* Helping Teens Make Responsible Choices

By Kelli Chambers, MSW, Courier & Press, June 27, 2017 –

The teenage years can be some of the best, and hardest, years in a person’s life.  During this stage of life, teenagers are often faced with difficult situations and struggle to make healthy and safe choices.

It can be challenging (and even scary) for parents to protect their teen from potentially harmful situations.  There are some basic guidelines to follow, however, to assist your child in the decision-making process.

As your child gets older, parenting becomes less about control and more about offering guidance.  According to parenting guidelines on the Palo Alto Medical Foundation’s website (pamf.org), the more controlling parents are, the more rebellious teens tend to become.

Providing a solid foundation of trust and love allows for an open dialogue of sharing experiences and values while spending time together.  It is important to remember it is normal for teens to challenge their parents’ values, beliefs, and practices.  This is an exploratory time for teenagers to develop their own autonomy.

Here are some quick tips to help parents convey their support while allowing the teen to make their own decisions:

  • Allow your teen to describe the problem or situation in their own words.
  • Talk with your teen about choices.
  • Help your teen identify and compare the possible consequences of all of the available choices.
  • Allow your teen to make decisions and carry them out.
  • Later, ask your teen how things worked out.

Helping build your teen’s self-esteem and self-respect can positively influence their decision-making process. Parents can help by:

  • Allowing the teen to voice their personal opinions
  • Involving the teen in decisions that may affect the entire family
  • Listening to his or her opinions and feelings
  • Helping the teen set realistic goals
  • Showing faith in his or her ability to reach those goals
  • Giving the teen unconditional love and demonstrating it
  • Being supportive, even when he or she makes mistakes
  • Being open and understanding whenever your teen needs to talk to someone

Teens need reinforcement from important adults in their lives.  This applies to the good decisions being made, too.  It helps teens feel they are on the right path.

It is easy to focus on bad decisions being made, but both good and bad decisions need to be discussed.  The best prevention tool is to start early with an open and honest dialogue.

“It is not what you do for your children, but what you have taught them to do for themselves, that will make them successful human beings.” – Ann Landers

The Importance of the Pause – Teaching Your Kids Impulse Control

Girl texting

By Heather Miller, MSW, Courier & Press, June 21, 2016 –

“I didn’t think about it.” As a Youth First Social Worker in a middle school, this is a statement I hear multiple times per week.

Impulse control and the ability to predict future consequences for present decisions are difficult concepts for the adolescent brain to process. Couple this with a fast-paced society that expects immediate feedback and gratification, and the challenge to think before acting becomes understandably difficult.

Students today are navigating life and relationships in a world primarily composed of red and green — stop and go — with no time for yellow, the pause.

Fifteen years ago, before the advent of social media, the pause allowed students to rethink their actions and tear up a hate-filled note they wrote to a peer the night before.

The pause often prevented the negative consequences that accompany intense emotions. Now, without the pause, students type a hate-filled text and press send. A text cannot be torn up, and the ramifications are often immediate.

The pause has been hijacked by social media, texting and email. Thus, when students tell me, “I didn’t think about it,” I know they did not think through the situation and possible consequences. Furthermore, many kids have not been taught how to do this.

The following tips will help teach kids how to pause before acting.

  • For younger children, use the visuals of a stoplight to guide the child in thinking through a real situation or made-up scenario. This will help instill the concept of thinking through possible consequences before acting. Begin at red, or stopping, to describe the situation; move to yellow, thinking through what may have been the reason for the situation as well as possible outcomes for different consequences; finally, move to green, choosing the action that will yield the best results.
  • To capture an adolescent’s attention, use famous athletes or movie stars to demonstrate how quickly lives can change by one action. Similar to the stoplight illustration, discuss the situation, the action taken, the consequences of the action, and how a different action may have created a different consequence.
  • If children are using texting, email and/or social media, discuss waiting a set amount of time before sending a message about a volatile issue. This is an important part of demonstrating the maturity needed to have a social media account or phone. Make it a nonnegotiable expectation.
  • For children of all ages, explain how the brain works and processes emotions as well as the areas of the brain responsible for impulse control. This gives kids an understanding of how their brains are equipped to deal with intense emotions. For more information please review the article, “Teaching Students: A Brain Owner’s Manual,” by Dr. Judy Willis.

If you have a child that would benefit from additional skills training in impulse control, please contact your school’s Youth First School Social Worker or a licensed mental health professional.