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I was sitting at my middle school son’s football game. Some parents around me were discussing who was dating who in the school. I kept quiet during the conversation, but was anxiously waiting for them to mention my son. They did. I was astonished and a little embarrassed because I was totally unaware my son was “dating.” I knew for a fact he didn’t go anywhere with anyone. That’s what I consider “dating.” All he did was talk on his phone. 

How does that constitute dating? 

As soon as we left the game, I must confess I blindsided him with the question, “How is your girlfriend?” [Mom Smirk.] He gave me one of those looks only a teenager could give. “Mom, I don’t have a girlfriend.” [Teen Eye Roll.] “That’s not what I heard.” The more we went back and forth, the more frustrated he became, and the angrier I became. He was ADAMANT  he didn’t have a girlfriend. Truth be told, I was confused. I soon recognized that not believing him was damaging our relationship

How could I have prevented this from happening? 

Could I have better engaged my son in a conversation about his “romantic relationship?”

How can my misstep help you?

⇨ Related: 6 Tips for Teaching Your Teen Healthy Dating Habits

Learn The Language

This is a time when the teacher becomes the student. Be humble and allow your teen to teach you the new relationship lingo. Your willingness to learn and listen shows you respect your teen’s perspective and you care about what’s going on in their world. 

Recognize and Accept Things Have Changed

When your teen says things have changed, believe them. The words and labels they use—DIFFERENT. The modes of communication they use—DIFFERENT. The definition of relationships—DIFFERENT. Trying to impose the “old way” on them will be met with rolled eyes, resistance, or worse. 

Be An Askable Parent When You Talk to Your Teen About Romantic Relationships

Take time to listen. Be open and genuine. You might hear some “stuff” that shocks or surprises you. You have to use your poker face. You’ll be tempted to turn a conversation into an interrogation. If your teen perceives a negative reaction from you or gets bombarded with a billion questions or a long lecture, it can cause them to stop talking and create distance.

⇨ Related: How Do I Get My Teen To Talk To Me?

Build Up Your Relationship

Cultivating and maintaining your relationship with your teen provides space for this conversation. As your teen grows, your relationship with them should grow from more directive to coaching them through life and relationships. The more you try to control or force a relationship with your teen, the more they can pull away from you. 

If your teen says they are in a romantic relationship, here are some conversation starters to ask your teen:

  1. Are you able to be yourself in the relationship?
  2. Do you show respect and feel respected in your relationship?
  3. Do you have realistic expectations about the relationship?
  4. Are you feeling pressured in your relationship?
  5. Do you feel you have the time to devote to the relationship?

The key to guiding your teen through romantic relationships is to stop being a talkative parent and become a parent your teen wants to talk to. Keeping the lines of communication open between you and your teen builds and supports the relationship

Sure, “dating” might look different now, but there is still no substitute for a close, healthy relationship with your teen.

Check out some other blogs on healthy dating habits here:

(Part 2) – Check out Part 1, How to Talk to Your Teen About Sexting

In part one, we talked about giving your child a smartphone and what they need to know about sexting to protect themselves. Now, regardless of how you found out, you know your teenage son or daughter is sexting. Step #1, get a hold of your own emotions—embarrassment, guilt, disappointment, shock, anger—so you can have a productive conversation with your teen. If you need to go for a walk, phone a friend, talk to your spouse—whatever. It’s completely okay to tell your teen, “We’ll discuss this tomorrow.It’s not only okay, but it is also very wise. You have thoughts to get together.

Thought #1: What do I want to accomplish with this conversation—for my teen and for myself as a parent? Don’t rush thinking this through. Have goals.

Thought #2: This isn’t going to be a one-time talk. You want to open the door for an ongoing conversation about sexting as well as other difficult teen conversations—pornography, sex, drugs, alcohol, dating violence, etc. You want to be an empathetic, askable parent who your teen feels comfortable talking to about anything.

Thought #3: Try to find a time and place that allows for private undistracted, uninterrupted conversation. 

[Here’s an example of a real conversation about pornography. Notice the parent doesn’t lecture, doesn’t ask a million questions, doesn’t guilt-trip their child. The parent clearly doesn’t condone pornography but is more interested in gently probing their teen’s thoughts, ideas, and beliefs. This doesn’t mean there will be no consequences. But the parent is trying to build a relationship to keep these kinds of talks going.]

Step 1

In a calm, direct voice, ask your teen about the circumstances around the sexting. Then wait and really listen to them without judgmental faces or tones. Keep your mind and your body language open. You can disapprove of what your teen did but still be deeply concerned about them, validate their feelings, and the fallout of their choices. 

✦A word about punishments for sexting. The normal, obvious go-to is to take their phone away. Maybe you need to in their situation. This might be their 5th offense. They may not be ready for the responsibility that comes with a smartphone. Maybe they need an off-the-shelf phone that just allows them to talk and text. 

I don’t usually dabble in how parents punish their kids. Every kid and every family is different. I will say this: I’m a big fan of letting the universe handle some of the disciplining of my kids. I’m referring to natural and logical consequences. Sometimes the punishment is built into the poor choice. The choice to sext often has some built-in consequences like guilt, humiliation, a destroyed reputation, being bullied online and in real life, getting in trouble at school, the law getting involved, and on and on. You know your child better than anyone. How are they navigating these consequences? Do you need to drop the hammer on them or help them up? We’ve all done something we regretted. Making mistakes is a normal part of growing up. The important thing is to learn from it.

Step 2

Ask probing questions. NOTE: This is different than an interrogation. As you have a conversation, try to work in some of these questions.

  • What do you get out of sexting? How does it make you feel?
  • Did you feel pressured to do it?
  • Did the recipient promise not to show anyone?
  • What is considered “normal” about sexting among your peers?
  • Have you received sexts? What did you do with them?
  • Are there things on your phone you wouldn’t want me to see?
  • What has been the fallout of your sexting?
  • Do you think sexting is wrong? Why or why not?

Resist the urge to lecture or ask a million follow-up questions. Act comfortable and be direct. Show you’re really listening and trying to understand your teen and let them feel heard. You may not get to all this in one conversation. That’s okay. Know when to stop the conversation. You can always pick it back up. Let your teen know you love them no matter what.

Step 3

There are some things your teen needs to know about sexting. (They will roll their eyes. Ignore it.) You have a responsibility as a parent to make sure they know and understand certain things. So what are you supposed to do, whether you think your teen is sexting already or whether you’re worried they might start in the future? Believe it or not, you’re not completely powerless. So what can you do? Sheknows.com breaks it down.

  • Talk to your teen. A scary thought for many of us, but one of those unavoidable responsibilities of parenting. Talk to them about the possible long-term consequences of getting involved in sexting. Like the fact that nude images of kids under age 18 are child pornography, which is illegal. Talk about the short-term consequences, like the whole school getting a hold of a “private” photo shared with a former boyfriend or girlfriend. Talk about self-esteem and self-respect. Consider how you might be setting yourself up for a lot of drama.
  • Set rules. Do you let your kids drive drunk? Do you let them ride in the car with no seat belts? So why give them something as dangerous as a cell phone and not establish rules? Start random phone checks, and go through everything on it regularly.
  • Take away the cell phone. Drastic, yes, but sometimes necessary when nothing else is working. If you truly don’t trust your child, why would you trust them with a tool they can use to bully others? 

Resources:

Common Sense Media: Sexting Handbook

Amanda Todd Legacy Society

Amanda Todd YouTube Video (Some might find content disturbing.)

6 Things Every Teen Needs to Know About Sexting

Why Is Sexting a Problem for Teens?

The Consequences of Sexting for Teens

If you or a loved one are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

(Part 1), Check out Part 2, What to Do If When Your Teen is Sexting

Maybe one of the biggest generational divides today is digital. Parents think it’s just a mobile phone that you can check email on and get driving directions. They can listen to music, shop, and keep up with friends on Facebook. For a parent, usually, their phone is just a part of their life.

But to kids, a smartphone IS their life. Online is where the action’s at—at least the action that matters. It’s where they “hang out” with their friends and flirt and gossip. It’s where they carry on their romantic relationships. It is also where they stand up for beliefs and express opinions. It’s not just a phone for them. It’s a passport to a world where their identity is fluid, time and space are more than relative, there are very few rules and often very little parental supervision.

So, it shouldn’t be surprising that parents often seem in the dark about sexting. This is why so many parents can’t believe their shy, introverted, reserved daughter is sending nude pictures of herself to classmates or her boyfriend. “She’s not that kind of girl!” She probably isn’t—in the real world.

But it’s a whole different world online.

Get past the parental, “Why would they do that?

Keep in mind that to most teens, sexting has been normalized. Sexting is a “normal” way to interact with their peers. Many young people see nothing wrong with sexting, especially if “everyone is doing it,” or they are in a “committed” relationship. Meanwhile, some teens sext because they’ve been dared or they’re trying to entice someone. Some view it as a joke, and sadly, teens often feel pressured to sext. 

Think of the combination of being at an age when you are already curious about sex and also have all this technology at your disposal. Some teens find the combination irresistible.

1. What is “sexting?”

Sexting involves the exchange of sexually suggestive or explicit content, such as messages or photographs, between mobile devices. Interestingly enough, the word was first listed in the dictionary in 2012—around the time smartphones were gaining popularity among teens. (The good news is that actual sex among teens has been going down for the last 10 years according to the CDC. But the bad news is, many attribute this decrease in actual sex to increases in the use of pornography and sexting.)

A study in JAMA Pediatrics published in 2009 found that about 15% of those between the ages of 12 and 17 had sent sexts. And approximately, over 25% have received them. 

Almost 10 years later, according to research by JAMA in 2018, as many as 1 in 8 youth send or forward sexts without permission, which can devastate the subject or recipient of such messages. One report uncovered that some children as young as 10 years old are exposed to sexting. Unfortunately, 54% of teens under the age of 18 admit to having sent sexually-tinged messages or inappropriate pictures. 

So, sexting is on the rise.

We know that 53% of teens who sext are girls while 47% are boys. 1 in 5 teens has sent or posted nude or semi-nude pictures or videos of themselves. Almost 20% of teens have reported being forwarded a picture or video that was not intended for them, with over half of those teens admitting to forwarding it to more than one other person

As we try to get accurate information on a subject that depends on self-reporting, the bottom line is that sexting is a growing teen reality that’s here to stay.

2. When should I talk to my child about it?

As soon as they get a cellphone or smartphone. Don’t wait until there’s an issue or you find something on their phone. This is a conversation that comes with receiving a phone. HERE is a great article about when and how you should give your child a phone.

All they might need to know is that some people use their phones for inappropriate things. If they receive a text, a request, or a picture that makes them feel uncomfortable, they need to bring it to Mommy or Daddy right away. They aren’t in trouble, Mommy and Daddy just want to talk to them about how to handle it. Remember, your child can do NOTHING wrong and still accidentally come across inappropriate content or have it sent to them.

3. How do I talk with my child about sexting?

Don’t lecture. Do not freak out if you’ve found something on your teen’s phone or you hear what some of their friends are doing. ASK QUESTIONS—compassionately and empathetically. Be a good active listener. HERE is a great blog about talking to your teen in general. HERE & HERE are great blogs about talking to your teen about sensitive topics like pornography and sex. They have great principles that apply to talks with your teen about sexting, too.

Remember—this is an opportunity. You can have a tone and approach that opens the door for future conversations and draws your teen toward you OR you can have a tone and approach that slams this important door shut and pushes your teen away. (And they won’t be talking to you about anything personal for a long, long time.)

4. What topics should I cover?

  • When nude pictures or partially nude pictures involve minors, many states consider this child pornography. Although state laws vary, in some states exchanging nude photos of minors also is considered a felony—even when the photos taken and shared are consensual. (These are the sexting laws from state to state.)
  • Remind your kids that once an image is sent, it can never be retrieved and they will lose control of it—even if they “delete” it. The image is out there forever. Ask teens how they would feel if their teachers, parents, or the entire school saw the picture because that happens all the time. (Remember, the part of their brain that takes long-term consequences into account when decision-making, literally has not fully developed yet. Teens are stuck in a moment and they can’t get out of it.)
  • Talk about pressures to send revealing photos. Let teens know that you understand how they can be pushed or dared into sending something. Tell them that no matter how big the social pressure is, the potential social humiliation from the spread of the picture can be hundreds of times worse. Remind them that they are opening themselves up to blackmail or “sextortion.” (Someone with a picture of them may threaten to post it all over their social media if they don’t send more.) It’s a big deal. A number of teens have committed suicide because their picture went around school with the sexual bullying that goes with it. Over half of the kids who experience online bullying also experience bullying in the real world. 
  • Teach them that we live in a world where getting a scholarship, a job, or into the school of their choice, often depends on what comes up when someone Googles their name. They need to know that the internet is forever.
  •  Empower them. If someone sends them a photo, they should delete it immediately. It’s better to be part of the solution than the problem. Besides, if they do send it on, they’re distributing pornography—and again, that’s against the law. They should know they can say no.

Even if your teen decides they totally trust the person, or they’re dating the person, it’s worth it to think about a few “what ifs” before sexting.

What if…

  • The recipient loses his or her phone?
  • A friend scrolls through his or her messages and sees it?
  • A parent checks the recipient’s phone and sees it?
  • The recipient changes his or her mind about not sharing it?
  • The relationship circumstances change? (They break up. Photo(s) goes EVERYWHERE, even to sweet Nana. This is called revenge porn.)

Is your teen willing to take ALL those risks?

Talking to your teen about sexting can be awkward and uncomfortable (for both of you), but it also has the potential to strengthen the bond between you and your teen. Just like other uncomfortable topics, probe gently, be a good listener, be an “askable” parent, and remember these aren’t one-time talks; these are ongoing conversations. You can do it!


If you or a loved one are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

When my wife and I thought our daughter was ready to date, our daughter was in panic mode before the first boy came to pick her up. She wasn’t worried about the boy; she was worried about me

Dad, are you going to grill him and ask him a million questions?

No Sweetie. I’m just going to ask him one question.

Really Dad? Just one question? Wow!

Yup. “Where are WE going?”

Not funny, Dad.

The reality is that WE aren’t going anywhere. THEY are. How do you know if your teen has a healthy understanding of dating, how to get to know someone, and will exercise healthy dating habits? Here’s a little quiz for your teen to pass before they start dating that will also provide you as a parent with some great talking points.

ARE YOU READY TO START DATING?

1. What is the purpose of dating?

  1. To have fun.
  2. To find someone to marry.
  3. There is no purpose. It’s just what teens do.
  4. To learn how to get to know someone.

Answer Key: Although you want your teen to have fun while dating (a lot of fun), the best answer here is, “To learn how to get to know someone.” Make sure your teen knows that there is a level of “fakeness” built into dating, especially at the beginning. This doesn’t mean people are being deceptive or dishonest, BUT both parties are trying to put the best version of themselves forward while possibly (probably) hiding parts of their real self and any of their flaws. Everyone is trying to sell an image of themselves. Getting to know someone takes time. It means seeing them in a variety of situations and paying attention to how they treat a variety of people—besides you. Oh, and marriage is like 15 years away.

2.  How long does it take to really get to know someone?

  1. First impressions are everything. 
  2. Their social media accounts show who they really are.
  3. Five or so dates.
  4. It really depends.

Answer Key: First impressions are important but can be totally misleading. So can social media. Some people post about their friends, family, hobbies, and little snapshots of their life. Some people create and curate a digital self-image that is far from reality. The bottom line is that it really depends. Assuming they treat your teen great because they are interested in them, your teen wants to watch for the following in who they date.

Watch for how they…

  • Treat their parents.
  • Act when they’re told, “No.”
  • Treat their siblings.
  • Treat their friends.
  • Respond to criticism.
  • Treat authority figures.
  • Treat people who wrong them.
  • Handle when things go wrong.
  • Treat people in need.
  • Respond to disagreements.

3. Your main goal in a dating relationship should be:

  1. Developing social skills
  2. Taking your time
  3. Growing emotionally
  4. Staying true to yourself

Answer Key: Trick question! Your teen’s goal in a dating relationship should be all of the above! If any of those things are NOT happening, it’s a bad sign. They should be growing into their best self. They shouldn’t feel rushed or pressured into anything, and their social skills should be developing as they learn how to interact with people. 

4. If there isn’t anybody in your life you’re truly interested in dating…

  1. Settle for the best you can get
  2. Explore online dating sites
  3. Lower your standards
  4. Hang out with your friends and pursue other interests

Answer Key: Your teen never wants to settle or lower their standards just so they can be dating someone. And they have no business being on some online dating site.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with not dating. Lots of people aren’t doing it. Your teen is probably avoiding a ton of drama while they have more time to hang out with their friends and pursue their interests, hobbies, and passions. And let’s not forget school. And more family time. It’s better to not be dating at all than to be dating the wrong person. Don’t settle!

5.  The best qualities or traits that you bring into dating are your…

  1. Hotness and popularity
  2. Personality and sense of humor
  3. Character and values
  4. Maturity and intelligence

Answer Key: Anything except (A.) is a great answer! Any fisherman will tell you that the bait you use will determine what you catch. Before your teen is ready to get to know someone else, they need to know who they are. They need to value and respect themselves, understand their strengths and growth areas, and have a strong sense of identity. Ask them follow-up questions about their personality, character, values, and maturity. Make them be as specific as possible and cultivate their self-awareness.

6.  “Red Flags” in a dating relationship would include…

The person…

  1. Constantly wants to know where you are and who you’re with.
  2. Tries to keep you away from your family and friends.
  3. Pressures you to go beyond your personal boundaries.
  4. Tells you how to dress.
  5. Tells you who you can be friends with or talk to.
  6. Puts you down a lot, even in a “joking” way.
  7. Blames you for every relationship problem or issue.
  8. Is not dependable, trustworthy, or honest.
  9. Makes you feel like you can’t be yourself with them.
  10. Makes you nervous that you’re going to do something to upset them or make them mad all the time.
  11. Wants to check your phone to see who you are talking to.

Answer Key: There are more “red flags” but those are all some important ones. What you want is for your teen to have healthy dating habits and be able to recognize a healthy relationship, an unhealthy relationship, and an abusive relationship. You want to know that your teen has a strong sense of their boundaries—both emotionally and physically—and can stick to them. The two of you might want to agree on a code word or phrase that if they say it in a call or text while on a date, you know they need to get out of a situation immediately.

You can’t get your teen ready for dating with a quiz. What you want is an ongoing conversation that continues throughout their dating life and sets them up for healthy dating habits. You know your teen better than anybody. You can help them get the fundamentals of dating so that dating is a healthy part of their teenage years that helps prepare them for adulthood. Trust me, you’ve got this!

Check out some other blogs on healthy dating habits here:

When Should I Let My Child Date?

What to Do When You Don’t Like Who Your Teen is Dating

10 Signs of Teen Dating Violence

Tips for Setting Dating Standards With Your Teens

10 Steps for a Low-Risk Teen Dating Strategy

People have sometimes said to me, “Chris, you have two daughters. Aren’t you scared to death of when they start dating?

I like to reply with an answer that really throws them for a spin: “Actually, I can’t WAIT for when my child dates!” (I usually either get a look like I have three heads or just a headshake-of-pity as they slowly turn and walk away with a “tsk-tsk…”). 

“Why can’t you wait?” you may ask. I know when my daughters begin to date, they’ll be entering a new phase in their social and emotional development, a period in their lives that will have life-transforming experiences. What they do in their early dating lives is going to shape who they marry, if they choose that route. And that’s exciting to me. (Not to mention, I’m chomping at the bit for that first you-can’t-go-on-a-date-with-my-daughter-until-I-interrogate-you meeting. I like to call it the “First Date Inquisition.”) 

Now, despite my gusto for dating, even I know there’s a healthy point for this phase to happen. Typically, when children and teens go through different stages of development, what happens in one stage plays a major role in how well they’ll get through the next. So, I want my daughters to enter into the dating stage of their lives as fully equipped and prepared as possible. 

So when should I let my child date?

That’s a hard question to answer. But, given all that I just shared, I can tell you when I won’t let my kids date.

When they can’t yet articulate to me a good purpose for dating.

Let’s be honest—when my daughter walks out of the house to meet someone for a date, the first thing on her mind probably isn’t, okay, I’m doing this because… She just wants to have fun, talk to someone who is as interested in her as she is in them. However, before that day comes, I do want her to have in her head why, overall, she wants to date. Because at the end of the day, there are good reasons and bad reasons to date. I don’t know that there’s a single right answer for all families to the question, “What’s the purpose for dating?” Parents and teens need to talk together to determine some positive purposes, with parents being the voices of wisdom. 

In our house, we talk about how dating:

  1. Prepares you to know better the kind of person you want to marry (if that’s something in the cards). 
  2. Is something that helps a young person grow into the person they are.
  3. Develops healthy social skills that are beyond friendship relationships. 

When they cannot yet grasp that their value doesn’t come from whether or who they date.

I want my girls to know that a romantic partner does not make them more of a person. They aren’t somehow “not enough” without a boyfriend. And that, despite what other people their age might be doing or saying, dating isn’t something you need to do because it helps you feel more accepted in your friend group. In other words, I want them to develop self-confidence and the beginnings of a firm identity beyond their dating life. 

When a teen knows this, it can protect them from adolescent dating risks. Research tells us that teens who have a healthy amount of self-efficacy, or self-assurance, are less likely to experience dating violence, use drugs or alcohol on dates, or cave into sexual pressures. 

If they don’t feel like they can communicate with me or their mom if something is wrong.

I’m just going to lay it out there for you: as much as it may pain you, when your kids begin dating, they will experience heartbreak, pressures, and temptation. They are going through the mental and emotional gymnastics of development. And they are going to come to points, many times, when they are stuck and need a voice of wisdom. That’s you. I want my daughters to know they can call me if they are at a place they don’t want to be and I’ll be there to get them. And I want them to feel comfortable to open up about what they are feeling or experiencing in a dating relationship. Despite popular belief, this is very possible

If they are dealing with depression or anxiety.

The bad news is that, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, 30% of adolescents experience some kind of anxiety, and Pew research tells us that 13% of adolescents in 2017 experienced at least one major depressive episode. The good news is, the vast majority of these issues in teens are very treatable. If my daughters experience any kind of depression or anxiety, I’m confident we can work through it over time. However, I don’t want a boyfriend or an active dating life to be the coping mechanism they use to deal with these things. Bad things happen when the “other person” is made the emotional crutch. 

When they can’t separate their dating life from their compassion for others.

What I mean here is sort of the reverse of the previous bullet point. Both of my daughters are very compassionate people; they’d gladly give everything they have to help someone who’s down and out. However, we’ve all seen relationships where one person stays because they feel the need to help the other deal with some issue. And this brings the fear that if you were to break it off, the other person might go off the deep end somehow.  This is “martyr dating,” and it’s not healthy. I want my daughters to understand that dating is not the avenue to walk people through their problems. 

A couple of caveats need to be made with the above points: 

  • Now, if I were to wait until my kids had all these things down in their development to let them date, well, they may be living in my house a verrrrrrry long time. Obviously, they won’t have it all together in their teen years. But the idea is to know my kids well enough to know that they are well on the road toward these developmental traits.
  • These developmental lessons begin well before teens are anywhere close to dating age. As a matter of fact, they begin with a close, connected relationship between parent and child. Parents need to be in the pocket, having ongoing conversations on these ideas with their kids. This is how children build self-confidence and trust to go to their parents with problems, even when they are older. Ongoing conversations help teens cope with anxiety and other emotional issues. And it helps them come to a good understanding as to the purpose of dating. 

There is no magic age a child should be allowed to date. It really depends on the child and where they are in their thinking and development. But one thing is for certain: parents need to become a student of their kids, continually learning more and more about how they’re thinking, what they’re feeling, and getting a sense of the direction of their development. This is the best way that we as parents can prepare our kids for a healthy dating life.

Image from Pexels.com

What is your teen asking you about the future? Do you have answers?

“What am I gonna do about school and soccer, Dad?” my 14-year-old son asked me. I didn’t know. I’d been asking myself the same questions for weeks and didn’t have any answers. It feels like new information comes out every day that undermines my decisions. Everything feels tentative. The future feels like a collection of shreds and patches. 

The last few months have left the foreseeable teen future uncertain. Your teen may be feeling a lot of anxiety: What will school look like? Will I be able to get a part-time job, play sports, play my favorite instrument in the band? What about prom and graduation?

And don’t forget their favorite part of school—seeing their friends. There’s so much unknown for them to process.

Don’t forget, they are old enough to wonder about your adult future and the family’s future. You may feel secure about your job situation, your finances, the health of family members—and something like divorce may be totally out of the question. This doesn’t stop your teen from worrying about those things.

All of these unknowns can easily translate into anxiety, stress, and depression for your teenager. (They can for us adults, too.)

When it comes to the important things in life, we all prefer certainty to uncertainty. But our adult brains are developmentally better suited to live with some uncertainty than our teen’s brain is. Their brain is still developing and processing so many unknowns (that they are invested in) can be particularly difficult for them. How can we help them?

[Read this blog that describes what is happening to teens developmentally.]

1. Model The Behaviors And Attitudes You Want For Your Teen

  • Self-Care: Tending to your physical health and emotional health.
  • Mindfulness: Deep breaths. Self-awareness. Focus. 
  • Critical Thinking: Decisions based on the most reliable information.
  • Optimism: “We are going to come out on the other side even stronger.”
  • Resilience: “We are going to take it one day at a time as a family.”
  • Gratitude: “We still have a lot to be thankful for…”
  • Service: “How can we help others who are struggling?” 

These are all things that your young adult needs to navigate uncertainties they will encounter as future adults.

2. Acknowledge When The Future Is Unknown & When You Just Don’t Know

We want to have answers for our teens and they often expect us to have them. It can be tempting to try to “fake it” or give the answer we think will make them feel better in the moment. Besides being disingenuous, in the long run, it will undermine their confidence in you. You don’t want to be seen as a source of false hope and misinformation.

It is totally appropriate (and honest) to admit it when we don’t know. Saying something like, “I don’t have enough information yet to confidently make a wise decision about that,” doesn’t undermine your trustworthiness and reliability; It enhances it. Your teen can relax (hopefully) and know that when you do make a decision it will be based on the best information and what’s best for the family.

3. Become A Student Of Your Teen 

Be on the lookout for the ways your teen might be struggling with anxiety and stress and depression. A very talkative teen may become quiet. A very quiet teen might become talkative. A normally social teen may become withdrawn. A teen that normally keeps to themselves might suddenly become a social butterfly. Look for any changes in their normal behavior. 

Keep in mind that sometimes teens deal with difficult emotions in unhealthy ways. Be on the lookout for outbursts, disrespect, risky, or harmful behavior. Watch their eating and sleeping habits. As you address their behavior, be sure to address what the real issue may be underneath it.

4. Be Open And Create Space For Your Teen To Express Their Anxiety

Teens will often “show” you when they are struggling before they will “tell” you they are struggling, but there are things you can do to keep the lines of communication open:

  • Make sure your teen knows you have an “open door” policy and that they can talk to you about anything, anytime.
  • Take advantage of car rides and other times you are alone with your teen that don’t feel like you are angling for a “big talk.” Teens often open up when you are doing something else, like cooking or watching television.
  • It’s okay to ask questions like, “How are you feeling about school this year?Then practice active listening skills.
  • Don’t “freak out” at what you hear. Keep that poker face.
  • Don’t ask a million questions, probe gently, empathize, and be a good listener.

5. Recognize When You Are Out Of Your Depth And Get Your Teen Help

Anxiety, stress, depression, and anger are significant and often complex problems—especially in the lives of teens. It is totally appropriate and necessary for you as a parent to recognize when you have reached the limits of how you can help your teen. Don’t stop there. Reach out for help. Contact a counselor.

The unknown is, well, unknown. It is normal to experience fear and anxiety concerning the unknown. There are lots of things that your teen cares deeply about that are just flat out up in the air at the moment. Don’t feel bad that you can’t make the unknown “knowable” for your teen. Model how to face the unknown, be there for your teen, and keep putting one foot in front of the other until the unknown becomes known.

We are four months into the Coronavirus Pandemic. When it first began, we were so shocked by the shelter-in-place rules that we decided to embrace this interruption in our “normal” lives. We were intentional about dinners as a family, spending quality time with each other and we even began family projects. Now, our teens have had enough “togetherness.” They either want to enter the world again or they may be withdrawn. For us, we so enjoyed our time with our teens that we don’t want it to stop. 

How can you deepen your connection with your teen?

1. Let them know their friends are welcome.

I mean, who’s not up for a party? Be up for a friend gathering for s’mores, a cookout, or an outdoor movie. Let your house be the place they want to hang out and don’t let money get in the way. If you can’t afford to supply all the food yourself, have everyone bring something. The key is to set the wheels in motion. As an added bonus, you’ll get to know their friends, too. Make sure that you get the “thumbs-up” from parents and are aware of social distancing and mask recommendations in your community. 

2. Disconnect to connect.

Multi-tasking is a major conversation-killer. For example, if your teen hates it when you talk on the phone when they are in the car, they may have a valid point. Who wants to feel excluded from a conversation? So, try to intentionally avoid talking when you are riding together. You know that little button that lets people know you’re driving? Use it, and make the time together in the car count. You have a captive audience and precious time in the car, so use it wisely. This goes for the dinner table and the living room, too.

3. Respect their space. 

It is key that you respect your teen’s space if you want to deepen your connection with your teen. If you have no reason to question their safety, please allow them some room to have their own thoughts, dreams, and goals. Give them the time and space to be a young adult. The more that you crowd them, the less likely they will be to share with you or even spend time with you.

4. Listen to them, even when it’s difficult to just listen.

When our teens hurt, we hurt. It may be easy to go into “Protective Mode” or “Fix-It Mode.” What they need from you is to listen and help them process—not take over, freak out, ask a million questions, or launch into a lecture. 

5. Find out what they like to do and join (apps like Snapchat, TikTok, read the same book and discuss, re-decorate a room together, etc.)

This may not be second nature to you. You may find that liking a post or trying to keep a Snap Streak alive shows that you care (and if you mess up the streak, they’ll let you know, which shows that they care, too). Allow them to teach you a new popular dance, then dance with them in a crazy TikTok video. 

6. Get into their world, even if you don’t understand it. 

You may not be a big fan of video gaming, sports, or animé. You may even dismiss its usefulness in your teen’s life. However, they have meaning to your teen. Getting involved with things that are important to them demonstrates that you value their interests and so, value them. It may open the door for you to invite them to join you in things you do. They may actually shock you by saying “yes.” 

7. If you bake it, they will come (and maybe even talk).

I have NEVER had my teens turn me down for a little one-on-one time if there is food or dessert involved. You may actually get more than a one-word answer to a question. This may look a little different depending on which child I’m wooing, for sure. It can be as simple as warming a pecan pie for my high schooler or as involved as cooking hamburgers on the grill for my college graduate. Once you find what works, it’s a win. 

These are jus a few ways for parents to increase their quality time with their teens. It’s important to make the most of the time that you have left with them at home. Before you know it, they will be off to college, military, or the work world.  

Here are some other blogs that may help you deepen your connection with your teen:

HOW DO I GET MY TEEN TO TALK TO ME?

HOW DO I KNOW IF MY TEEN IS DEPRESSED?

I THINK COVID-19 HAS MADE MY TEEN HATE ME

HOW DO I STOP FIGHTING WITH MY TEEN?

PARENTING THROUGH FORTNITE

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Your teen has been much more quiet and withdrawn lately. They aren’t very talkative, are easily agitated and their mood has consistently been down. The big question in your mind is, “Is my teen depressed?”

The teen years are filled with highs and lows, so much so that it often feels like being on a roller coaster ride in the dark with lots of twists and turns, none of which you see coming. In a word, these years can be full of turbulence.

With all of the change going on, it is sometimes hard for parents to know if their teen is just going through a rough patch or if something bigger is going on like depression.

Approximately 1 in 5 teens from all walks of life will experience depression at some point during their teen years, which can be very scary for parents. In many instances teens themselves don’t understand what is going on, why they feel the way they do or even how to talk about what they are experiencing.

According to the Mayo Clinic, signs and symptoms of teen depression include:

  • Feelings of sadness, which can include crying spells for no apparent reason
  • Frustration or feelings of anger, even over small matters
  • Feeling hopeless or empty
  • Irritable or annoyed mood
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in usual activities
  • Loss of interest in, or conflict with, family and friends
  • Low self-esteem
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  • Fixation on past failures or exaggerated self-blame or self-criticism
  • Extreme sensitivity to rejection or failure, and the need for excessive reassurance
  • Trouble thinking, concentrating, making decisions and remembering things
  • Ongoing sense that life and the future are grim and bleak
  • Frequent thoughts of death, dying or suicide
  • Tiredness and loss of energy
  • Insomnia or sleeping too much
  • Changes in appetite—decreased appetite and weight loss, or increased cravings for food and weight gain
  • Use of alcohol or drugs
  • Agitation or restlessness—for example, pacing, hand-wringing or an inability to sit still
  • Slowed thinking, speaking or body movements
  • Frequent complaints of unexplained body aches and headaches, which may include frequent visits to the school nurse
  • Social isolation
  • Poor school performance or frequent absences from school
  • Less attention to personal hygiene or appearance
  • Angry outbursts, disruptive or risky behavior, or other acting-out behaviors
  • Self-harm—for example, cutting, burning, or excessive piercing or tattooing
  • Making a suicide plan or a suicide attempt

When a teen is depressed, they can’t “just snap out of it.” But, there are things parents can do to help kids decipher their feelings and determine the best next steps. If a significant number of symptoms are present for two weeks, this is a good indication that it is time to reach out for help from a professional.

Things You Can Do If You Believe Your Teen Might Be Struggling With Depression

It may help to open the door to constructive conversation and let them know that if they are struggling with this, they can share with you.

Listen intently.

Avoid lecturing, as in, “If you would just…” It may be hard because they can be moody, but seek to be present and listen to what is going on in their world if they are willing to share with you. If they tell you how bad things are, avoid making statements like, “I think you are blowing things out of proportion” or “It really isn’t that bad.” Remember that perception is everything and even though you may feel like their perception is not accurate, this is their reality and understanding this is the starting point for being able to help them.

One other thing that might be helpful here—sometimes teens find it easier to talk about something difficult when they are doing something. Shooting hoops, running, taking a hike, doing yard work, cooking or anything that doesn’t make them have direct eye contact with you and gives them something to do with their hands while they are trying to share with you works. 

Encourage exercise, eating right, getting enough rest and being outdoors.

All of these things help to combat depression.

Acknowledge their feelings.

You don’t have to agree with them, but you do need to acknowledge them. When a teen is depressed they often feel like they are trying to slog through mud and fog. It’s hard to pinpoint feelings because everything feels “blah.” When they are able to pinpoint an emotion, validate it and work to keep the conversation going.

Avoid telling them what to do to “fix” the situation they are in.

Instead, ask them what they think they need to do. If they ask you for your thoughts, that’s the time to give some input. However, don’t give not too much because they can become overwhelmed quickly.

Work to help them avoid isolation and increase face time.

This is especially hard with COVID-19 factors at play. Be intentional about creating family time and encourage (don’t force) them to participate. Exercise with them. Look for activities they enjoy and do those things with them.

Limit screen time.

Many parents are tired of trying to take on this battle, but there is plenty of research indicating that lots of screen time can lead to depression. A recent study suggests that greater screen time—whether in the form of computers, cell phones, or tablets—may have contributed to a spike in depression and suicide-related behaviors and thoughts among American teens, particularly girls, between 2010 and 2015. Several studies show that when teens reluctantly agreed to give up screens for a week, they confessed at the end that they felt so much better without them.

Don’t be afraid to seek professional help.

As the parent, it is important to trust your gut if you feel your teen is depressed. If you don’t feel like anything you are doing is helping, seek assistance. You can go see someone or find someone for your teen to talk to. Having a depressed teen does not reflect poorly on you and your parenting skills. Adolescence is terribly complicated. Quarantine, COVID-19, no school, no summer camps or other activities has made it very hard on teens who are typically super social in nature.

Dealing with depression in your teen can be exhausting on multiple levels. Not only are you interacting with your teen and questioning whether or not you are doing the right thing, but thoughts about what you are experiencing can consume every moment of your day and sometimes the night. Walking this road can feel isolating and lonely, so it is important to surround yourself with supportive people, seek help for yourself, educate yourself and take time away to regroup. 

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When I was a teen, summer meant one thing: work. And lots of it. I had 2-3 jobs lined up before school was out each summer. That’s because my goal was to make as much money as possible. Part of my motivation was to put gas in my car, pay for any eating out, and try to save for college expenses. The other motivation was that my parents believed working would help me learn to be more responsible. They also thought it would give me other necessary skills for a successful life. 

With COVID-19 essentially slamming the door on the majority of summer jobs for teens, we face some challenges. The escape out of the isolation that many teens hoped for, the earning potential, and the learning opportunities that parents know come from working have been swiped right out of their hands. 

In fact, according to a Pew Research Center survey, young people ages 16-24 are more likely to face layoffs due to Coronavirus. Why? Because they make up 24% of employment in the restaurant, retail, and transportation industries. The lack of work leaves behind the opportunity to learn about working with others, being responsible, and accountable to someone other than parents. It may keep them from experiencing a sense of accomplishment from a hard day’s work.

Now what? With Plan A out the window, this is a great opportunity to help your teen put Plan B into motion. In spite of all that COVID-19 has taken from us, there are still plenty of things teens can do this summer. These things can make the time go by faster, but also help them continue to learn the skills they need to master before heading out on their own.

Here are four ways you can help teach your teen responsibility this summer in spite of COVID-19:

1. Set clear expectations for the summer.

Even though many options have been taken off the table, ask your teen to come up with a plan for their summer. The structure still matters and makes a huge difference in a teen’s mindset and motivation. Here are some important parts they may want to include in their plan:

  • Exercise
  • Some type of work
  • Help with household chores
  • Time with friends in a socially distant way
  • Things they need to learn to do for themselves (laundry, cooking, managing money, maintaining a vehicle, etc.
  • Family time.

2. Help them think through opportunities that do exist.

Think yard work, shopping for those who cannot get out, being a nanny or manny for parents who have lost childcare and summer camp opportunities, odd jobs, or construction. Don’t forget about those special projects you or others have been putting off or need help doing. Part of the goal here is to help them think outside the box about what’s possible during a difficult time.

3. Encourage them to look at their strengths and identify what they are passionate about.

Are there online experiences they could take advantage of to further enhance their skill set and make them more marketable in the future? Can they take a distance-learning course to help them finish school faster or lessen their class load down the road?

4. Ask them to take on more household responsibilities to give you some relief while providing practical experience.

It may feel like more of a headache in the beginning, but these are all things they need to be able to do once they are out on their own. Grocery shopping, meal planning, cooking and/or house cleaning or making household repairs could be ways they can step up and assist in a big way if they aren’t already. As a bonus, additional teen responsibilities at home is a helpful reminder that in times of crisis, everybody has something valuable to contribute to the good of the family unit.

Obviously, we are all dealing with the unknown here and looking for ways to navigate the constantly changing landscape. Undoubtedly, there is a tremendous financial and emotional strain on teens and adults because of the limitations we’re dealing with and certainly, we need to be sensitive to thisEven in the midst of chaos, circumstances often present themselves that turn out to be positive in the end. I’m hopeful that these tips can help you prepare your teen to handle any situation that comes their way and to help them learn responsibility even in the midst of a pandemic.

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It feels like there are so many rules and none at the same time. You can’t go anywhere, but you still want to be doing everything. It feels like a vacation, but there are still expectations and responsibilities. Nothing is stopping you from talking to anyone in any way. No one telling you to put your phone up during class. No dress code and no set start or end times to your day. Just a lot of talk about COVID-19 and quarantine. So now what? What can you do when COVID-19 disrupts everything?

Ask yourself these questions before you do something you’re not sure about: 

  • Is this something I would normally do or say?
  • Am I letting the circumstances influence a change in my morals?
  • Will I regret this in a month or feel guilty about it?
  • Is this me being my best self?
  • Will this show my parents I am trustworthy?

If you’re only doing “this” because you’re bored, your parents aren’t home, you’re spending more time behind your closed bedroom door, or whatever… then I think it’s fair to recognize that some choices can be really tempting during this time.

  • You’re waiting on your friend to reply and it’s been a while so you text your ex. If it’s over, then why go back to them now?
  • You know your parents won’t be home for a while so you sneak something to drink or invite someone over. Don’t give your parents the satisfaction of being right.
  • What’s sending a nude picture to one person going to hurt? Unfortunately, it doesn’t usually stay with that one person. 🙁
  • I won’t see them for a while, so I can comment/text this snark, and they’ll get over it. But what if they don’t? What if they did the same, would you get over it?

However, even though everything around you may feel out of your control and uncertain, how you carry yourself and your morals can stay consistent

You can be the one constant in your own life. 

During this strange time, you have to remember you are responsible for the things you can control. Your actions, choices, outlook, mindset, how you treat others, (parents/siblings included) and how you respond to your emotions—that’s all you

You also have the opportunity to rise above the expectations that often come with being a teenager. I’ll be honest, some adults are quick to assume the worst—that you’re not responsible, you’re already going to break the rules, or that you’ll slack off

You’ve got the chance to be better than others expect, to prove the haters wrong. 

  • You can be a more intentional friend.
  • Be a more thoughtful daughter or son.
  • You can be a productive student.
  • Be your best self during the worst times.

I want to encourage you to not change who you are because it feels like no one is watching. You are watching you. At the end of all of this, my hope for you is that you would be proud of yourself for the hard decisions you made, the things you learned about yourself, the time you took to do something you’ve not had time for, and the ways you helped others. 

We will all get through this together and have the opportunity to come out better than we went into it if we own our actions and make wise decisions. Enjoy this time away from the normal fast-paced weeks and stay well.

You all are going through something really challenging. The whole world is. I know going from seeing your friends or having an escape from home five days a week to nothing is a lot to take in.

Stay Safe

Here are some helpful tips to keep you safe and make wise decisions!

  1. With all of this downtime, it’s easy to spend time on social media and post more than usual. What you have to be careful of is not sharing your location publicly or saying that you are home alone. Accounts are easy to hack and predators know that everyone is stuck quarantined. Make sure your social accounts are set to “private,” especially at a time like this.
  2. If you are playing video games, only letting people you know in your Chat is so important. If someone starts asking how old you are, what city you live in, what grade and what school you go to, what your real name is, DO NOT ANSWER. You need to kick them out of the party and tell an adult. This is how predators can catfish young people into giving them enough personal information to find where you live.
  3. Try your best not to spend all day on your phone. “Cell phone usage has been associated with sleep deficit, depression, anxiety, and stress” according to the US National Library of Medicine/National Institute of Health. There is already a big sense of anxiety around COVID-19 and we don’t want to make it harder on ourselves!
  4. If your parents didn’t tell you someone was coming over or about a grocery delivery, don’t answer the door if you’re alone or it’s just you and your siblings.
  5. Don’t send it if you wouldn’t normally send it. If you’re under the impression it disappears when deleted, it doesn’t. The internet is forever. 

According to Business Insider’s interview with Richard Hickman, a digital forensics examiner, “There are many ways to save snaps that you receive—the easiest way is to take a screenshot or take a photo with another camera. Snaps are deleted from our servers after they have been viewed by the recipient.

Note that while it says photos are deleted from Snapchat’s servers, it doesn’t say photos are deleted from the devices.” What this means is that the image can be found on the phone. In fact, there are numerous free apps in the app store.

When COVID-19 Disrupts Everything, Here’s How to Spend All That Time

If you are struggling with filling your time in a way you won’t regret, here are some ideas!

  1. Learn new dances on Tik Tok.
  2. Practice your language skills on Babbel or Duo Lingo.
  3. Workout alongside celebrities and athletes on FitOn (variety for everyone)!
  4. Build a fort.
  5. Group Video Chat.
  6. Learn something new on Youtube.
  7. Watch movies.
  8. Craft with things you have.
  9. Draw.
  10. Work out! Here are some free apps that have home workouts! FitOn, Peloton (for 90 days), Nike Training Club—to name a few! Not to mention YouTube has so many and even some Zumba classes, too.
  11. Go on a walk or a hike.
  12. Write a song, rap, play, poems, short story, etc.
  13. Go outside and find a 4-leaf clover; make it a competition of who can find it the fastest.
  14. If you have siblings, play hide and seek For real, tap in to your inner kid!
  15. There are tons of free games in the app store and some you can invite your friends to play with you, like virtual Uno or cards. If you have an iPhone, Game Pigeon in the text message thread can allow you to play games with your friends!

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