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A Tip for Getting Along with Your Teen

A Tip for Getting Along with Your Teen

Sharing with teenagers Image courtesy of Ambro at

Sharing with teenagers
Image courtesy of Ambro at

Teenagers feel comfortable with adults who can tell stories that relate to the teen’s reality.  If your teenager is occasionally drinking at a party, your teen will respond well to stories about what you did at parties when you were a teenager.  Your past can be a place of connection between you and your child.  It is such a simple way to show them empathy.

Maybe your teenage years were vastly different from your own child.  Perhaps you were a popular athlete, and your kid is an unpopular mathlete.  Even if you didn’t have the same exact experience, you can still relate.  There were days when you felt uncomfortable in your own skin and days when you didn’t like your parents.  You still had moments of triumph and moments of defeat.  Having the exact same experiences is not the important thing.  The important thing is helping your adolescent understand that you also had to figure out who you were, and it wasn’t easy then either.

Be discretionary in what you share with your teenager.  Don’t overshare.  You don’t want to tell your child things that are going to cause them emotional harm.  For example, some parents dealt with teen pregnancy when they were younger.  They might have terminated the pregnancy, or might have given the baby up for adoption.  Some teens will respond well to this information, but some will feel devastated.  You know your child well, and have to be careful when deciding if it’s a story you should share.

I have known a parent who drank a lot and used drugs throughout high school.  Sharing this with his child would not be wise in his particular case.  This is because his son would use the information as permission to drink and do drugs.  I’ve known another mother who experimented with drugs when she was younger.  She chose to share this with her teenage daughter because the daughter listened when the mom told her about some painful consequences.

It’s okay to share stories from your past that go against your current moral standards.  However, you need to make sure you include the fallout from your choices, and why that led you to your current moral position.  If you used to steal things you might talk with your teenager about the guilt and shame you later experienced.  Connect the dots for them.  Tell them directly, “That’s why I am so adamant now that stealing is wrong.”

You don’t want to turn your past stories into an opportunity to lecture your child.  That will push them away from you.  You want it to be a conversation that leads them to feel safe sharing with you too.  Don’t use a thinly veiled story from your past as a criticism of your teenager’s current behavior, or as a criticism of their friends.  Just tell your story without implying any judgement on anyone else.  Teens are smart enough to figure out what they should learn from what you’re sharing.

Disclosing parts of your past to your children can be enormously beneficial for them.  It can help them understand why you are the way you are as a parent.  It can help your child learn from mistakes they don’t have to make.  It can help your kid feel like you relate to what they are going through.  It can help your teenager feel normal in uncomfortable situations.  As long as you handle the conversation gently and thoughtfully, it is usually a great connection and teaching tool.

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Teens and Money

Teens and Money

Teaching teens about money is very important. Image courtesy of sscreations at

Teaching teens about money is very important.
Image courtesy of sscreations at

How should you handle money with your teenagers (Keep in mind this is coming from the perspective of a therapist)?


I have seen the inappropriate use of money with children and teenagers cause enormous behavioral problems in teenagers.  Most of the time your adolescent child learns these things from watching you.


Here’s one scenario I have seen: Mom and dad have the finest of everything.  They drive brand name cars, carry brand name purses, wear brand name clothes, and shop at high-end stores.  Most likely mom and/or dad worked very, very hard to get there and have earned what they have.  They also dress their children in these brands, maybe buy their children private sports lessons, and send their kids on elaborate school trips.  The children have not worked hard for these things, and assume it’s standard.  Even though these parents mean well, the result is often an attitude of entitlement among their teenagers- consequently their teens have a poor work ethic.


Here’s another scenario I have seen between parents and teens regarding money:  The parents cannot really afford to buy their children the nicest of everything.  However, because we all live in a county where there are many people who can, and do keep up with the latest technology, clothes, cars, etc., the parents feel guilt.  They overextend themselves to keep their teenager outfitted with all the nicest things.  The kids do learn something about hard work because they know it doesn’t come easily to mom and dad.  These kids are not as entitled as the kids in the first scenario.  However, they are really frustrated.  The lesson these children learn is that appearance is everything.  They learn it’s worthwhile to go into debt to look like things are going really well.  It can be very hard for them to just accept their position in life with grace and gratitude.  Instead they look to things for happiness.


A third scenario I have seen, and one I hope to emulate with my own children, is this:  Regardless of financial means, the parents force their children to live at or below their means.  The teens are required to earn their belongings, and are taught to take good care of their things.  If they drop their smart phone and the screen breaks, mom and dad don’t pay to fix it.  Their child goes without until the child saves enough to fix it.  These kids either buy their own cars or drive hand-me-downs.  Since they never expected a car in the first place they are extremely grateful for whatever they drive.  While it can be very difficult to see their friends get things without trying, most of these teens ultimately say they’re thankful they have cultivated the abilities to work, save and give.  These teens are usually better at thinking outside the box too.  They’ll find ways to wear the same formal dress to a few dances, but dress it up differently so nobody knows.  When it’s time to go to college, they tend to choose a major that leads into a career because they really enjoy productivity.  They also tend to be happier, more fulfilled kids.


Basically the point of this post is the way you use and discuss money has an enormous impact on your child’s future.  For those of you who had to scrap for everything you have, it’s very tempting to want to provide your child all the opportunities you never had.  You think, ‘If I’d had that chance…wow!’  However, you developed your toughness and grit because of how hard you had to work.  It’s best if you come alongside your children as they show the ability to work.  For example, it’s much, much better to match their savings for a car purchase than to just buy them one.  It does wonders for their work ethic, self-esteem, gratitude and happiness.


Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Building Relationship With Your Teen

Building Relationship With Your Teen

Having a good parent-child relationship with a teenager isn't impossible. Image courtesy of photostock at

Having a good parent-child relationship with a teenager isn’t impossible.
Image courtesy of photostock at

It is extremely important to actively work on your relationship with your teenager.  It is such a big deal to your teenager that in their own way, they will let you know if it’s not being done properly.  They don’t often sit you down to have a chat about how you should spend more time together.  Instead teenagers act out by getting poor grades, experimenting with drugs or alcohol, becoming sexually active, or being rude towards you at home, etc. (There are other reasons teens might behave this way too; it’s not one size fits all).


In order to build a stronger relationship with your teenager, there are some things you can do.  Start with obvious common ground.  I worked with one teenage boy that hadn’t spoken a word to his father in two years, and they lived in the same house.  His father knew the boy liked certain music from the Seventies.  The father had some of the music on vinyl, so he set up his old record player.  He started playing his old albums and didn’t say a word.  That got the teenage boy to come out of his room at look at what was going on.  His father simply asked him if he’d like to see what other records there were.  The teenage boy said he would, and looked through them with his father standing there.  They didn’t say anything to one another, but they were spending time together.  They slowly built a relationship around music.  The father bought concert tickets and invited the boy.  When they went to the concert, the father was very careful not to say anything judgmental about his son, any of the concert-goers, or on any topic for that matter.  Over time the boy began to trust his father not to be critical (a past problem between these two).  After a year of very slow progress, there is now a real relationship between father and son.


You can do this too.  Assess where you are in your relationship with your teen.  Start right there.  Don’t try and force something that doesn’t exist, and don’t try and make it happen too quickly.  Take your time and be patient.  Be very cognizant of how many judgments you are making.  It is a great idea to keep those to yourself.  Be aware of how defensive you are feeling.  Remember that you don’t have to respond if your teenager says something offensive, responding is up to you.


Make your teenager a priority.  I guarantee you have some stupid priorities that seem incredibly important to you.  I know that for a fact because we all do.  My most stupid priority that sometimes gets put in front of relationship with my kids is cleanliness.  I get so worked up if the house isn’t clean that I miss valuable time with her.  What are your stupid priorities?  Is it work? Golf? Football? Exercise?  All those things are great, and so is a clean house.  They just aren’t great when they become the thing that MUST be done before having focused time with your family.


A lot of parents come to me and blame their teens for disrupted relationships.  They tell me that it was much better a couple years ago, while they still had an elementary school aged child.  However, elementary school aged children usually go with the flow more and do what you say.  They will take an interest in what you’re doing in order to get your attention.  Once you have a teenager, he thinks for himself.  He knows what he finds enjoyable.  Even though that might be a little bit different than what you like to do, it doesn’t mean he prefers you not be around.  He will just prefer you leave if you consistently criticize what he likes to do.  So,consider taking an interest in it.  Then you still have an influence on, and still get to spend time with your kid.


Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Improve Teenage Sibling Relationships

Improve Teenage Sibling Relationships

Having a sibling can be lots of fun.  Photo credit: imagerymajestic via

Having a sibling can be lots of fun. Photo credit: imagerymajestic via

Sibling relationships among teenagers seem to vary enormously.  Of all my clients, I have seen sibling relationships range from being the best of friends to the bitterest of enemies.  Usually it lands somewhere in the middle.


If your children are really close, consider yourself lucky.  Or, perhaps you’ve done things to help them get along.  Either way, it’s so wonderful to see your kids love and enjoy one another.


If your children don’t get another with each other, it’s often just the way their personalities match up.  Sometimes they will continue to struggle with each other no matter what you do.  In other situations there are a few things you can do to help.


It’s really important to try and let your kids be different.  They will not likely perform equally well in school, sports, social relationships, etc.  Each has his or her own set of strengths and weaknesses.  Help them along to improve in their weaker areas, and continue growing in their strengths.  However, don’t compare your kids to one another out loud.  They already do this to themselves enough.


It can be very beneficial for the kids to have some things they share and some things that are individually theirs.  This starts with possessions and also includes sports, friends, time with you, and goals.  Time with you is a really big one.  This means individual, fun time with each parent.  This isn’t just driving to a sports practice.  It’s going on a hike, playing mini golf, etc.


They are not responsible for one another’s happiness.  This is actually something I find comes up often in therapy.  It’s particularly true with the older sibling feeling responsible for the younger one’s happiness.  The older sibling often sees it as their job to keep the younger sibling(s) on track.  When the younger one is making bad choices, the older one will often try to parent their little brother or sister.  We work hard in counseling to help the older sibling just be a big sister or big brother.  That’s what the younger child usually needs anyhow.  The younger one needs someone whom they can confide in and who will give them perspective.


Don’t force your children to spy on each other for you.  While you do want your children to tell you if one of your other children is doing something really dangerous such as taking drugs, you don’t want to create an environment of mistrust.  You harm the sibling relationship when you ask them to tell on each other for every small transgression.


Creating a loving family where siblings get along well can be a huge challenge.  Sometimes it comes naturally, which is wonderful!  Other times though, parents have to work really hard to help facilitate closeness.  For some unlucky families even the best efforts go unrewarded.  Hold on to hope though because even siblings who do not get along as children often develop a special closeness as adults.


Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Building Relationship With Your Teen

Moms of Teens

Love your teens with grace, affection and rules. Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici /

Love your teens with grace, affection and rules.
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici /

How does your role as a mom change once your child becomes an adolescent?  This is a question I am asked in some form or another on a regular basis in my therapy practice.


1.  You still help with physical needs.  While you are no longer physically brushing your child’s teeth, you are making sure their teeth are cared for.  You take them to the dentist, orthodontist, buy their toothpaste, etc.  You still make sure your teenager is getting a balanced diet too.  This is actually a challenge for a mom of teenagers because teens go out to eat with their friends.  Help them limit this activity to a healthy level and make sure the food available at home is good for them.  Perhaps most importantly, make sure your teenager is getting enough sleep.  I see parents let off the gas on the bedtime when their children are still way to young to manage this with maturity.  If they aren’t usually getting 8 hours of sleep per night, they aren’t managing it well on their own.


2. Character development.  To the best of your ability expect your teenager to behave in a way that lines up with the adult you hope they’ll be.  Don’t do that whole, “They’re just kids and they’ll grow out of this.”  If your teen is drinking, smoking, sneaking out, etc. it’s a good idea to reign them in.  You also want to help them develop integrity, honesty, perseverance and responsibility.


3. Love.  Your teenager absolutely still needs a lot of love and affirmation.  Just because they’ve lost that baby cuteness doesn’t mean they don’t want to snuggle sometimes.  Even if they are cold when you touch them, they still need it.  Be careful not to put pressure on them to meet your needs for affection though.  That sometimes drives them away from you.  They need to hear you’re proud of them and that you believe they will make it when they step out into the world.


4. More space.  More and more your adolescent needs the room to venture out.  You are their safety net but no longer their director.  They should be able to choose their own friends, own extra-curriculars, and own interests.  When they “skin their knees” they need you to help them get back up, but they no longer need complete insulation from ever possibly “skinning their knees.”


The transition from parenting a child to parenting an adult is full of nothing but change.  It is up to you to demonstrate flexibility with the constant change.  Continue to love your children as passionately as you ever have, but understand that it starts to look different.  You are no longer the center of their world, you have been moved to the supporting cast.  Even though your role is less central, you are still immeasurably important.


Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Improving Sleep Habits in Teens

Improving Sleep Habits in Teens

Help your teen do better in school with more sleep Image courtesy of stockimages at

Help your teen do better in school with more sleep
Image courtesy of stockimages at

Teenagers are notorious for not sleeping enough during the school week, and then sleeping very late on the weekends.  This can be disruptive to their sleep quality and patterns.  However, I can truly understand why they do it; most teens are exhausted by the end of the week.


Not sleeping enough causes irritability, poor memory, depressed mood, affects eating patterns, is linked with use of caffeine and nicotine, and lowers immunity.  The average teenager needs 9 hours and 15 minutes of sleep every single night.  Most are lucky if they get 8 hours.  Part of the struggle is that in adolescence it is normal for the circadian rhythm (the body’s natural sleeping and waking pattern) to shift.  Adolescents often cannot fall asleep until close to 11pm.  However, most schools start before 8am.  That means there isn’t even enough time to get proper sleep.


This will seem obvious, but it is worth mentioning.  Things that can help your teen fall asleep earlier are keeping their room very dark at night, finishing dinner by 7pm, stopping homework and phone use by 8:30pm, and using the last half hour of the day to wind down.  Do not let your teenager have a TV in their room, or let them play video games in their room.  Those are two activities associated with mental alertness; their room needs to be associated with rest.  Also, their bed needs to only be used for sleeping.  A lot of teens like to do their homework on their bed, text while sitting on their bed, read on their bed, etc.  Again, you want your child to mentally associate their bed with sleep.  These are all things that can help you get your teen to bed by 9pm.


Initially you may experience resistance on the idea of an earlier bedtime.  Try and explain the benefits.  Tell your teenager that school becomes easier with more sleep.  Tell them also that they will be healthier, have more energy, and get along better with family.  For teens who struggle with their weight, explain to them that the proper amount of sleep is scientifically linked to a healthier body weight.


When a parent brings their teenager into counseling, one of the first things I check on is how much sleep the teen is getting.  Many adolescents are brought in for depressed moods, irritability and low self-worth.  Most of the kids who feel this way also are very short on sleep.  Many of these kids sleep about 6 hours per night during the school week.  Right away we agree on improving their sleep schedule.  We move up their bedtime by a half hour each week until they are in bed with the lights out for 9 hours per night.  In about 25% of cases, this is all the adolescent needs to feel completely better.  In almost 100% of cases it helps the adolescent feel somewhat better.


After you read this take a few minutes to examine the sleep patterns in your family.  Is everyone watching TV before bed?  Are some members of the family texting until they fall asleep?  Are your kids doing homework until 11pm?  Are you having to wake your teenagers up two or three times every morning before they start getting ready for school?  These are all signs of bad sleep hygiene (yes, that’s an actual term).  Maybe if everyone works on it, the whole household will get along better.


Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT