In working with troubled teens, there's a couple of things we've come to realize:
1. Teens want to feel understood and respected for their opinions.
2. There is always an underlying cause to their negative behaviors, which can be identified with time, patience, and good communication.
3. Teens want a positive relationship with their parents and caregivers.
4. Teens often can't see the consequences of their behavior without good communication.
5. A positive peer system is of utmost importance.
6. Teens are incredibly resilient and can, indeed, change their behaviors.
Traditional "talk therapy" may not always work for teenagers (especially boys). We've learned what works and what doesn't in getting teens to open up about their personal challenges.
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Moody teenagers and exasperated parents are welcome here! As a divorced dad with five kids, I've personally experienced the ups-and-downs of having adolescents. As a family therapist and interventionist, I've helped teens and their parents navigate extremely challenging behavioral issues. In the process, I've learned that there's always an underlying cause to negative behaviors. These can be identified with time, patience, and good communication. Teens and their families can be incredibly resilient, and negative behaviors can change.
As a trained Functional Family Therapist (FFT) and Certified Family Life Educator (CFLE), I've learned what works and what doesn't in getting families to open up about these challenges. Traditional "talk therapy" may not always work for teenagers. My out-of-the-box approach includes a variety of tools to help foster meaningful connection and positive change.
Though it may not seem like it, teens want a positive connection with their parents and caregivers. Adolescence is often a time of tumultuous changes; teens need the foundation of a strong family relationship during this difficult time. Let me help you, your teen, and your family work together towards hope, healing, and positive change. - Joel Daugherty, LPC
20 Ideas to Connect With Your Teenager
1 Eat together as a family. Even if it's just one night a week, eating meals together can be a powerful bonding experience. Research has even shown that people who eat together feel generally more at-ease and comfortable with those at the table sharing a meal. Meals are a great time to share stories, catch up on school events and antics of friends and neighbors. Also, don't shy away from discussing politics and current world events, as teens are often eager to share their opinions with adults who care.
2 Cook together. Got a hungry kid rumbling around the kitchen? Suggest the two of you throw together a plate of nachos or a pizza. Families who share a regular common task in achieving a goal - DINNER! - are more apt to grow together in relationship. (And feel free to bring some of the leftovers to the therapist!)
3 Work together. Sometimes it’s easier to have a conversation with a teenager if you’re not sitting and forced to make eye contact. If you’re raking leaves, doing dishes together, or cleaning the house, your hands are busy, but your brain is available for connecting. Boys and young men are often easier to connect with, especially, as they are usually more task focused.
4 Share a family interest. Contrary to popular opinion that teens prefer to do more things with their friends, frequently they still enjoy family activities. The trick is to make room in their busy schedules and to find meaningful moments in the mundane. A great opportunity for conversation is simply riding in the car. Turn down the radio and seize the opportunity to connect, grow in the relationship, and talk about life.
5 Go shopping. If you leave your own tastes at home and be clear about how much money you’re willing to spend, you can really learn a lot about your teenager at the mall. Ask about her favorite bands while browsing the aisles of the music store or get her to help you choose new towels for the bathroom.
6 Follow their lead. Is your child into sports, video games, a popular new boy band? As difficult as it may be for a parent to engage in a new interest, participating in your teen's hobbies can help parent/child relationships immensely. An hour of video gaming may feel like a waste of time, but it will speak volumes to your child about your commitment to the relationship.
7 Do some good. A great way to foster connection with your teen is to occasionally volunteer with community programs, church outreaches, etc. There are lots of ways to help out that might inspire a teen. Whether it’s mowing an elderly neighbor’s driveway or doing a marathon for cancer research — let your child pick one and then do it together.
8 Tell their stories. When you share your memories of the funny, sweet and infuriating things they did when they were young, teens gain a sense of being connected to your unique family history — of knowing they belong and that they matter to you.
9 Say good night. While knocking is required before entering most teenager's rooms, many will secretly admit they still like it when mom or dad come in and kiss them good night. If parents will linger a bit, that’s often when they will hear about plans in the making with friends on Friday night, or a big upcoming test. Bedtime is still a great time for connection.
10 Share social media together. Most teens love goofy videos. A fun way to connect with your teen might be sitting on the couch watching YouTube or TickTok together. The videos might be dumb, but they are memories in the making.
11 Keep the TV in the den. A lot of teens have a TV, computer and phone in their rooms. It’s like they have separate apartments. If your kids are watching the football game or American Idol, sit down and watch with them. Invite your teens out of their rooms and into common family living areas. This will give more chance for interaction.
12 Go to the movies. As much as a parent might roll his or her eyes internally, let your teen pick the movie. You're more interesting in finding a fun bonding time than you are with personal entertainment.
13 Talk about your day. Often the smallest detail from your busy day will spark a conversation. Did you run into an old friend? Discover a new bakery around the corner? Finish a project at work? Sharing an anecdote opens the door to hearing about theirs.
14 Go one-on-one. Teens feel that their problems, concerns or delights are the most important — that everyone else’s troubles are secondary. Give your kids your undivided attention once in a while. Put down the remote, or the phone and just listen.
15 Share a skill. Are you a computer whiz? A baker extraordinaire? Find something you're good at and encourage your teen to join you.
16 Create rituals. Make getting a pedicure with your daughter a monthly event. Take your son out for ice cream on Sunday afternoons. Little rituals, whether it’s painting nails or trimming hair, are important to kids because they provide “no-pressure” time to connect with a parent.
17 Say I love you. Not as a reward, but just because you’re glad your child is in the world. Ignore the messy bedroom, and leave a small vase of flowers and a little note by her bed, or a guitar magazine on your son’s pillow. Just because.
18 Seize the moment. Don’t rely on big events, such as a family vacation or an expensive night out, to nourish your connection to your teen. Look for opportunities to interact rather than trying to create moments. The kitchen is always a great place to connect as hungry teenagers forage for food - sometimes they might even pitch in and help!
19 Keep it real. When you’re doing activities with your teen, keep your expectations realistic - which means low.
20 Welcome their friends. Inviting their friends over means they'll be home more. Not only that but your teenager's friends are will often talk more openly with a caring and trusting adult (you) than they will with their own parents. And when your kids are forced to see you through their friend’s eyes, they realize that everything you say isn’t stupid.