COMMUNITY COMMENTARY: Large turnout for forum helping parents learn to communicate with teens

One hundred and eighty parents came to San Dieguito High School Academy in Encinitas on April 5 to listen to the Tune in to Your Teen parent forum about effectively connecting with our teenage young adults. A panel of four distinguished speakers included SDA counselor Julianne Velasco, Rev. John Breding of Rady Children’s Hospital, Season Hewitt of the Scripps MacDonald Adolescent Treatment Center and Clarita Thoms-May, a licensed marriage, family and child therapist, shared their insights about how to engage our teens on universal high school issues.
Springtime can be a very stressful time for our students. There are academic pressures around finals and standardized exams. Juniors and seniors are preparing for next year — taking additional tests, deciding on a college or identifying other options. Feelings of uncertainty and exhaustion are prevalent. “If you notice a change in your teens’ friends, grades or your teen is spending a lot of time alone, be supportive. Check in with him/her about your observations. Support your teen with a nurturing approach, rather than confrontational,” Velasco said.
Breding spoke about helping our teens with grief and loss, particularly as it relates to the death of a family member or friend. “We heal from loss through grief and teens need lots of support in their grieving process,” he said. “Grief is a natural part of life. It is important for teens to feel the sadness and the loss in a healthy fashion so that they are prepared for when the next crisis occurs in their life. Foster hope by giving support. Get through by setting small goals — get through one day, then the next, which will build on resiliency… Teens may also grieve from the loss of a friendship, a spot on a team or from academic disappointment.”
Hewitt, an adolescent treatment counselor, showed powerful brain scans of a normal brain contrasted with damaged brain scans from use on marijuana and other illicit drugs, which can be viewed at amenclinc.com (click on SPECT image gallery). “Parents send mixed messages about marijuana to their teens, which is very confusing,” she said. “The worst thing that you can do is to ignore the problem. Educate yourself about what’s out there — take advantage of the many resources and ask for help. It is a sign of strength to ask for help.”
“Prevention studies show that clear messaging from parents about drinking and drug use is the No. 1 deterrent for teens to not drink and use drugs,” I said to the audience, as Student Support Service council and moderator of the evening.
Thoms-May provided results of the recent SDA parent teen communication survey and insights from her private practice. “Interrupting, yelling, lecturing, not giving me all of their attention and comparing me to someone else, are all things that my parents do that make me NOT want to talk to them,” were all things reported by a random sampling of SDA teens. Students in all grades responded to the survey. The anonymous teen/parent survey was prepared by the Student Support Service council of the foundation.
SDA teens report turning to their friends and moms, in that order, when wanting advise about problems, questions about sex, online bullying and peer problems. “Ask your teens about how they might manage a problem and listen to their ideas,” Thoms-May said. “Be patient.”

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