5 Tips to Engage Your Teenager

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by: Kelly Scott, MA.Ed. (CYS Program Director)

Tip 1:

Teach and model Mindfulness. That sounds daunting…especially if you don’t know much about mindfulness. The practice of Mindfulness is simply awareness in the present moment and being attuned to what is happening right now and knowing that the right now is all you can control. Anxiety is rapidly becoming the number one cause of teen depression, alcohol/drug use, self-harm, etc. Of course, a little anxiety is healthy and we all need it in our lives to keep us on our toes… However, our kids these days have so much more to worry about than ever and unfortunately, social media isn’t helping. The younger generation is worrying excessively about everything, especially their future. If this is new territory for you and you just don’t know where to start, try the Instant Help for Teens series (like Mindfulness for Teen Anxiety: A Workbook for Overcoming Anxiety at Home, at School, and Everywhere Else) or the “Dummies Series” that has a “Mindfulness for Dummies” book. If anxiety, however, is taking over your teens life and is seriously affecting their well being, safety, or everyday function, please seek professional help. You can start with California Youth Services’ Pathways Community Counseling Center: www.cyspathways.org

Tip 2:

Have intentional family time at least one to two times per week AND hug your teen often! This may seem obvious, but, let me tell you…communication is key to engaging your teen. You really need to talk to your child every day; and tell them you are there for them, support them, and do not judge them harshly when they tell you something deep. Please…very, very crucial: Listen to your teen with an open mind. If they tell you something that is frightening to you (such as having certain sexual feelings and acting on them or experimenting with illicit substances) and you immediately punish them, your teen will be reluctant to tell you other things in the future. That’s right, instead, they are going to go to their friends and we know how factual that information is!  If you aren’t sure how to respond or react right away, the best thing to say at that moment is “Thank you so much for telling me, this is very important. Please let me reflect for a moment and process the information so I can give you the best advice possible.” Then schedule a time to meet with them soon after and go research, research, research and get advice on the best way to respond. Taking too long to respond may backfire, so talking with your teen later that day or the next day is highly recommended. As for hugging your teen often, not only is this great for building the bond…but it is also great for “sniffing” out your teen. Give a great big, bear hug. Think about it…if you hug your teen after every time they come home from hanging out with their friends or a party (and it’s not rare or is commonplace), first they won’t think anything odd about it and second you can smell all kinds of potential problems…alcohol, smoke, even rapid heart rate (hmm… what are they hiding? Right?!) What a great prelude to the next tip we suggest “…I’m so happy you’re safe at home! Today is the day for a random drug test…” Should you want more information on the rapidly growing drug epidemic, guidance on steps to take if your child’s test result is positive for a certain substance, or even know a family member/acquaintance that could benefit from an educative program, please seek further information from our JADE (Juvenile Alcohol Drug Education) program at http://www.calyouthservices.org/jade/ or call our main line at (949) 303-9016.

Tip 3:

Drug Test your Teen. I know this sounds a bit harsh and maybe for some a little crazy, but let the drug prevention experts tell you the benefits of drug testing your child BEFORE alcohol or substance abuse becomes any type of problem. It is also very engaging (think about all the conversations you can have about this topic?). First, when you drug test your child, you are using it as a tool. Think about it…if your teen is at a party or event and their peers are telling them to try a particular drug, they have the best excuse in the world: “Sorry, my mom/dad randomly drug tests me and I can get my phone taken away if it comes up positive.” This helps them still “look cool” in front of their peers. Second, if you drug test your child as a young 13-year-old, when starting Jr. High, it becomes a normal rite of passage, and won’t become a big deal in the future. They won’t think …oh they don’t trust me so now I’m getting drug tested. Instead they will think …oh this must be what all parents do and it’s just part of growing up. It’s also a great way to start the conversation of the reality that using drugs, even marijuana, can affect our everyday lives and can potentially become a serious problem. Finally, if the tests ever do come up positive, you have a way to intervene promptly and do something early about it. The good news is that there are plenty of ways to do this at home, in a monitored place, or even on some school campuses (there are some schools that provide free, monitored take home or on campus drug tests). Please reach out to us to learn which schools offer that and check out our website about drug testing to learn more about how to do this. www.calyouthservices.org/drug-testing/) We also do a great job (we’ve been doing this for over 20 years) with helping steer teens back on the right direction when they get off track…so we can be there for you if your child ever does test positive for a specific substance. We also have a prevention tool, “Stay Ahead of Your Teen” (Parent Alliance Membership) that offers all of our great programs and services ready for you in a one package deal when you need it. Click here to learn more http://californiayouthservices.mykajabi.com/p/Parent-Membership-Alliance

Tip 4:

Monitor your Teen’s Communication and Whereabouts. Many parents have concerns about this since they want their teen to become independent and self-sufficient and want to build that trusting relationship. We completely understand that and know this skill is important. However, when your child is emerging into the teen years when you think to back off, it is actually more important to tighten those reins. The reason is simple: Lack of judgment development can impair healthy, safe, and wise decisions. You know how all the crazy things you ever did was during those teen and young adult years (on a side-note, those things you did then are considered criminal and would get you in a serious legal or expensive pickle now)? That’s because we don’t develop the judgement part of our human brains until the age of 25! During the lack of judgement, peers can be very, very convincing! If a parent monitors their actions, a parent can step in when things get way out of hand! Trust us, we have seen many kids being at the wrong place at the wrong time, making the wrong decision. If things are monitored, you would know exactly what, who, where things are happening. The apps we recommend to help you start monitoring social media, texts, emails, etc are: Life360 and Teensafe. Also, please make sure to meet and get to know all the friends they hang out with, their friend’s parents, and learn why they like to go where they go…(what is so appealing about that place?) I’m telling you, this will save you a lot of hardship down the line (and please don’t be that parent that hosts parties because you want to be monitoring their “hang out” space. That can get you in a serious legal problem but that’s for another conversation for another day.) By the way, maybe your teen won’t realize it as they are still developing, but as an adult they do reflect back and come to appreciate how much their parent cared about them growing up. If you are interested in promoting wise choices in your teenager, please refer to our “Decisions” program, to learn more information please call our main line at (949) 577-3861 or visit our website http://www.calyouthservices.org/decisions/     

Tip 5:

Take care of yourself and model positivity! This is important, because a happy parent, makes for a happy teen. Please take care of your physical health, your mental health, and of course make time for yourself to do things you love. We can’t tell you enough how important it is to show your child that life is good. That you are allowed to do things you love, have passions, and that it’s ok to make mistakes (as long as we learn from them, right?). It also shows your teen that you can be vulnerable and that you are human! There has been countless and countless of research done on happy, resilient teens, and one that we share often is the work done by the Search Institute who identified building blocks of healthy development—known as Developmental Assets®—that help young people grow up healthy, caring, and responsible. https://policywise.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/40-Developmental-Assets.pdf Take a look at that list, check off all that apply, and we hope that you see which ones that perhaps your child may need to “develop”. This is a great tool.

Hope you enjoyed this list! We have so many more tips, tools, and ways to engage your teen. Give us a call and learn how we can help. To recap, here are the 5 tips to engage your teen:

1.Teach and Model Mindfulness. Be present and help your child overcome potentially unsafe anxiety.

2.Have Intentional Family Time and Hug Your Teen Often! Communication is key and sniff out potential problems with a great big, lovable bear hug

3.Drug Test your Teen. What? That sounds complicated…but really, it’s not that big of a deal and can be a huge tool later in their lives.

4.Monitor your Teen’s Communication and Whereabouts. What exactly are they up to and who are they hanging out with? This can be very important information and will show you care.

5.Take care of yourself and model positivity. A happy parent is a happy teen. There’s too much negativity in the world, let’s put out some good energy for our overly anxious teens.