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Help! My Teen Wants A Tatoo (Or Some Other Style I’m Not Happy With)

Oh no!  It’s finally happened!  Your teen has come home asking for permission to get a tatoo.  Maybe you have a hundred tatoos already so this doesn’t really bother you.  However, if you’re like most parents you’re not exactly ecstatic about this new development.  Here are some therapist thoughts on what to do when your teenager wants to do something to their body you aren’t really comfortable supporting (or flat out refuse to permit):



Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Getting Your Teen to Help Around the House

Getting your teen to do housework is possible! Image courtesy of artur84 via

Getting your teen to do housework is possible!
Image courtesy of artur84 via

You work full-time and your teenager is home after school.  It feels very frustrating that they stay home a good part of the day, or are out having fun with friends while the house needs a lot of attention.  Maybe you don’t even care about the chores around the house if they’d just keep their room clean, bathroom picked up, and put away their dishes.  How do you deal with this?


1.  Let them know how you feel.  This is not to be said in anger or with hostility.  That is the quickest way to ensure a teenager isn’t listening to you.  On the other hand, if you gently tell them it’s frustrating for you, or that you feel taken advantage of, or that you are overwhelmed and stressed, they will often listen.  This isn’t true for every teen but if you don’t get a kind reaction when you’re truly being kind, there are likely other problems in your relationship that need addressing.


2.  Make sure you ask.  As obvious as this sounds, a lot of parents lament they don’t get any help around the house, but they don’t specifically ask for what they need.  You might have hoped your adolescent would take the initiative, look around, and just see what needs doing.  This is great in theory but pretty much will never happen.  Try writing them a reasonable list each day before you leave to work, asking things be done before you get home (Reasonable for a teen who has no history of cleaning is probably a 30 minute task).


3.  Attach monetary value to certain tasks.  This works for the highly social child.  If you have a teenager who loves to be out with friends, this will be effective.  Here’s the caveat, if you plan to make them earn their going out money by doing tasks around the house, you can’t give money otherwise.  It’s fine to pay for their sports or things they need for school.  However, if they want to meet a friend for lunch, absolutely no money!  You can gently remind them they will get a few dollars when the house has been vacuumed, which is a great way they can pay for their own lunch.  Something else you’ll notice happening, when they have to earn their spending money they are more careful with it.


4.  Require it.  There are certain minimum tasks that each household should require of every member.  If you want to require everyone to keep their bathrooms and bedrooms picked up, make sure yours is too.  There’s nothing an adolescent resents more than a hypocritical parent.  It’s fine to attach privileges to the completion of these minimum tasks.  One family I worked with had success when they told their teen daughter the bathroom and bedroom had to be picked up each night by 8pm.  If it was, she got the privilege of using her cell phone the next day.  If not, they would keep it and she could try again to have everything picked up by the following evening.  They were very careful not to bend on this, and she fell into line within a week.  If she finished at 8:05pm, they thanked her for cleaning up, but still did not give the phone the next day.  Boundaries around these types of limits must be strict and unemotional.


It is possible to get your teen to help you around the house.  It’s all in how you ask, and how consistent you are with whatever rules you set up.  Once you are able to get their help, it’s great for your relationship because you’re nagging less often, and they feel a sense of pride.


Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Too Much Authority In Parenting Doesn’t Work

If you’re a parent who wishes to connect better with your teen, you’ll have to have elements of friendship in your relationship.  The parents who know how to listen well and care about what their kids care about seem to also have authority.  The parents I see in therapy who just try and control behavior with discipline have either a rebellious teen, or one who doesn’t share much with them.  If you really want to influence how your teen thinks, their moral compass, and their ability to make decisions later in life without you, you have to be in their hearts.  They need to learn to think and feel through hard things, and that’s impossible if you use your emotional muscle to prevent them from making mistakes.


Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Approval-Seeking Teens

Wanting approval isn't a bad thing unless it goes too far. Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici /

Wanting approval isn’t a bad thing unless it goes too far.
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici /

This post will not apply to every parent.  Some of you have kids who are very comfortable with who they are.  They seem relaxed and self-assured.  What a blessing!


There are a large number of you though who have teens that really want approval.  This can take on multiple forms.  Some teens long for the approval of their peers.  Others desperately want to hear “well done” from their parents.  Wanting approval is not actually as bad as it sounds.  It is part of what motivates teens to do their homework and chores, and to comb their hair.  Sometimes though the desire for approval becomes excessive, and leads to anxiety or depression.


I have seen teens in counseling who wanted approval so badly that they developed eating disorders, tried drugs or alcohol, or became sexually active before they were ready.  It is really important to recognize a teen who is trying too hard to be liked because sometimes it means they are making unhealthy choices.  A lot of these teens actually do get a substantial amount of approval, but they do not feel it.  Even when there is a lot of evidence to the contrary, these teens feel disliked or negatively judged.  As a parent, what are you supposed to do in this situation?


One of the most important things you can do is to help your teen realize the meaning of that famous first line from Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Life, “It is not about you.”  Help your child gain some perspective.  It is very hard for teens to remember that there is a world beyond their school and social group; expose your teen to it.  Get them out into the community to serve someone else.  Usually once a person dedicates some time and energy to others they stop focusing on themselves.


A second thing to try is not allowing your teen to voice the things they dislike about themselves if those things are unreasonable.  Do not let your 3.5 GPA student tell you they are stupid, and do not let your normally sized daughter tell you she is fat.  Learn to respond only when your child is honest about themselves.  One thing we do in therapy is stop believing everything we feel.  What I mean by this is that a teen will tell me, “I feel like nobody likes me.”  Once we establish that there are in fact people who like the teen, we no longer allow that to be said.  Instead the teen has to tell the truth, which is, “I feel disliked by some people.”


Try these two tips for approval-seeking teens.  If your teen’s desire to be liked is overwhelming your teen, and you for that matter, call for help.  There is often a way to change their focus.  Sometimes you need help to help them too.  Most parents, even the very best parents, have tried a number of different ways to encourage their adolescent without success.  Sometimes a little tune-up makes a big difference.


Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

How to Argue Effectively With Your Teenager

Arguing with a teen can seem impossible, but it's actually not. Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at

Arguing with a teen can seem impossible, but it’s actually not.
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at

To argue effectively with your teenager, you both have to be listening.  It doesn’t do a lot of good just to try and overpower each other.  Here’s the mistake a lot of teens and parents both make when they are disagreeing: they continue to restate the same point repeatedly.  When the other person doesn’t seem to hear it, they just say it more loudly.  Eventually the tone of voice gets rude and then the argument can turn nasty.  That’s when teenagers are blamed for “having an attitude,” or “being disrespectful,” or “talking back.”


It’s essential to realize deescalation has to occur before anything else.  This means the discussion must remain calm.  It’s completely fine, and actually positive to feel and express emotions.  It’s not encouraged to do this offensively, with a blaming and/or defensive attitude.  When’s the last time you were happy to hear someone’s point after they called you a name, rolled their eyes, or spoke with contempt in their voice?  I know I have no interest in what someone has to say after that.  All I’m thinking is what a jerk they are, and then I dig my heels in.


Parents and teenagers ask me all the time why it’s so much easier to talk about things in my office than at home.  The answer is in remaining deescalated.  When a family is learning to communicate better my primary goal is to keep the emotional triggers deescalated.  I do this by slowing the discussion down and making sure each side acknowledges what they’ve just been told by the other side.  In other words, I make sure parents are listening to their adolescents, and vice versa.  I also don’t allow blaming.  I ask each person in the room to expound on anything they’ve said by also explaining their current emotional state.  For example, a teen might say to her mom, “I really want to be able to go to the party even though there won’t be any parents there.”  When asked to expound on this, she may say, “I feel left out if I can’t go.  I also feel I’m not trusted if I’m not allowed to go.”  While this may not cause Mom to change her mind, she can certainly relate to feeling left out and not trusted.  Those are really unpleasant emotions.  Instead of Mom arguing that these types of parties are unsafe, Mom can tell her daughter she hates those emotions too.  Once Daughter feels heard, she and Mom can work together to come up with some kind of creative solution.


It’s so incredibly important to communicate with your teenagers in a way that deescalates them.  You won’t even have an impact on them if they are angry, defensive, and otherwise emotionally charged; they are not ready to listen in that state.  You aren’t ready to listen either and the only two options become either fighting or shutting down.  You may get your child to comply with you, but they will resent you.  This is not what your objective is.  The objective is always to keep them safe and teach them whatever they need to learn from a situation.


Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT