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Journal Prompts For Teens

Expressing thoughts in journal form can be fun!

Another opportunity for teens to do some journaling! Bottom Line: Journaling is good for you. Here’s some scientific research related to journaling. Prepare to have your mind blown!

The simple act of journaling:

If you could get all that in a vitamin, you’d take it – no questions asked. 

Ideally, you should journal 2-3 times a week, but there are no rules. It doesn’t matter if you use paper, a computer, a journaling notebook or even a note on your phone.

There are different types of journaling and approaches. But let’s get right to those burning questions on your mind:

What do I write about? Exactly. You can write about that. 

What if I want to figure out everything I write before I write it? Interesting. Write about that.

What if I don’t have a journal? Grab a napkin and write about whether or not it matters.

Journaling is a lot like so many things in life: You get out of it what you put into it.

These journal prompts for teens may be just what you need to get started.

  1. Describe an important item from your childhood. Why was it important? Where is it now?
  1. You get to talk to a dead person. Who would you choose, and why? What do you want to talk about?
  1. Describe your happiest childhood memory in detail.
  1. Explain something that happened to you that’s so strange, nobody believes you.
  1. In an abandoned cabin, you find a shiny box with a single red “DANGER” button. Do you push it? Why or why not?
  1. What’s something you want to learn how to do? Why?
  1. Where would you like to visit right now? What would you do there?
  1. What’s your favorite memory involving food?
  1. What accomplishment makes you feel the most pride? Why?
  1. The best advice you’ve ever received is…
  1. What’s something you could teach someone to do? How did you learn it?
  1. What are you most grateful for today?
  1. Name one thing you know is true.
  1. What’s a positive character trait or quality that you’re known for? What developed this trait in you?
  1. What character trait or quality can you grow in? How could you achieve that growth?
  1. You’re now in charge of the entire world. What would you change, and why?
  1. You can be any fictional character from a book or movie. Who do you want to be? Why?
  1. You can wake up tomorrow having gained one ability or talent. What do you choose? Are you willing to work at it? Why/Why not?
  1. Who are five people you admire, and why?
  1. What’s your favorite holiday, and why?

Finish these sentences:

  1. Life is mostly just…
  1. I used to think… but now I realize…
  1. I wonder if…
  1. I totally believe…
  1. It gets on my nerves when people…
  1. I hope I never forget…
  1. One thing I want to accomplish this month is…
  1. Success in life basically depends on…
  1. Cake or pie? Explain why the correct answer is definitely ______.
  1. When I’m happy…

Time for some fun!

  1. You find an envelope at the park with your name on it and $5,000. What do you do?
  1. Aliens abduct you and ask you to describe the human race.
  1. You can have one candy for free for life. What do you pick? Why?
  1. You wake up and the world is experiencing a zombie apocalypse. Realistically, how long do you survive and why? (Assume slow zombies, not fast, rage ones.)
  1. You run into someone who in all ways is your exact twin. How do you both make the most of this situation?
  1. If you could live in any part of the world, where would you choose? Why does it appeal to you?
  1. You can enter any video game as an NPC. (Non-Playable Character.) What game would be the most fun to wander around in? Why?
  1. You are now the world’s foremost collector of ______. What do you collect and why?
  1. If you could change one traffic law, what would it be? Why?
  1. You have the most vivid, realistic dream of eating a giant marshmallow. You wake up and your pillow is gone. What’s your first thought?

Other blogs:

Conversation Starters for Kids and Parents – First Things First

100 Conversation Starters To Increase Your Family’s Connectedness

7 Ways to Deepen Your Connection With Your Teen – First Things First

How to Help Your Teen Deal With a Breakup

Here are some do's and don'ts to keep in mind.

One of the most challenging things for a parent to handle is when their child experiences pain. Whether it’s a scraped knee from learning to ride a bike or a bump on the chin from running around, you hurt when your child hurts. Sadly, you can’t always protect them as they grow up. For example, there’s heartbreak after a relationship has ended. How do you help your teen with the pain of a breakup when all you want to do is stop them from hurting? 

It can be tricky, but these do’s and don’ts can guide you as you try to help your teen deal with a breakup.

Do:

Recognize that breaking up is a process.

Today’s breakup looks different from the old-school breakup, which may have included burning everything tied to the ex. These days, it takes time for the relationship to end.

Empathize with what your teen is feeling.

Say something like, I would imagine this is hard. Or ask, What can I do to help? This lets your teen know that you care and are there for them when they need it.

Try to be a good listener.

Now’s the time to practice your listening skills. Be open to what your teen says. Take advantage of the little moments. When you ask with care and gentleness, they become more receptive and less defensive.

Expect emotions. 

It may sound cliché, but breaking up is hard to do. Your teen may experience various emotions, ranging from anger, disappointment, embarrassment, loneliness, or sadness. Support them as they feel what they feel.

Understand that breakups cause ripple effects in different areas of their lives.

So much of your teen’s life is interconnected, so being aware of how the breakup affects the different parts is huge. School is a prime example. Are they in the same clubs or classes with their ex? Will friends choose sides? And let’s not forget what happens on IG or Snapchat. 

Help your teen process what they learned about themselves from the relationship and the breakup.

The process of dating teaches teens things like:

  • what they like
  • what they don’t like,
  • who is a good match for them and who isn’t 

Your teen also learns what was good about the relationship, what they discovered about themselves from the relationship, and what they would do differently going forward.

Share with your teen that breakups are a natural part of dating relationships.

As your teen continues to date, there will probably be more breakups when at least one party isn’t enjoying the relationship anymore. And since most people don’t marry the person they date as teenagers, lead your child to learn more about themselves and how they will date differently.

Encourage them to get back to their “normal” routine.

After the initial shock of the breakup, encourage your teen to get back into the swing of things. If you loosen the rules about chores or allow them to take time off from their part-time job, they may need some motivation to get back on track. 

Watch for signs that they aren’t bouncing back. Seek professional help when necessary.

Experiencing grief and sadness after a breakup is normal, but be aware if you notice prolonged changes to their regular eating or sleeping patterns. Do they complain of stomach aches or headaches? Avoiding school? Yes, teens have wonky sleeping and eating habits, so it can be hard to tell. This is recognizing changes in your child’s patterns.

Don’t:

Try to fix it.

Accept that you can’t fix this. Support your teen as they go through it. Calling their ex’s parents only complicates things. 

Make it about you.

When talking with your teen, keep the focus on them. Yes, you have personal experiences, but share the lessons you learned without overidentifying. Encourage them to become the best version of themselves, not a carbon copy of you.

Allow them to vent exclusively via technology. (Facebook, IG, Snapchat, etc.)

The internet isn’t the place to air feelings or grievances about the ex, relationship, and breakup. Once it’s out there, everyone can see it – forever.

Minimize the relationship. 

Most teen relationships develop out of parents’ view, either in school or via technological means (e.g., text, FaceTime, messaging, etc.). The relationship may not seem genuine or a big deal to you. However, it’s front and center in your teen’s life.

Don’t bad mouth the ex – even if it’s true.

Saying negative things to cheer up your teen isn’t helpful. (Things like, They weren’t good enough for you, or I didn’t like them anyway.) Teens often get back together. Try to show support without tearing others down.

No matter how much you want to keep your children from experiencing pain, it’s inevitable. Guiding them toward more self-awareness and resilience through the breakup process can help them grow and remember the purpose of healthy dating. Then, you can frame the breakup as a success, not a failure. Dating is about finding a good match. At this time, it wasn’t a good one for them. Dating worked. They figured it out.

Other blogs:

How to Be an Emotionally Safe Parent – First Things First

8 Warning Signs of Unhealthy Dating Relationships – First Things First

Dating Violence in the Digital Age – First Things First

How To Make Sure Your Child Knows You Love Them – First Things First

How To Find a Counselor for Your Teen

Here's what you need to know to make a great choice for your teen.

If your teen is struggling, you want to fix whatever’s wrong and try to help. And maybe they need help, but chances are, they’re going to talk to someone else before they talk to you. Right? Well, if they need to talk and they won’t talk to you, you’ll want to do everything in your power to find someone who will lead them in the right direction and encourage them to make good choices. That’s why finding a counselor for your teen just may be the answer you’re looking for. 

A counselor can be a great resource to help your teen manage any number of issues they may be dealing with. But the process doesn’t have to be overwhelming. 

Think about this: finding a counselor is a lot like interviewing folks to fill a job position. When hiring someone, you want to find the right fit. 

It’s the same with choosing a counselor for your teen. You wouldn’t want to hire the first person to walk into a job interview. It’s the same with choosing a counselor; it’s wise to “shop around” and find the best fit for your teen. 

But how do you go about doing that?

Here are some helpful tips for finding a counselor for your teen: 

Do a search.

Finding a counselor in your area can be as easy as an internet search. But be sure to look at reviews. Check over their website, and ask around about counselors you may be interested in. 

Don’t underestimate the power of a good recommendation. Ask people you know who have used counselors. Therapists often specialize in adults and adolescents, so don’t discount the ones adult friends have seen. 

Pay attention to the credentials. 

You wouldn’t want to hire a person without the right qualifications, and it’s the same with choosing a counselor. Except this is your teen who needs help. Here’s a simple breakdown of what counselor credentials look like:

  • Counselors are either licensed or unlicensed by the state where they practice. Licensed counselors have initials after their names, like LPC, LPCC, LCPC, or LMHC. They hold a master’s degree or higher, have completed a certain number of supervised training hours, and have passed a licensure exam. Ideally, you should seek out a licensed counselor.
  • Some unlicensed counselors are working toward either their advanced counseling degree or licensure. They usually offer cheaper rates and must disclose the status of their services. Because they work under the direct supervision of experienced therapists, these counselors can also be very helpful. 
  • Some counselors are psychiatrists (PsyD or MD). This means they hold a medical doctorate, can diagnose mental illnesses, and can prescribe medication.
  • Some people advertise themselves as counselors but are not licensed. These professionals may or may not hold advanced degrees in areas of counseling or psychology. When seeking the services of unlicensed counselors, it’s wise to use caution. 

Ask a potential counselor questions before the first session. 

Consider questions such as: 

  • Do you specialize in child and adolescent therapy? 
  • How long have you been in practice? Are you licensed by the state? Is your license current? 
  • What issues do you specialize in? (Counselors will typically specialize in depression, LGBQT+ issues, addiction, or other issues that may pertain to your teen’s situation. These are usually spelled out on their website if they have one. Be sure to ask if you don’t see an issue that pertains to your teen.) 
  • What kind of approach do you use with your teen clients? (Most counselors have theoretic approaches they use, but don’t let the psycho-babble throw you off. Get a sense of how the counselor relates to their clients in a way that’s understandable to you.)

Consider the financial aspect.

Check to see whether a counselor accepts insurance and, if so, whether they are in-network. Some counselors base client fees on household incomes (called a sliding scale). Fee payment schedules can also vary from counselor to counselor. Some require payment at the time of each session, while others allow a certain number of sessions to go by. Be sure to ask about how the counselor handles their client fees. I understand that many parents don’t plan for the expense of counseling, but it’s well worth the investment. Mental health is that important.

Ask what to expect with confidentiality. 

If a counselor chooses to conduct sessions privately with your teen, ask how they handle confidentiality. Don’t assume the counselor will share everything your teen says in the counseling room. Counselors work under the state laws and codes of ethics that direct them as to how to handle client confidentiality. Ask the counselor about this before the first session so you will know what to expect. 

As a parent, your teen’s mental health is a top priority. And you want their counselor to be effective. Good counselors are out there; it takes a little digging to figure out who can best be helpful. If you feel there’s no connection between the counselor and your teen after a few sessions, keep looking for a counselor who will be a better fit. Your teen will be more open and make better progress if they feel comfortable with their counselor.  It’s worth it! 

Other resources:

How You Can Help Prevent Suicide

How to Prevent Depression in Teens

Five Strategies to Help Your Teen Deal with Post-Pandemic Anxiety

*If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, there are a number of websites and organizations with excellent resources for you. HelpGuide is a great place to start, along with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Teens experienced a lot of stress during the first round of the COVID-19 pandemic. They switched to virtual learning. They were isolated from friends. Sports got canceled. Celebrations were delayed or just didn’t happen. All these things had a significant impact.1 We thought it would all be over by now. And it looks like it is all on the verge of happening again. And it looks like it is all on the verge of happening again.

After COVID seemed to come to an end, many teens started experiencing symptoms of what scientists and doctors are calling “post-pandemic anxiety syndrome.” Yep, it’s a thing.

This syndrome is marked by an overwhelming sense of worry during this post-pandemic/repeat period. For some, the anxiety may stem from a lingering uncertainty about safety. Is the virus still a threat? Are we sure I can take this mask off? Am I still in danger? Should I put the mask back on?

For others, the cause of anxiety seems to be a product of flip-flop thinking. We know that our brains can train themselves to think in a certain way.2 Your teen has had over a year to adjust to new and sudden precautions, rules of social distancing, and risk management during extreme uncertainty. 

As if that’s not stressful enough, now we’re experiencing an almost equally instantaneous shift back to pre-pandemic life while there’s so much uncertainty about the variants. Take off the masks, go back to the ball fields, get ready for school. Some teens are celebrating. But for many, the anxiety increases.3

If your teen is showing some signs of post-pandemic anxiety, you can help them. Try these strategies to help them deal with what they may be experiencing. 

1. Keep the dialogue open.

Be open to your teen voicing their worries, fears, and stress to you. Let them know you’re a safe place for them to express their thoughts and feelings without judgment. Avoid pushing the issue if they don’t want to share, but keep that open door in their sights. If they know you are in their corner, it makes a difference. 

2. Normalize their feelings.

Your teen may feel weird or abnormal because of their anxiety. They might think that no one could possibly understand what they’re feeling. Reassure them that our whole world has been through a lot, and those anxious feelings are normal. There’s nothing wrong with them; they’re not “less than” because of their worry. Remind them that it’s how we go about coping with anxiety that is important. 

3. Coach them to get plenty of sleep.

In general, teens typically get less sleep than they need for proper health and development. But a healthy amount of rest is vital for coping with anxiety. Evidence is strong that sleep deprivation negatively affects mental health.4 The CDC recommends 13 to 18-year-olds should get 8-10 hours of sleep a night for optimal health.5 Encourage your teen to hit the hay at a decent hour so they can take care of themselves.

4. Avoid making your own diagnosis.

You’re worried about your kid, and that’s completely understandable. You can see signs and symptoms of anxiety or stress. But professionals are trained to translate these signs into what precisely the problem is — not us. You want to be careful not to jump to “anxiety disorders,” “depression,” or other conditions in a knee-jerk reaction, especially to your teen. They can easily feel labeled. They may also interpret the label as an identity that can’t be fixed (e.g., I have an anxiety disorder; it’s who I am). This is obviously detrimental to how they feel about themselves, and it can magnify the troublesome feelings they are having. 

5. Consider getting help from a professional counselor.

If the signs you see are persistent or worsen, it might indicate that you need to seek a therapist for your teen. Keep in mind that it might not be a popular choice in your teen’s eyes. But often, intense feelings of anxiety and worry are so much that we need more advanced tools to cope with them. That’s where a counselor is beneficial.

One last thought from one parent of a teen to another:

There is always hope in conquering mental health challenges. Anxiety is manageable. And your teen stands the greatest chance of overcoming post-pandemic anxiety when they know you’re cheering them on. 

Sources:

1Freed GL, Singer DC, Gebremariam A, Schultz SL, Clark SJ. How the pandemic has impacted teen mental health. C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health, University of Michigan. Vol 38, Issue 2, March 2021. Available at: https://mottpoll.org/reports/how-pandemic-has-impacted-teen-mental-health.

2Berg, S. (2021, June 11). What doctors wish patients knew about post-COVID anxiety. American Medical Association. https://www.ama-assn.org/delivering-care/public-health/what-doctors-wish-patients-knew-about-post-covid-anxiety 

3Hunter, R. G., & McEwen, B. S. (2013). Stress and anxiety across the lifespan: structural plasticity and epigenetic regulation. Epigenomics, 5(2), 177–194. https://doi.org/10.2217/epi.13.8

4Talbot, L. S., McGlinchey, E. L., Kaplan, K. A., Dahl, R. E., & Harvey, A. G. (2010). Sleep Deprivation in Adolescents and Adults: Changes in Affect. Emotion (Washington, D.C.), 10(6), 831–841. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0020138 

5Sleep in middle and high school students. (2020, September 10). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/healthyschools/features/students-sleep.htm 

7 Strategies to Help Your Child Deal With Post-Pandemic Anxiety

Demonstrate your love, compassion, and care while walking them through their challenges.

Children, like adults, were struck with a sudden bombshell when COVID-19 arrived on the scene. Everything changed abruptly. Think about it. One day, they’re at school and seeing their friends. The next day, they’re home for an extended period. They’re isolated. Their world changed: masks, loneliness, increased family time, canceled activities, etc. The structure, predictability, and consistency kids need to thrive: gone. That’s a tough experience for a child to live through. It was even hard for adults.

As kids come out of the pandemic, it’s no wonder that so many are experiencing anxiety. Recent studies suggest the pandemic may be having a more adverse effect on adolescents than on adults.1 According to Dr. Bradley S. Jerson,2 your child may be dealing with post-pandemic anxiety if they are…

  • Spending a lot more time alone
  • Sleeping a lot more or less
  • Withdrawing from family or friends
  • Not interested in their favorite activities
  • Having changes in their overall mood
  • More irritated or angry
  • Stuck on negative thoughts
  • Hopeless about the future

As their parent, you want to help them manage their anxiety and adjust to normalcy.

These strategies can help your child deal with post-pandemic anxiety.

1. Be aware of your own mental health.

The Child Mind Institute states “that dealing with your own anxiety can be the most powerful way to make sure your kids feel secure.”3 Your children take a lot of their cues from you. So do whatever is necessary for you to be in a good space mentally. Practicing good self-care will equip you to help your child.

2. Give your child space and freedom to talk through their emotions.

What young child can do that by themselves? Not many. Try to ask questions in a gentle, non-judgmental way. Try, “What do you feel when we make plans to go to the supermarket or back to school?” This lets them know that whatever they’re feeling is acceptable and even normal. Studies show that after an event like a pandemic, mental health issues such as anxiety are common.4 Child expert Dr. Gene Beresin recommends that parents consistently listen and validate their child’s thoughts and emotions. This can help them transition to post-pandemic life.5

3. Create some routines, predictability, and consistency.

Children thrive when they know what’s coming. And it helps them adjust and know who to turn to for the things they can’t foresee. Morning or nighttime routines are helpful. Picking them up from school at a consistent time is also good. Several studies have shown that eating family meals together is beneficial for kids’ mental state.

4. Ease them back into their norms when possible .

Dr. Jill Ehrenreich-May and Dominique A. Phillips recommend taking smaller, manageable steps to move forward.6 Instead of going to an indoor birthday party, have your child choose a friend for an outdoor play date. Pick people and places that are most comfortable for your child, and use those spaces to help them overcome the paralyzing effects of their post-pandemic anxiety.

5. Talk them through what’s being done to keep them safe.

Young children look to their parents for security, safety, and protection. Asking your child what would make them feel safe can help them address their anxiety. Explaining what makes a situation safe helps build their trust in you as their parent to protect them. 

6. Get support for your child.

If your child continues to struggle, talk to their pediatrician, a school counselor, or find a therapist. Don’t hesitate to ask your child if they’ve had thoughts of self-harm. **If they have, call or text the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 (24/7).**

7. Celebrate the positives.

Dr. Jerry Bubrick, a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute, encourages parents to look for anything positive they can celebrate.7 Sometimes, we spend so much time focusing on what our kids won’t do. Instead, highlight the good stuff they’re doing: the family time you’re spending together, the books they’re reading. This can help shift their mentality and calm their uneasiness.

Each child responds differently to change. Your love, compassion, and care in walking them through their challenges are often the most crucial ingredients to helping your child deal with change, fear, uncertainty, and post-pandemic anxiety. You got this!

Sources:

1 The psychiatric sequelae of the COVID-19 pandemic in adolescents, adults, and health care workers.

2 Connecticut Children’s

3 The Child Mind Institute Anxiety and Coping With the Coronavirus

4 Life in a post-pandemic world: What to expect of anxiety-related conditions and their treatment

5 Gene Beresin, Executive Director of the Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds, Full professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School

6 Here’s How to Help Your Kids Break Out of Their Pandemic Bubble and Transition Back to Being With Others

7 Jerry Bubrick, PhD, a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute

Dear Dad,

Can I ask you a question? When you found out you were going to be a dad, were there parts of you that thought, “I’m gonna crush this. Everything my dad wasn’t around to do, I’m gonna do, because I’m not gonna be like my dad…”? Or did you say to yourself, “I don’t know how to be anyone’s dad. I had no one to show me how to be a good dad…”?

It seems like being a good dad would be a lot easier if you had someone who showed you all the things you’re supposed to do. There’s a part of us that believes we can figure out everything on our own. Every once in a while, you may get a reality check when someone else notices there’s something you didn’t know. 

Without a dad to tell you what you’re supposed to do, it’s normal to make mistakes. 

And it’s ok to not know how to do something. How would you know the right time to just give a good, strong hug if you weren’t shown by your father? Are you a bad dad? Probably not. Could you be better? Couldn’t we all? Is it a bit of a disadvantage to not having someone show you the way? Quite possibly. Is all hope lost? Far from the truth.

Shaunti Feldhahn’s research shows that men often worry that they don’t have what it takes. We fear that one day the people closest to us will find out. When I heard that, it hit my heart. I thought to myself, “When my kid finds out that I don’t know how to do the dad stuff, then they won’t respect me or even like me.” 

So what do you do?

You keep faking it and you keep being there. Keep being present, and keep listening to your kids’ stories. You keep telling them the little bit you do know. You keep making mistakes with them. Keep taking them places with you and keep hanging out. You keep hugging them when they hurt, challenging them when they say something that doesn’t seem right. And next thing you know, they start looking for you because they want to talk. They want to share their success and get encouragement after their failures.

One of the biggest things you can learn from your dad is to never run away. 

Because if your dad did, you know how it feels. And that’s what hurts the most. Instead, lean into your children. Running away could mean leaving the family. It could also mean running away from talking, from dealing with issues, from being open and vulnerable, or running away from what you don’t know.

It seems like every good action movie has an amazing running scene where the hero is running into a dangerous situation. (Will Smith got famous from his Bad Boys running scene.) Fellow dad, run into the situation. Run to your kids. Run to the hard stuff in their lives. That’s how the heroes are made. Not just in the movies, but also in the heart of your child.

Other helpful blogs:

How to Be an Emotionally Safe Parent

4 Ways To Be A More Present Parent

How to Be a Supportive Parent

5 Things I Wish I’d Known Before I Became A Dad

How to Talk to Your Teen About Drinking

Conversations around alcohol can impact life or death situations.

Drinking is one of “those topics” that parents need to talk about with their teens. Here’s some help navigating this potentially difficult conversation.

What’s potentially difficult? There are state laws and your house rules. Other parents (and therefore your teen’s friends) may have different rules about alcohol. Drinking is an activity where there is often intense peer pressure on teens. Also, teen drinking is usually paired with other behaviors like drug use, sex, and violence. (Your conversation might go in some unexpected directions.)

  1. State laws are a great place to start. They’re black and white. Make sure you know your state’s laws regarding alcohol, especially the laws regarding purchase, possession, and internal possession. (“Internal possession” means your teen may not have been found with alcohol on his or her person, but they had alcohol in them based on a breathalyzer or field sobriety test.) Laws can vary by state, especially when it comes to parents allowing a minor child to drink at their home or private property.
  • Make sure your teen knows the legal consequences of their actions, especially driving under the influence.
  • The Federal Trade Commission says the following: No state has an exception that permits anyone other than a family member to provide alcohol to a minor on private property. Translation: Party at a friend’s house whose parents provide or allow alcohol is always illegal.
  1. This is a good place to transition from your state’s laws to your house rules. Explain that there are many different opinions about alcohol. Your teen’s friends may have parents with different beliefs about drinking. That’s okay. What matters is the position you take as their parent and the actions you model regarding alcohol.

Parental postures vary regarding drinking for a variety of legitimate reasons

Some parents:

  • Have strong religious convictions against it. 
  • Were raised by an alcoholic parent. 
  • Struggled with alcohol when they were younger.
  • Have a friend or family member who is destroying their life with alcohol.
  • May be responsible, moderate drinkers. 

You aren’t judging the family down the street. This is a time for you to talk to your teen about some important life principles. Personal responsibility. Self-control. Moderation and balance. Choosing, not just between right and wrong, but between better and best. 

  1. To complete your due diligence as a parent, you have to address some typical teen behaviors regarding alcohol. Your goal isn’t to scare your teen but to definitely keep it real, give them facts, and leave an opening for further questions and future conversations.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) periodically release a Youth Risk and Behavior Survey (YRBS). Their latest is for 2019, and every parent should become familiar with it.

The 2019 Youth Risk Behavior Survey found that among high school students, during the past 30 days:

  • 29% drank alcohol.
  • 14% binge drank.
  • 5% of drivers drove after drinking alcohol.
  • 17% rode with a driver who had been drinking alcohol.
  • In 2019, female high school students were more likely to drink alcohol and binge drink than male students.

Youth who drink alcohol are more likely to experience:

  • School problems, such as higher rates of absences or lower grades.
  • Social problems. 
  • Unwanted, unplanned, and unprotected sexual activity.
  • Physical and sexual violence.
  • Increased risk of suicide and homicide.
  • Alcohol-related motor vehicle crashes and other unintentional injuries.
  • Misuse of other substances.
  • Changes in brain development that may have life-long effects.
  1. If it isn’t already, plan on this being an ongoing conversation. Ask your teen questions (but don’t interrogate them) about alcohol use among their peers, and try not to freak out about the answers. Ask them about their opinions and experiences with alcohol. Listen, don’t lecture. 

When you think of conversations with your teen, please view communication as a two-way street. Give them conversationally what you would like from them. What do you hope for when you talk with your teen about drinking… or drugs, or sex? You’re hoping for honesty, transparency, authenticity, and quality listening. Give that to your teen so they can return it.

Appropriately share things like:

  • When I was your age, alcohol was a big/small part of my home…
  • Kids at my school used to…
  • My friends and I…

This might sound risky and counter-intuitive, but teens operate a little differently. They often meet you at your level of “realness.” They clam up when they feel you’re “fishing” to pull info from them. When they say, “Things are so different now from when you were my age,” agree with them. Your teen is right. (Two words: Social Media.) But you still have much wisdom and life experience to offer. Your “missteps” don’t give your teen “license,” but they do give you credibility. Your teen will probably offer information if you sincerely offer it yourself.

    ★ Cultivate a relationship with your teen where they know they are loved and can talk to you about anything, anytime. This means investing time outside of “big talks” like this one.

BONUS THOUGHT:

I’ve actually had these conversations with my kids. Realistically, I knew my teens wouldn’t always make the right decisions. I told each of them that if they were in a situation where they would be driving impaired or had to ride with someone who was impaired, they could call me at ANY TIME. I would get them wherever they were. No questions asked. The number one priority was their safety. 

Some parents feel this gives implied permission to break the rules. I believe it’s an understanding that failure exists on a continuum. Your teen can’t learn life lessons if they lose their life. This is a serious topic and a tough one. You get to guide them. Good luck!

Sources:

Underage Drinking | APIS – Alcohol Policy Information System

Possession/Consumption/Internal Possession of Alcohol: About This Policy | APIS – Alcohol Policy Information System

Alcohol Laws by State | FTC Consumer Information

Youth Risk Behavior Survey Data Summary & Trends Report: 2009-2019

CDC Underage Drinking

How to Teach Your Son About the Importance of Consent

Talking about consent can help your son navigate the waters.

It’s hard to miss the headlines about people taking advantage of others, sex trafficking and lives being changed forever because someone made a decision without asking for or giving consent. In today’s world, parents feel the need to understand and explain consent to their children, but how should you even start that conversation? Is it a different conversation for boys than it is for girls? Is it possible to take the need for consent too far, like when you’re changing your newborn’s diaper? SO. MANY. QUESTIONS. Here are a few answers to guide your way.

I’m the mother of 3 sons. I’ve had several conversations with them about what consent is and how to incorporate it into all parts of their lives. (If you have a daughter, check out this blog on How to Teach Your Daughters About Consent.) 

For our purposes, consent is “permission for something to happen or agreement to do something.” So, at its foundation, consent is about respecting the boundaries of the people you interact with. Especially when it comes to sex.

It’s essential for parents to not have just one conversation about sex and consent. You’ve got to have ongoing discussions. 

More. Than. One. Many conversations. 

Your son’s future, his reputation, and his relationships could be at stake.

Those conversations change as your son continues to change, grow, and have different experiences. The consent conversation I have with my 14-year-old is totally different from the one I have with my 18-year-old. When you have these conversations with your son(s), the key is to affirm, not shame them.

Why is consent such a big deal now? 

Why does it matter that I talk to my sons about consent?

How do I even begin this conversation?

Having a healthy relationship with your son can set you up for great conversations, and it can help you teach him about the importance of consent. Here’s how to get the conversation started.

Be approachable. Let him see how approachable you are.

As the mother of 3 sons, I’ve learned that they enjoy “body humor.” There was nothing better than talking about who let loose a “silent but deadly” fart or who in their class could burp the theme song to their favorite cartoon without vomiting. Despite being grossed out, I was open to them sharing. From that openness, they felt comfortable coming to me about any subject as they got older. Maybe your sons enjoy animé or sports. Whatever they like, show interest in it. Your interest is the fertilizer for the garden of communication that grows as they grow. Talk to them often about things that matter to them.

Times have changed.

It may be hard to understand why you need to talk about consent to your sons. There have been several cultural shifts regarding specific behaviors, which in the past some people may have seen as “boys being boys.” One example is “pantsing,” where someone pulls down another person’s pants as a practical joke. This behavior is now seen as problematic and can be considered “assault.” 

It’s also helpful to talk about how to talk respectfully to or about other people. Sexual innuendo and objectification are topics you can bring up in everyday life (just look at the news for a springboard). Make sure they know what’s acceptable and what can be perceived as offensive to another person.

Talking about behaviors like these helps your son navigate the waters. It can also give them the courage to take a stand when someone is in danger, on the verge of making a terrible, life-altering choice, or making poor decisions. 

Respect is essential.

Teaching your son to respect the people in his sphere of influence is paramount. Respect begets respect. Even as parents, we can demonstrate respect to and for our children. I’ve taught my sons to knock on my bedroom door and wait until I say come in before they enter my room. I also knock on their doors before I go in. 

I also taught my sons to understand words like “NO” and “stop” from an early age. For example: When they were little, we played the “tickle game.” They knew when they said the password (Queen Mommy), I would immediately stop. This demonstrated to them that their words matter, and they can say “no” as well. 

Reiterate that no means no. And make sure they know how alcohol and drugs can impair a person’s decision-making abilities.

It’s essential to ask permission and get a clear verbal response.

I remember that old saying about what happens when you “assume.” Assuming can be downright dangerous. Instead, ASK. If asking yields a nonverbal response such as a head nod or a shoulder shrug, ASK AGAIN. Asking and getting a clear verbal response helps both parties understand what’s ok and what isn’t. No matter the situation, even if consent has been given, I’ve told my sons, “If you have a doubt, DON’T.” 

In other words, make sure they know that being invited into someone’s room or apartment is not an offer for sex. Taking someone on a date (or on a third date) doesn’t mean they owe you ANYTHING physical.

Consent is demonstrating respect for and listening to the people around you. Whether your son is 11 or 18, talk to him about consent, self-control, respect, and the potential consequences when those things are missing. Consequences could be legal, social, physical or financial. It could involve expulsion from school, losing a job, being arrested or being ostracized. Not getting consent is putting your life in someone else’s hands. 

Additionally, your son has a right to voice his permission, too. 

As I was talking to my college-bound son, he said, “Young men have the burden of doing the right thing in any given situation because consent is not just about dating. It’s about respecting people.” 

I think he’s right.

Other helpful blogs:

When Should I Let My Child Date

How to Have the Porn Talk With Your Kids

Conversation Starters for Kids and Parents

Teaching Consent to Elementary Students (George Lucas Educational Foundation)