Tracey Shipley
Youth, family and addictions counselor/creative therapist

Now Is the Perfect Time to Talk to Your Teens

Even in times like these, there are many issues facing our young teens and adults where they must decide if they stick to their guns and avoid negative social pressure or give in fearing being coined “Buzz Killers”.  One advantage of today’s situation where our kids are being forced to socially isolate due to the coronavirus is that there are fewer situations exposing them to uncomfortable and potentially dangerous peer pressure.  Of course with the internet,  some still exist but for now, no physical contact.  This provides us with an excellent opportunity to speak to our kids about all of those issues we have been reticent to approach in the past.  Knowing that our kids will be home for an extended period of time allows us to begin a conversation and continue it over time.

When approaching our kids it is all about presentation.  As we know, in general, it is not what we say but rather how we say it.  In my first article to the Jerusalem Post “Communication 101,” I discussed the importance of “I Messages”.  It is a simple formula: I feel…… when you…… I wish you would ……  . When our kids hear us beginning a conversation with the word I as opposed to You they are less apt to get defensive.  With I messages we are expressing how we feel about one specific issue, we outline the subject and we offer suggestions.  It is important to keep in mind that there are really only 4 primary emotions: Happy; Sad; Scared and Hurt.  Anger is not a primary emotion.  We get angry when we are either sad, scared or hurt or all three.  No one is just angry.  So in expressing I Messages, we must use one of the four described above.  Of course, we can also use I messages to say positive things as well: I feel happy when you respond to me in a polite and respectful way; I would love it if you could do that more often.

The second thing to keep in mind is that our kids Do want our approval.  I have known teens over the past thirty years while working with adolescents who have “acted out” as a way to get their parents’ attention hoping to be “called” on their negative behavior.  Curfews, rules, and boundaries show we care!!

The next important suggestion is to always give our kids choices as to avoid power struggles. We must define rules but we cannot enforce them against our kids’ wills.  What we can do is be clear about the consequences and be consistent in holding them accountable. I have known of parents who stick to their no’s and therefore there is no discussion hence no argument.  A great line I learned a while ago “You don’t have to show up to every argument you are invited to”!  How freeing is that?

So here comes my dare….  Here is a list of issues you now have plenty of time to discuss with your kids ages 12 and up:

  • Do you feel peer pressured by your friends to do things you think are bad for you?
  • How do you react?
  • Would you like to talk about ways to say no and keep friendships?
  • What do you know about alcohol abuse?
  • Did you know that you can die from drinking too much?
  • What do you know about smoking?
  • Did you know that vaping can be just as dangerous as smoking?
  • Do any of your friends use drugs?
  • Do you know the effects of drugs and alcohol particularly on kids under the age of 25?
  • Have you heard any stories of friends who have been hurt from drugs, alcohol or smoking?
  • Is there any bullying in your school?
  • Have you ever been bullied or seen it happen?
  • If so how did you react?
  • Would you like to talk about tools to avoid being bullied?

All of these are scary subjects.  In my article “The Elephant in the Living Room” I discussed our tendency to see things in our families that we don’t know how to address and end up ignoring.  As we all know, the problem just gets worse.

This virus is a horrible pandemic killing many and scaring us all.  But out of every tragedy and trying situation, there is always a message we can carry, a situation we can benefit from and an opportunity to use it to our advantage in some way.  I propose we use this time as one where we truly get to know our kids.  Ask the tough questions.  Research together online information that can help you and your kids to figure out how to deal with challenging situations.  I am certainly here it help you if you need some extra coaching.  I have had my share of challenges with my three now young adults and have learned more than I would have liked to.  But thirty years, three kids and hundreds of teens and young adults later I have the tools I need to arm parents with answers and approaches.  I guess that’s what preparing for our Tikun is all about.

Here are some helpful links to read together with your teen and young adult that will arm you with tools as well:

The dangers of Vaping:  https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/basic_information/e-cigarettes/Quick-Facts-on-the-Risks-of-E-cigarettes-for-Kids-Teens-and-Young-Adults.html

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LIyzUVfJpN4

The dangers of Teen Smoking:  https://www.google.com/search?q=dangers+of+teen+smoking&rlz=1C1AFAA_enUS432IL615&oq=dangers+of+teen+smoking&aqs=chrome..69i57.4971j0j4&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8

The dangers of Teen Drinking: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK37591/

The dangers of Teen Drug Abuse:  https://www.addictioncenter.com/teenage-drug-abuse/

The dangers of Teen Bullying:  https://mastersinpsychologyguide.com/articles/psychological-effects-bullying-kids-teens/

Good luck and reach out if you would like: www.jerusalemteencounseling.net

About the Author
Tracey Shipley is a youth and family counselor specializing in addictions and family communication. She was born in the US and moved to Israel in 1984 to continue her studies in Art Therapy. She moved back to the US in 1989 and began working in a drug rehab for teens where she was trained while she worked as a primary counselor. She moved back to Israel in 1996 and continued her work in addictions at the Jerusalem Methadone Clinic for a total of 9 years. She initiated projects for the children of the addicts at the Center, for Ethiopian Teens and a Sober Music Bar for teens and young adults: Sobar Jerusalem.
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