and families at the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin. For parents needing guidance through the pitfalls of their child’s teenage years, call Mirela at 512-270-4883, ext. 103, or go to the RCC Austin Scheduling page to request an appointment with her.

Personal Boundaries When Your Parent is Addicted: Why They Matter

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Personal boundaries are the limits and rules you establish for yourself in relationships. Whether or not you’ve heard of or engaged in personal boundary work before, you’ve probably unintentionally set a few at some point in your life. For instance, when you were younger, you and your sibling may have had an unspoken rule where the two of you take a few minutes apart after a big fight. Or, maybe you and your college roommate didn’t borrow one another’s personal items without asking first. Some of these personal boundaries may have been established through discussion, while others may have just developed on their own.

When dealing with a parent who struggles with addiction, personal boundary setting is far more difficult than small arguments or borrowing an article of clothing. When you set personal boundaries in this situation, they need to be very intentional and considered thoughtfully and thoroughly. Small boundaries can be hard enough to implement, so bigger boundaries are even more difficult. But it’s vital for your health, safety, and well-being, as well as that of your parent, to enforce and maintain strong limits and personal boundaries.

Here are some effective tips for setting personal boundaries:

Know your limits

Addictions take a toll on not only the addicted but their loved ones as well. Consider how much your parent’s addiction or problem is affecting you. How are you being impacted emotionally, physically, mentally, etc.? Acknowledge what exactly the most stressful part of their addiction, and perhaps their legal situation, is for you, and set your personal boundaries accordingly. Remember that your well-being is at stake when you don’t make yourself a priority.

Be assertive

The only way for your parent to take you seriously is if you follow through with the limits that you set. Don’t let them play the victim or get in your head by manipulating you or making you feel guilty. Be firm. Let them know the personal boundaries you have set, and what the consequence will be if they don’t honor it.

This is not harsh; it’s necessary. Practice makes perfect and the more you maintain your personal boundaries, the more they’ll take them seriously.

Remember that personal boundaries are fluid

If a certain boundary isn’t working for you, change it. Nothing is set in stone. You can loosen or tighten the reins based on what works. Addiction is a disease with varying stages. As your parent seeks help, give yourself permission to change the personal boundaries you’ve established. If what you’ve asked for isn’t being maintained, set stricter guidelines. Likewise, if your parent is improving, allow yourself to release some boundaries you have set for yourself.

Examples of healthy and productive personal boundaries to set with an addicted parent:

  • No drug or alcohol use in my house or around me and my family
  • You will no longer be able to see my children (your grandchildren) if you’re using
  • I won’t give you any more money
  • I will not bail you out of jail
  • You will have to find a different way to pay your attorney fees
  • I won’t lie for you any longer

Setting such strong limits might seem like you’re being too tough on them, but without appropriate personal boundaries, you may be enabling their addiction. By continuing to give them money or by lying for and protecting them, you are giving them an inch, which will allow them to take a mile.

Personal boundary setting is difficult, especially when your role switches from child to caregiver. You may be having trouble maintaining or establishing healthy limits and that’s okay. But you are not alone, and this isn’t something you must go through by yourself. The sooner you ask for help, the sooner you can work toward establishing a healthier relationship with your addicted parent.
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Call 512-270-4883 to schedule an appointment with one of the counselors at the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin (RCC Austin). Or, request an appointment on the RCC Austin Scheduling Page.

When Trauma Touches Your Child: How to Care, Comfort, and Support

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By Sarah Wilson, PhD

As a parent, you want to protect your child from everything. But the sad and unfortunate truth? They will likely be exposed to far more than you could ever want them to be. Trauma can touch your child through an array of situations – death, natural disasters, a car accident, illness or anything else that is a threat to their emotional and physical safety and well-being.

When adults experience trauma, they have challenges and difficulty navigating through it; thus, when children experience trauma, they will feel even more lost, scared, confused and helpless. While there’s no way to erase the trauma from your child’s life, there are plenty of ways you can be there to care for them.

Be physically present

As your child’s caregiver, you are the person they trust most in this world. To feel emotionally safe, they must first feel physically safe. For your child to feel physically safe, they need to know that you are available to them. Depending on the level of trauma experienced, you may need to take time from your usual schedule, so you can be there to comfort and console them. It’s crucial that your children aren’t left feeling alone during a traumatizing time.

Encourage your child to talk about it

Don’t force your child to talk about the traumatic experience they encountered, gently encourage them instead. Let them know that it’s healthy to discuss the event and their feelings surrounding the event.  Remind them that their feelings are valid and important. It’s okay to be upset, angry, sad, scared, stressed, or frustrated. Unfortunately, we live in a society that encourages us to suppress “negative” feelings, so it’s important that your children know that all emotions can be expressed and processed in a safe and secure environment with someone they trust.

Be honest

Trauma leaves children feeling confused, so they’ll most likely come to you with the hard questions. It’s important that you don’t blatantly lie to them or alter the facts greatly – kids are smarter than we give them credit for, so they’ll pick up on the truth regardless of if you give it to them. They need to trust you.

There is, however, a fine line between honesty and over-sharing. Your kids don’t need to hear any graphic descriptions or event details that will only confuse them further. Trust your gut with what you choose to tell your children. In-depth discussions may be mitigated by or depend on their age, their maturity level, the specific situation, if there will be any media exposure, etc.

Live a normal lifestyle

Putting your child’s life on hold for too long after a traumatic experience will only hinder them in the long run. Kids thrive off schedule and routine, which has already been interrupted by trauma. As soon as possible, it’s important to reintegrate your child into their normal lifestyle. Send them back to school and sports practice, engage in family activities you did prior to the trauma.

Like every other part of parenting, there is no fixed way to deal with the aftermath of trauma. If you’re unsure of what to do, seeking professional help is always a good option. It’s normal for your child not to act like their regular self immediately after a traumatic event, but don’t ignore any major warning signs. If your child isn’t functioning well at school, is having nightmares, exhibits symptoms of PTSD, is withdrawing from family and friends, or manifests stress physically, it’s time to seek professional help.
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Dr. Sarah Wilson is a marriage and family therapist associate at the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin (RCC Austin). Teen counseling is a specialty area of her practice. Contact her at 512-270-4883 or request an appointment with her on the RCC Austin Scheduling page.

Why Self-Care for Parents Must Be a To-Do List Priority

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You have a planner, an iPhone scheduler, and a traditional calendar on the wall.

You’re ridiculously busy. You’re driving. You’re planning You’re volunteering.

You’re filling the fridge.  You’re shopping. You’re fretting, soothing, disciplining, cheering them on and checking their social media for all the things you might be missing.

Regardless of your children’s ages, you’re putting in serious parenting work…all day, every day.

And, the days just keep running into each other.

Maybe you see your partner occasionally and shoot them a text about the next game or recital. Maybe you’re doing all this on your own.

If you gave yourself time to think about it, it might just feel like too much.

But that’s just how it is, right?

Give it all you’ve got? Leave it all on the living room floor? Sacrifice for the carpool lane?

Aren’t we supposed to cram all our lists and responsibilities into the few hours we have with our kids? Isn’t that the job we signed up for?

Okay. Let’s stop right here.

Parenting is a good thing. It’s filled with joys and responsibilities. But the assumption that you must live an overwrought, overworked existence is a pervasive, and depressing, parenting myth.

Is that what you really want? How can you really enjoy anything, including your children, if you can’t catch your own breath? It’s that whole oxygen mask metaphor. Not taking care of yourself is not an option. Think of the example you’re setting for your family. Do you want them to neglect their own care, too?

Why is self-care for parents so crucial?  For the following reasons and many more. Why not embrace one or two of them? Your family will thank you.

1. Self-care can teach you to be fine with just “okay.” It’s a good way to maintain perspective.

It will be hard to take care of yourself if your mind is filled with all the ways you’re shortchanging your kids. Learn to give your brain, and planner, a break. Allow the kids to eat something non-organic at the neighbor’s house. Let Grandma cheer them on at the soccer field. Let someone else’s mom or dad volunteer for the annual spaghetti dinner. It’s okay to take some time for yourself. It’s okay to let the kids be okay with someone else.

2. Self-care for parents says, “Unplug. Disconnect. Power down.” Don’t cheat yourself of peace and quiet. Teach this to your children by setting an example.

It’s a very good thing to just say “no” to your phone, tablet, and computer. Get away from social media, email, texts, and all the rest. Take some time periodically to live a life without notifications and alerts. Try to quiet your mind. Give yourself the gift of being off the clock and out of touch. Show your children that this can be done. No one else will show them the way, if you don't.

3. Self-care encourages you to delegate, accept offers of help, and release resentments.

Learning to let go and let people share responsibilities is an integral part of self-care for parents. From your partner to your kids, to friends who’ve been asking to help you - accept the assistance. You don’t have to be in charge all the time. In fact, while releasing some of your responsibilities is good self -care and can relieve some stress for you, it helps your kids to feel more competent and capable of taking of themselves, too. Win-win! You all deserve a reward for teamwork, go for ice cream and relax.

4. Self-care for parents always includes rest. Why not make tonight a “school night” for you too. Sleep helps you stay healthy and emotionally even.

When the kids go down for bed, it’s easy to think of it as “me” time. But, if “me time" leaves you exhausted in the mornings, bring back bedtime. Relax for a bit, soak in a bath or a hot shower and then head for bed.  A good night’s sleep is the foundation of good self-care.

7. Self-care will permit you to smell some roses, have playtime in the dirt, and maybe a little reconnecting roll in the hay (!).

Self-care for parents is vital because it allows you to finagle some play time. You need to play your own, adult way. Kids are fun. But grown up fun is better. Wrestle around with your significant other. Get outside with a friend. Return to a hobby you enjoy. You deserve a recess too.

6. Self-care for parents includes a lifestyle that keeps you around for your family for a long time.

Go for a hike, get on a bike, stretch out your downward dog. Want your kids to take care of their bodies, eat well, and exercise? Show them how it’s done. A good diet and 30 minutes of healthy movement can help you squash a crabby attitude, depression, parental anxiety, and more.

Take a bit of time for self-care, then take a bit more. Soon, you’ll find you’re a better parent and your mental and physical self is refreshed and rejuvenated. Self-care is intentional and motivational. It is not selfish.

Self-care for parents is a must-do on the to-do list. Don’t parent without it. You can do this.  And you can enjoy it. Get started today!
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Contact the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin at 512-270-4883 to schedule an appointment with one of our counselors. You can also complete the scheduling form on the RCC Austin Scheduling page and request an appointment. Someone will be in touch with you as soon as possible to assist you with scheduling.

Communicate Better With Your Teen ... Beyond Huh? What? I Don't Know

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By Sarah Wilson, PhD

“How was your day?” – “Huh?”

“Did everything go well at school?” – “What? Why?”

“I heard there was some problem.” – “I don’t know…”

By this time, you may be ready to pull out your hair. Or you may be so irritated that you just want to scream at your teen.

Would it make a difference? Probably not.

But having to deal with an unresponsive teen can certainly test every bit of your parenting skills and patience.

So, how can you communicate better with your teen, especially during this time of their life when open and frank discussions are needed more than ever?

Ways to Communicate Better with Your Teenager

Use casual moments to your advantage

Whenever possible, take advantage of informal settings—at mealtime, riding in the car, taking a walk together, or shooting hoops. Physical activity combined with talking keeps your teen engaged and gives them a chance to casually chat about the things they like.

Plus, your teen may be more inclined to open up and talk to you when you’re side-by-side, not face-to-face. When they feel comfortable talking to you about everyday matters, they may open up much easier about more difficult things.

Draw them out by example

Instead of interrogating your teen like a prosecuting attorney, be peaceful. It’s important that they feel they can hang out with you and share experiences without worrying about a ton of intrusive questions.

If they’re not inclined to share much with you, shift focus away from them and try drawing them out by telling them how your day was.

Give them opportunity to respond

Don’t ask one question after another, or keep talking about yourself without end. To have a dialogue—not a monologue—your teen must have ample time to reply. Asking them why they feel one way or another and then waiting for their answer will help you gain insight into their thought process.

If you have a difference of opinion, show them that you can respect their point of view even if you don’t agree.

Listen attentively and without interrupting

Allowing your teen to respond freely, gives you the opportunity to listen carefully. Take in the whole scope of what they’re saying and reply showing reasonableness.

The more time you can take to just sit back and listen, the more understanding you will acquire. Your teen may communicate better and be much more open if they don’t feel pressured by you to share information.

Stay calm, don’t take offense

If your teen speaks to you in a disrespectful tone, stay calm and don’t respond in kind. Instead, show empathy and try understanding the message behind the words.

If your teen disagrees with you on a matter, don’t overreact or take offense. Yelling, screaming, or belittling their viewpoint will only make them feel attacked. Instead, acknowledge their opinion. And if they experience a disappointment, don’t downplay their feelings. Instead, validate their emotions by reflecting back their statements.

Guide them, don’t control them

Allow them to develop their own abstract thinking abilities when they encounter problems. Discuss the problem, brainstorm some options, and then give them the chance to come up with their own solution. Showing trust in their ability to handle the matter will boost their confidence and help them see that you’re on the same team.

Praise them for their efforts and thinking ability and help them reasons matters out. Be positive and encouraging. Your teen may act like they don’t care about what you think, but in reality, they want your approval.

Be assured, you can communicate better with your teen. It is not impossible. Always remember: be quick to listen, think before speaking, and—no matter what—stay calm.
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Dr. Sarah Wilson is a marriage and family therapist associate with the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin (RCC Austin). If you need help with parenting and communicating with your teenager, Sarah's training and experience working with parents and teens can help. Call her at 512-270-4883, ext. 104.