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Constant Back Talk: Tips for Parents of Tweens and Teens

By John Townsend, Ph.D.

One of the signs that you have turned the parenting corner into another world is the start of back talk. Whether it be sarcasm, argumentativeness, rudeness or plain old in-your-face defiance, you now wonder what happened to the child who thought you were really cool, loved learning from you and obeyed every request. And you have several more years of life with someone who not only thinks for herself, but does it in a way that is not fun to be with.

Here are some tips to handle back talk in a way that works.

Normalize it. Back talk is actually a good sign. It is a challenge to you but it also indicates that your child is beginning to form and consolidate a sense of personhood. The technical term for this is “individuation,” meaning that the tween/teen is becoming a personality, with core values and ways of relating. Kids need this to become strong, autonomous and capable adults.

Children who miss out on this stage, who stay compliant and unquestioning, struggle a great deal in life and often end up with destructive dependent relationships with the wrong people, substituting them for you as parental figures. So just realize that when your child challenges your decisions, she is learning to hatch out of the egg, and that is fundamentally a good thing.

Set some ground rules. Kids generally don’t know the right way to challenge someone, so they often go too far. They need healthy parameters from you. Here are the best ones:

  • Permission: It’s OK for you to tell me you disagree with a decision of mine. Sometimes it will be up for discussion and sometimes it will not. But I’m fine with you letting me know your thoughts.
  • Respect: I need for you to disagree respectfully, in three ways:
    • Words: Use words that are not unkind, disrespectful or profane.
    • Attitude: No eye-rolling, sneering or sarcastic tones.
    • Behavior: No yelling, stomping out of the room or slamming doors.
  • Limits: Even after I have heard your point of view and understand where you are coming from, I may still come to a decision that doesn’t please you. It’s fine for you to express displeasure once or even twice, but don’t keep bringing it up. It is hard on me and the whole family when you won’t accept reality. So drop it.

Affirm respectful challenges. Positivity is always a good thing, and we need to say something to our kid when we see it! So when your teen challenges you in a healthy way, just say, “I really appreciate how you handled our conversation about your curfew. I know you disagree with me, and I assure you I will keep thinking about your reasons. But I was very impressed by how mature and respectful you were with me. I feel that you are growing up very fast, and very well.”

Outline consequences. There are times when the back talk is so ingrained or chronic that it borders on disrespect. This is a signal that you need to establish healthy and meaningful consequences: “I was clear with you about the ground rules, and you have ignored them.  The next time you cross one of those lines with me, I won’t argue with you. I will just immediately remove your smartphone/tablet/remote/driving privileges/social outings this weekend. I hope that will help you control yourself.” And be sure to follow up or it’s a waste of your time.

Maintain perspective. Keep the big picture in mind when you are raising a tween/teen: It is about the future. Your child may be driving you nuts and wearing you down. But remember, what you do today affects the kind of adult, spouse, parent, worker and human being she will be one day. Be strong, be smart and be consistent. Best to your parenting.

How to Cultivate a Grateful Home

The national conversation is so full of criticism and negativity that it can be difficult to find opportunities to express gratitude. It’s easy to forget what we have when we’re aggravated by outside forces. Busyness distracts us, and struggles let us down. Worry reminds us we’re not in control, and pain can cause faith to feel distant. However, God grants us hope by giving us a choice to choose gratefulness.

Gratitude allows God to do more than transform our situation, it lets Him in to transform our hearts. Giving praise grants God power over our struggles and reminds us that He is the ultimate force for good. We can then thrive in His peace as we let go of the troubles that hold us back.

Creating a grateful home begins with parents. As our hearts become filled with gratitude, our teens can learn from our example, allowing gratitude to give them the hope that transcends earthly distractions and aggravations. Here are some tips to begin cultivating a grateful home:

Seek opportunities to serve with your family.
Whether it’s a kind favor for a neighbor or a mission trip, serving acknowledges that we can always give what we have. Serving gives us a purpose outside of ourselves. This will also foster nurturing relationships that teach teens to be thoughtful and encouraging to those around them.

Teach praise in prayer.
As you pray with your teen, remember to express thanksgiving to God for all that you have been given. Although it’s easy to ask God for things, we often forget to thank Him for the blessings He has bestowed. Praising God as you pray with your teen models gratitude and turns the focus on all He is doing in your lives.

Practice appreciation.
Acknowledging the efforts of others fosters active participation in gratefulness. Teaching teens to express gratitude to others diverts attention away from self and onto the good in other people. Lead by example and vocally affirm what you appreciate in your teen.

Positive thoughts combined with action allow us to position ourselves toward a stance of gratitude. Sharing this outlook with teens shows them how to thrive through their pain. God can be praised in every moment; Thanksgiving is not merely a holiday but rather a reflection of our hearts. Every day provides an opportunity to create a grateful heart, and a grateful home.

Talking to your Daughter

Do you feel like your relationship with your daughter is strained? Do you feel disconnected from what is going on in her life? You aren’t alone. Many parents tend to feel this way when their child becomes a teenager, but taking an interest in her life will help to foster connectedness even during a difficult stage.

Connecting with teenagers can be difficult. Often they respond with one-word answers or shut themselves off in their rooms. But starting with less invasive questions (What’s your favorite class right now? What did you think about last night’s episode on TV?) can sometimes open the door to more. The key is to show warmth, interest and care, even when you feel shut out.

Though you might feel like you are bothering her, check in with your daughter every day. Even if she doesn’t feel like talking, she will appreciate having your full attention for a period of time each day. If she does feel like talking, here are some good questions to ask to learn more about her life and to show you care:

What do you need from me in your life right now?
It’s important to know when your child needs someone to lean on. Be there to talk to her and listen to what she’s saying. It’s important that she knows you are always there for her and a consistent source of support.

What happened in your day today?
This can seem like one of those questions that would annoy your daughter, but it shows you are engaged in her life and want to know about what she’s going through. This simple question can spark a great conversation between the two of you.

Do you know how much I love you?
It’s always special to remind your child that no matter what, you will always love her. The teenage years can be some of the hardest of her life, and reinforcing your love will allow her to open up to you.

What do you daydream about?
This is an important question to ask. Knowing what she is hoping to achieve in the future can allow you to lead her in the right direction. Let her achieve her goals as independently as possible, but ensure she knows you are there to help whenever she needs it.

What makes you happy?
Knowing what makes your child happy can be invaluable information, though she might find it hard to put into words. Knowing some things that make her happy can help you connect with her in ways that she enjoys. She may seem to always prefer friends over time with parents, but she will appreciate your attempts to connect with her world.

Sometimes a simple question is all it takes to strengthen bonds with your daughter. She still needs you even if she doesn’t show it, and she wants you even if she doesn’t know it.

How to Support Your Spouse While Dealing With Your Struggling Teen

By John Townsend, Ph.D.

Few conflicts are more difficult and stressful than having an adolescent in your home who is struggling. It’s hard on the teen, hard on the parents and hard on the siblings. Some parents, however, are more vulnerable to the stress than others. They can feel overwhelmed and be easily triggered and discouraged. This then keeps them from being the healthiest and best parent they can be.

If your spouse is in that vulnerable place, here are some ways you can provide support.

Attune to their feelings.
When overwhelmed by a child’s disrespect, conduct problems, school troubles or emotional issues, some parents will be flooded with very strong negative feelings. These might include anxiety, confusion, anger, helplessness, guilt or shame. The last thing a vulnerable parent needs is to be alone with these emotions. It makes their brain work at a lower level.

In these cases, it’s best to listen and be empathetic. Authentically listen and engage your spouse in conversation: “That is really overwhelming … tell me more,” or “I’m so sorry … how else did that feel … I get it.” Don’t offer advice or observations such as, “You need to get it together … our son needs you to be calm,” or “You’re overreacting to his trigger behaviors … be rational.” Attunement gets better results than explanations and advice.

Be aligned.
Join them in a united front as spouses and parents. Let them know you are on their side in tough times. You may not agree on some matters, such as how to discipline or help your teen. But when your spouse struggles, it’s not time to major on the minor differences. It’s time to major on the majors. Offer words of encouragement: “I’m with you and I’m with us,” and “We will figure this out.”

Bring the strength.
A struggling spouse often feels powerless and impotent with a difficult teen. Your partner might feel totally drained and unable to act. Show strength by saying something like, “Why don’t you let me have this hard conversation with her? I want to give you a break.” This gives your spouse a little time to restore and center themselves.

You don’t always have to tackle the difficult situation by yourself. Sometimes a struggling spouse just needs a little backup. If your partner is feeling strong but a little tired, you could say, “If you’re in an OK place, let’s talk to her together.”

United you stand. Be strong when your spouse is weak. If the tables turn, reverse the support. Best to you!

Setting Helpful Boundaries When You Have a Struggling Teen

By John Townsend, Ph.D.

As your teen enters the developmental season that will prepare her for independency and autonomy, things can get rocky at home. She may be showing a negative attitude, defiance or acting-out behaviors, or she may be spending time with the wrong kids, shirking her school responsibilities or using substances.

While most parents want to support their adolescent through this growing process, they don’t know what to do with some of these very negative behaviors. Their first step should be to set boundaries, just as they did when their child was younger. But it’s important to set the right boundaries to help your teen navigate this necessary time of life.

If your teen is doing well, she doesn’t need a lot of boundaries. Freedom comes from trust, and trust comes from good behavior. So a parent’s goal is to reinforce good behavior and healthy living. All teens should be responsible for waking themselves up, getting to school, helping out with family chores, doing homework, getting to bed on time, getting good grades, staying away from substances and the wrong friends, and not being violent with others. There shouldn’t be a lot of drama.

But if things are not going well, you’ll need to talk with your adolescent about her behavior and have a serious discussion about boundaries. This will include her abiding by a reasonable life structure with the expectations spelled out. These expectations are her boundaries.  If she chooses not to follow the boundaries, she will face the consequences.

Consequences help teens learn to take ownership over their choices. To be effective, consequences must:

  • Involve either removing something she loves (phone, computer, social time) or adding something she doesn’t love (extra chores).
  • Be reasonable, meaning they are not too strict or meaningless. The consequence must fit the severity of the boundary violation. For example, you don’t send a kid to Outward Bound for a messy room, and you don’t take away the phone for drug use.
  • Be communicated with love, not anger. You must convey to your child that you are not trying to show who’s boss. Instead, show your concern, and tell her this is necessary to provide stability to her and the family.
  • Be followed up with action. Don’t threaten consequences then say you’ll implement them tomorrow. Delayed follow-ups are worse than no boundaries, because your teen is learning your words don’t matter. Teens quickly learn to tolerate an angry parent because they know he or she won’t actually do anything about the behavior.

Using this blog, create a written document (one page) that lists your expectations and the consequence for violating each. Post it on your fridge or somewhere prominent.  It will help you and your teen see, in a clear and objective way, that there is a way to behave that works, and a way that will have negative consequences.

Boundaries are ultimately about love and freedom. Stick to them and be positive with your teen. For more information, refer to the updated and expanded version of my book “Boundaries.” Best to your parenting!



Encouraging Your Teen to Save for the Future

Putting money away in a savings account is difficult for many Americans. Teaching your children smart money habits early on will set them up for success as adults. But encouraging a savings habit can be challenging when popular culture and media promote spending and a “you need this” mentality. They do not need to have the last word, however.

Here are some ways to persuade teens to save:

1. Match Their Savings Deposit
Anyone would find it more appealing to save money if they received a dollar-for-dollar match! Even a 2-1 match is a good deal. Offering a monetary incentive to save creates competition for your teen’s dollars.

2. Bring Other Incentives to the Table
Discuss some of the costs associated with adulthood, such as car expenses and college tuition. Be frank about what you can offer and what you expect your teen to cover. Then incentivize good saving behaviors:
• Offer to pay half for a first automobile if your teen saves up for the other half.
• Offer to pay for some or all college expenses if your teen can show a consistent savings habit based on a percentage of income.
• Offer opportunities to earn money by helping around the house, provided the earned cash goes straight into savings.
• Offer financial help with other large expenses based on a savings plan that you create together.

3. Combat Bad Spending Behavior
What good is incentivizing good savings behavior if your teen continues to spend mindlessly? For these teens, finding a job is the best corrective. Money they earn is more valued than money given to them. Jobs also give them opportunities to interact with others in the workplace and learn to keep a schedule.

Encouraging your child to save and spend wisely is best practiced early on. Teach the importance of delayed gratification and the satisfaction of having a growing savings account, which can help them feel more secure. Modeling smart saving/spending habits will show your teen the rewards that come with being money smart. Talk to them on how you make spending decisions or save for future expenses. Discuss debt too, and give examples of how you spend down or avoid debt. This is one of the most important educations your teen will have.

Failure Strengthens Faith

We each face the human story of failure. Whether it’s a failed driver’s test, failed job interview, failed relationship or failed dream, broken expectations and falling short of our hopes remind us we are not in control. We find ourselves weak and embarrassed when we mess up. It’s easy to get lost, lose direction, withdraw or give up.

Bob Goff, in his New York Times bestseller, “Love Does,” writes, “Failure is just part of the process, and it’s not just okay; it’s better than okay. God doesn’t want failure to shut us down. God didn’t make it a three-strikes-and-you’re-out sort of thing. It’s more about how God helps us dust ourselves off so we can swing for the fences again. And all of this without keeping a meticulous record of our screw-ups.”

It is Jesus who reminds us that our story isn’t over the minute we mess up. Though it may not exactly feel natural at first to welcome failure with open arms, we can rest knowing that God has more than enough room for our shortcomings. In truth, God wants to use our failures to redeem us in the story He has written for us.

So how do we learn for ourselves, and also teach our teens, that failure strengthens our faith despite the pain and uncertainty it causes?

Start by choosing to learn from failure. Rather than seeing failure as a roadblock, use it as a way to find an alternative route. If we can find purpose in our failures, we can let go of defeat and seek the redemption story God has planned.

Be open to failure becoming a gift. Though this transformation can take time, our broken expectations can become a tool that builds us up in a new way. God gives us the chance to swing again if we choose to seek His opportunity.

Find encouragement in the growth failure offers. God works in every part of our lives, weaving every experience in our stories to lead us closer to Him. When we encounter failure and the pain that comes with it, we can find healing in its purpose. The growth causes us to increase our dependency on God and trust how He will use failure to strengthen us.

Sharing the struggle of failure with our teens can remind them to find grace in their ongoing story. When teens face failure, remember it is an opportunity for them to grow in their relationship with God and also lean into relationship with others like parents and safe friendships. Point them toward Him, and He will use their failure for redemption and write their story to make them stronger.

Starting at an Early Age: Major Do’s and Don’ts of Parenting

It’s never too early to start parenting. Neuroscience research has shown us that a young child’s brain is more malleable and teachable, while change is a bit more work in later years. So it’s a good idea to have your approach to parenting applied while the cement is still wet, so to speak.

Here are some ground rules you can use with children to help guide them into maturity and success. They have been organized as contrasts in each area: “DO this” and “DON’T do that.” They will provide a simple manual for being with, and relating well to, your child.

Care for your own health: The younger a child is, the more vulnerable. Your child is a very, very high priority, but you must be as healthy as possible to give what is needed.

  • DO be intentional about great health, self-care and being with supportive people who love you.
  • DON’T drain yourself from your energy sources nor isolate from those who care.

Attach to your child: The primary need of young children is to be safely and emotionally attached to their parents. Nothing takes the place of this.

  • DO be warm and comforting.
  • DON’T get lost in the tasks of the day and forget to make the connection.

Stay attuned: Enter your child’s world every day to see how he or she sees things. This could be as simple as sitting on the floor, playing with blocks and engaging in active listening.

  • DO ask children what they think and feel, and affirm their feelings.
  • DON’T require them to listen to a great deal of your opinions and stories, just a few.

Provide structure: A consistent and loving structure keeps your child safe and focused.

  • DO provide a stable home life structure and schedule.
  • DON’T expose them to chaos and unpredictability.

Set boundaries: Clear, age-appropriate expectations for healthy behavior help your child feel secure and actually empowered.

  • DO be consistent in boundaries and consequences.
  • DON’T give up on following up because you are tired or feel guilty.

Allow full expression: Kids need parents to make them feel safe to disagree and develop their opinions.

  • DO let them have their own ideas and feelings, including challenging you respectfully.
  • DON’T prohibit them from their voice, but DON’T allow them to disrespect you in the process either.

Accept imperfection: Parents need to help their children face failure and loss, and to grow from these experiences.

  • DO help them feel OK about themselves when they make mistakes and help them learn from their experiences.
  • DON’T shame them when they fail.

Provide a guide to friendships: Learning to pick the right friends and having socialization skills are predictors of future success.

  • DO help them make friends and learn to be a friend as well.
  • DON’T keep them sheltered from friends, and DON’T forget to show them how to act with others.

Develop their passions and talents: Good parents help their children find out what they love and what their competencies might be.

  • DO help them to find their passions and gifts.
  • DON’T impose your dreams on their dreams. Their lives ultimately are their own.

Best to your parenting!

Tips for Teen Driving

By John Townsend, Ph.D.

Nothing symbolizes the developing freedom of your teen more than having a driver’s license. The license is one of the last steps before ultimate autonomy and the new responsibilities and opportunities awaiting your almost young adult. It is something your adolescent has dreamed about and waited for.

This new freedom is also a reality that happens in real time. When our boys received their driver’s licenses, they were gone from home much more often. They took themselves to school, sporting events and social gatherings. My wife, Barbi, and I certainly missed them, but we were also happy that they were spreading their wings before their final launch into adulthood.

It’s also a stage that brings risk. Car accidents are the leading cause of death for 15- to 20-year-olds, and they account for 40 percent of all teen deaths. So there is cause not only for parental support but also for some healthy guidance. Here are the most important tips to assist you:

Be what you want them to be. Nothing causes a teen to ignore a parent like one who says one thing and does another. Parents need to model the behaviors they want their teens to have. If you are texting while driving, speeding, tailgating, changing lanes without signaling or not coming to full stops, your teen is recording that info. If you don’t show that you understand driving regulations, your teen is not likely to listen to your advice.

Two things are important here. First, monitor your driving habits and get them in line. We all use some wiggle room with these rules, but abide by the book for your teen’s sake. Secondly, get a copy of the regulations from your DMV and review them with your adolescent. By doing so, you are showing that you take driving seriously.

Ride with them. During drivers training, and for the year thereafter, be a passenger when your adolescent is behind the wheel. Try to do it two to three times a week, mainly during short trips of less than 5 miles. Then, if all is well, move to once a week after licensure. If your teen asks why, say you just want to see how the skills are developing. Do a lot of praising when it is deserved, and gently point out behaviors, in the moment, that need to change. Keep the praising more frequent than the pointing out, however, as otherwise you run the risk of being tuned out.

Set age- and maturity-appropriate rules for driving. Find out DMV rules on teen driving, such as night driving, passenger limits and curfew times. Write these down and place in a visible area in the house, so all of you understand them. Also include your “non-negotiable” rules such as no drinking and no texting while driving. I added “maturity-appropriate” here because your teen needs to be 16 years old not only chronologically but also emotionally. If your teen exhibits poor judgment, impulsivity or dishonesty, driving should be delayed until more maturity is achieved. After all, driving is a privilege, not a right.

Responsible kids should have all of the freedoms of any normal, healthy teen. But set reasonable consequences for bad driving behavior, and make sure those are written down, too. Most of all, enforce consequences consistently. Kids are sort of on an “autonomy exhilaration” phase when they start driving. Parents’ jobs are to keep them grounded (literally and figuratively) by following up with consequences if they are being reckless or immature.

Make sure the car is a safe one. Sometimes teens drive the family car, and sometimes parents will provide them with one of their own, depending on the family’s finances and priorities. If a family car is to be used, take it to a mechanic you trust and explain that you have a new driver and it needs to be evaluated for safety more than usual. Even though your adolescent’s hand-eye coordination is superior to yours, your judgment is superior, so safety is the top consideration for the car.

If you want your teen to have his or her own car, the same safety inspection applies. Also, make sure your teen pays some significant portion, if not all, of the cost of the car and its maintenance. Let teens know years ahead of time what the projected costs of driving will be so they can start saving allowance money and finding jobs. I have heard over and over again from individuals that requiring teens to invest their own money in a car has paid dividends. This is a great character builder.

As ever, keep your head, and keep the conversations going. You’ll get through the “DL” phase! Best to you.

15 fun springtime activities for parents and teens

It’s almost that time of the year! Your teen is counting down to spring break, and you need to get some activities together to keep her entertained. It may not be Florida, but the weather is getting warmer in Indiana too, which opens up a range of activities. Whether you live in a rural area or a big city, these ideas will keep your teen safe and happy over spring break!

1. Cook or bake something new. Cooking with your teen can be a bonding experience as you work (and troubleshoot) together. You both will gain a sense of accomplishment from creating something new, and you’ll have the satisfaction of doing something together.

2. Plan a “staycation.” Look at your hometown from the point of view of an outsider. Every city or town offers something unique to do. Visit a museum, antique shop or local park or go to another community to explore. You’ll always find something you’ve never done before.

3. Schedule a volunteer day. Confer with your teen on where you should offer your services: maybe the local soup kitchen, animal shelter or community cleanup project? Your help will surely be appreciated, and your teen will glow with the satisfaction that comes with making a difference.

4. Go to the movies or rent one. Let her pick – engage with her in a movie of her choice (even if you hate it) to help her know that she can have different likes or dislikes and still be close and connected to you.

5. Have a family night. Get everyone together for games or movies, and prepare a special snack. Create an opportunity to foster a culture of appreciation in your family by sharing what you appreciate about each other and your time together. Memories are made of such nights.

6. Try something new. Whether that is painting, baking or playing tennis, trying something new is a great way to bond with your teen.

7. Plant a garden. Now is the perfect time to plant those seeds. Research together some possible flowers or vegetables and design your garden. Buy the seeds or plants if you don’t have any on hand. Then plant and pray!

8. Read the same book. Decide on a title together and get two copies. Pause after each chapter for a little discussion. Doing so can be a valuable – and insightful – bonding experience.

9. Spend time outdoors. Go for a hike in nearby woods – everything will look new again in the spring. If it’s raining, grab boots and go outside anyway – stomping in the rain and getting muddy only enhances the experience!

10. Visit a nearby college campus. It’s good to get your teen thinking about life after high school. Being around all those students (who probably don’t have the same spring break) might energize her to think about the next big step in her life. Grab pizza and talk while you’re there.

11. Challenge your teen to stay off social media for 24 hours. While this might not be fun for either of you initially, it will get her to think about other ways of connecting with friends and developing other healthy hobbies. Offer a small reward or celebration when she reaches 24 hours. As a reflection, ask her what she liked and didn’t like about her fast from social media.

12. Scrapbook the last year. This activity is perfect for teens and their parents. Look through your photos and phones, then print out the photos she thinks best represent the past year. Get an inexpensive notebook and paste them in, remembering all the fun she had with family and friends. If you prefer, there are easy-to-use programs to create digital scrapbooks as well.

13. Make a vision or dream board. Ask her to print out images from the internet representing things she hopes to do or accomplish in her life, then arrange them on poster board. This will help her think about her goals and aspirations, and it will give you a glimpse into her heart and mind.

14. Make sure she spends time with friends. Offer to drop them off at the movies or park, or invite a few for a sleepover. It’s important she knows that you like her friends and it’s helpful if she can see you interacting with her friends in positive ways.

15. Relax. There’s nothing quite like taking it easy with your teen, especially after an eventful week. Modeling healthy rest and relaxation can be a very life-giving lesson she carries with her forever.

Spring break should be a fun time, but it also can be one that makes her think and an opportunity for you to develop a deeper bond with your teen. These ideas are only a starting place to help you design a week your teen will never forget. Intentionality is key!

Teen “Spring Fever” and How to Navigate Through it

By John Townsend, Ph.D.

Spring is here, and with it you may notice some changes in your teen, such as more energy, impulsiveness, restlessness and fidgeting. Call it spring fever, though that is not a true medical or psychological condition. But, just using common sense, why wouldn’t the warmer weather, increased sunshine and opportunity to enjoy outdoor time cause a boost in your teen’s energy level? It was probably hard being cooped up during the winter months!

Spring fever can certainly be an exciting and fun time for teens: longer days, sports, hanging out with friends and trips. But be aware of some unhappy side effects. When impulsiveness increases, so can trouble. Restlessness can result in attitude issues and acting-out behaviors.

Consider these tips to help this season be a healthy and enjoyable one for your teen and family.

Stay connected with your teen.

Children have a primary need for relationships, even adolescents who are pushing their parents away and developing their own social system. Whether or not they admit it, teens need an attachment to their parents, so make sure you have daily conversations (not lectures) about how life is going. This will help your teen to feel loved, stable and centered during this time.

Don’t alter family structure or responsibilities.

There is no reason to look at spring fever for a teen in the same way you deal with spring break for a college student. Those two are worlds apart. Spring break can be a great time. It involves more freedom for the young adult and much more time with friends. However, because there is little to no parental monitoring, many risks are involved.

Just because your teen may be moving toward spring break, there’s no need to relax the rules of the house. Spring fever is universal – it’s a celebration of the natural transition from winter. It’s simply not that big of a change, and your child doesn’t need a dispensation from family responsibilities and requirements.

In fact, what will help your teen to grow up and launch successfully into adult life is what I call an overall annually consistent structure. Basically, the household runs the same way all year with everyone exhibiting good conduct, kindness and academic diligence while doing chores and having a healthy extracurricular life. With that sort of consistency, children build character and discipline rather than developing a sense of entitlement or privilege.

Loosen reins in small and “earned” ways.

Having said that, there is nothing wrong with giving teens a bit more freedom during this time, such as a later curfew or other choices. Let them enjoy themselves a little. Be thoughtful about loosening the reins; it should be a reward for responsible behavior.

Channel the energy.

Help your adolescent to engage in activities that involve movement, exercise and the physical world. This is a good way to channel the increased energy. It’s especially important to require teens to leave the digital world and be present in the “real” world. Neuroscience research is clear on the negative effects of too much screen time on kids. Help them get their bodies moving, whether it be sports, working out or just walking somewhere with you or their friends.

No passes on disrespect.

This time of the year can also be one in which teens push limits as they test their power and autonomy. Power and autonomy are fine, as long as they are done respectfully. There’s nothing wrong with a teen who challenges your rules and expectations, but insults, bad language and yelling are not signs of growth. Be clear that respect and kindness are expectations, and be ready to impose consequences to back them up. My book Boundaries with Teens covers this issue in detail.

Have a proactive conversation.

Teens are often a step ahead of their parents, meaning that parents tend to be reactive to what the teen is doing or asking to do (and it always involves more freedom). So as the weather warms up, talk to your teen about how you want the spring to be a great time for everyone and decide together on some ground rules to make sure the whole family has fun.

As parent, you probably have a bit of spring fever in you, too! Enjoy the season and be present with your family during this time.

No Need to Hibernate this Winter

This time of year can be a bitter one for teens. With the low temperatures keeping them inside, it’s often easy for everyone to develop a case of “cabin fever.” But with a little creativity, you and your teen can have the best winter yet with some fun and easy activities!

  1. If it isn’t too frigid, spend some time outside! Go sledding, build a snow fort or a snowman or have a snowball fight. The options are endless when it comes to fun in the snow! And after all of that playing in the snow, your teen is going to need something to warm up. Set up a hot cocoa bar by gathering some favorite hot cocoa toppings such as marshmallows and sprinkles, then load up your cups!
  2. It’s great to get your teen to volunteer for those in need. Volunteer together at a local soup kitchen or homeless shelter, or simply offer your snow-shoveling skills to older neighbors. It will not only help those who need it, but both of you will also have a great sense of accomplishment.
  3. If the cold is keeping your teen inside, take advantage of the opportunity to bond. Try cooking a new recipe together. The internet is a great source with millions of recipes, so you are sure to find something that appeals to you both. Cooking together is a great way to connect over small talk, and you’ll have a tasty dish to share afterward.
  4. Get creative! Craft, paint or draw together. It’s soothing and relaxing, especially on a cold winter’s day.
  5. Visit a museum or a local indoor attraction together, or see a movie. Even when the temperatures drop well into freezing, you don’t have to stay at home. Go explore your city together! If you feel like you’ve been there and done that, seek out shops in a nearby community.
  6. Visit the local community recreation center with your teen. This can help both of you to stay healthy and keep your New Year’s resolutions!

Winter doesn’t have to be a boring time for you and your teen. Plan something fun on cold weekends, and you will create a bond that lasts a lifetime.

Teens and Dating

By John Townsend, Ph.D.

One of the most important steps in teens’ development is the dating stage, or when they begin to spend time with the opposite sex. It is a time for learning about values, intimacy, romance, commitment and ultimately how marriage should look. On the other hand, this exciting stage is one that causes great angst and concern for parents, who ask questions like: How do we know if she’s going to make good choices? What if he gets sexually involved?

Well, we can’t make dating the problem, because it’s probably how you chose your spouse, and it’s a good process. So here are some guidelines to help you navigate the issue so that it’s helpful for your teen and for you.

• Define the word. Younger teens will sometimes say they want to date, and what they are referring to is texting, Facebooking or having a conversation with someone at school. Just clarify that this isn’t really dating, and maybe rephrase it as “having a special friend.” Dating is largely considered to be the process of going out one-on-one with someone you’re romantically interested in on a prearranged outing. The “prearranged” part is important because it requires responsibility, thoughtfulness, consideration and planning, especially on the boy’s part. This is the opposite of some guy dropping by in his car and honking the horn for your daughter to come out, which is not dating.

• What age? Most experts land on 16 as the minimum age for dating. Developmentally, adolescents have matured enough to have internalized healthy family values, with some history of making good choices and relating well to the opposite sex. However, and this is a big however: Just because your teen is chronologically 16, he or she may not be emotionally 16. If a 16-year-old is 12 years old on the inside and does not do well on these three areas, you may need to work with them on growing up and upping their game.

• Set expectations. You have to earn the privilege of dating, as it is not a right. That means parents should have a conversation with their teen about their expectations, with the understanding that dating privileges might be revoked if expectations aren’t met. This ensures no surprises or misunderstandings.

  • Family values-based behavior. An adolescent who wants to date should continue behaving in such a way that presents no major conflicts with family values. In other words, a dating teen should behave as a healthy teen from a good family: good grades, considerate behavior, no alcohol or drug abuse or experimental sexuality, and respect for authority figures such as teachers, police and both sets of parents. Hopefully, you have discussed these expectations throughout your teen’s life.
  • Specific behaviors relating to dating. Then there are expectations for the specific arena of dating. This means obeying curfews, meeting parents of both teens and practicing safe driving.
  • Writing down the rules. When nothing is written, you can end up with chaos: “You never said I needed to be home by midnight!” Avoid all that by talking with your teen about expectations about family and dating behaviors. Get their input and listen to their side respectfully. But in the end, you make the final decisions, and write them down. By the way, don’t make it more than one side of a page. Few people can engaged in, use or remember a list of ground rules if it’s longer than that!

• No kidnapping. Early dating can usurp a teen’s life. Lots of strong and intense feelings are involved. It’s easy for them to ignore friendships and spend all social time with their special someone. I call this kidnapping, and it causes an imbalance and possible social isolation. It also causes more pressure to bear on the sexual side of the relationship. A good rule of thumb is for teens to spend at least 50 percent of their social time with friends and no more than 50 percent with their romantic interest.

• Encourage dating around. Dating several people at once is a very good way to keep from being kidnapped. It also helps a person to prepare for marriage, because you can observe different styles, values and preferences in other people. Dating serially (one person at a time) limits a teen’s viewpoint. Also, when teens aren’t in an exclusive relationship, they are more likely to present their “best selves” to each other.

Dating is part of the last phase of parenting. Enjoy it and help your adolescent to grow from it. For more information, check out my book with Dr. Cloud Boundaries in Dating. Best to you.

The Negative Effects of Caffeine on Your Teen

Howard Schultz, former CEO of Starbucks, once said, “Great companies that build an enduring brand have an emotional relationship with customers that has no barrier. And that emotional relationship is on the most important characteristic, which is trust.”

Starbucks has built an enticing brand, especially to its primary target market: teenagers and young adults. But for many teens today, the brand is not the only thing that attracts them. There’s also the caffeine.

Teenagers across the United States are consuming entirely too much caffeine. Studies show that teens between the ages of 13 and 18 should not consume any more than 100 mg of caffeine a day. A typical coffee from Starbucks contains at least 300 mg of caffeine, or three times the recommended amount.

Soft drinks and energy drinks such as Red Bull and Monster are filled with caffeine and other ingredients that should not be consumed on a regular basis. It is important that teens understand the effects that caffeine can have on them. The major side effects of too much caffeine include nervousness, anxiety, jitteriness, sleep problems, gastrointestinal issues, tremors, increased heart rate and, in extreme cases, death.

The more caffeine your teen consumes, the more likely he or she will become addicted to it. Caffeine is defined as a drug due to its effects on the body and, just like any drug, is a hard habit to kick. Stimulants like caffeine directly affect the brain and cause it to crave more of the same. Because of its addictive properties, caffeine withdrawal is now recognized as a mental disorder.

The best way to counteract bad consumption habits is to know what the healthier options are. Here are some better alternatives for your teen when it comes to caffeine:

  • Tea – While some teas at Starbucks still contain large amounts of caffeine, the vast majority of options available at restaurants and in stores are much lower in caffeine and sugar than coffee and other caffeine-rich beverages.
  • Vitamin Water Energy – This drink contains no artificial ingredients and only 50 mg of caffeine in each 20 oz bottle.
  • Chocolate milk/ hot chocolate – One glass of chocolate milk contains about 5 mg of caffeine, and hot chocolate contains about 25 mg. When drank in moderation, the natural caffeine found in chocolate is a much healthier alternative for your teen than coffee, soda or energy drink.

There’s no denying that caffeine can be harmful, especially in large quantities. Many teens feel the pressure of advertisements from companies like Starbucks. That is why it is important as a parent to understand the risks of caffeine as well as to know safer and healthier alternatives. Remember, as always, that your own modeling of healthy caffeine consumption may be the most effective way to impact your teen’s caffeine consumption!

Doing battle with violence

Violence is all around us. Know what your child is watching on the internet and TV, and monitor the video games that come into your house.

Be aware not only of the quantity of violence your child might be consuming, but also the quality. Are they playing violent video games continuously? Does the program show graphic violence or violent sex? Too much violence viewing can desensitize teens and children and make it hard for them to recognize and respond to dangerous or inappropriate situations in real life.

Some parents worry that by intervening and giving direction to their teens when it comes to media influences, they will are being over involved, pushy, and will have an adverse effect. In reality, when parents do not intervene about other influences like media, teens internalize this as permission. They may react poorly at first to limit-setting, but a good rule of thumb is to remember that if it is a teen’s job to push limits and boundaries, it is the parents’ job to consistently enforce them.

Here are some things you can do to counteract violence in your child’s world:

  • Explain consequences. Sometimes violent acts are depicted in isolation. There are no families around crying or legal repercussions to answer for. If you see your child watching a violent scene, engage him or her in a discussion of how that scene could play out in real life.
  • Limit consumption. Keep an eye on the clock when kids are watching TV or playing video games. Too much of either is bad for their physical and mental health, so give them an hour then make them go outside.
  •  Teach conflict resolution. In real life, arguments usually don’t end with someone pulling out a gun. Teach them how to handle conflict with words, and work on their healthy conflict resolution skills. Becoming a peacemaker will make violence much less appealing. E-mail us to request information about our 8-step Healthy Confrontation Model. [email protected]
  • Keep your kids busy. Sports, clubs and part-time jobs will widen your child’s world and reduce their interest in violent programming. Plus, they’ll have less time to consume it!
  •  Be more mindful of younger or more sensitive children. Kids of different ages should be allowed to consume different amounts of violence. Your high school teen should be allowed to see more than your 5-year-old, for whom “Road Runner” might be too much.
  • Keep media out of kids’ bedrooms. This is an easy way to monitor what your child is viewing. This might be easier said than done with cellphones, but being clear about your expectations should carry over even when you are not around.
  • Use technology to your advantage. Don’t be shy about triggering parental controls on certain television channels, tablets and smartphones if you’re concerned about exposing your child to violence. Though not foolproof, they do offer another line of defense.
  • Model healthy media consumption. As always, one of the most important parts of parenting is modeling. Remember the adage that “more is caught than taught.” This means that there may be times when teens need to see you willing to stop a movie or song that is too violent or even turn off the news when it is too full of violent images for you or your children.

Violence is everywhere, and it is not possible to track everything your child consumes that might contain violence. Maintain a positive relationship with your child and keep open lines of communication. If they see something troubling, chances are they’ll come to you to discuss it. Remember that your job as a parent is to be “warm structure,” setting healthy limits with grace and truth.

Churches Provide Healing

Teens who are struggling may find little reason to attend church. When their world is crumbling, it’s hard for them to see its role in their life. But in truth, it can save them.

Church can be a vital part of self-growth for everyone who attends. For teens in crisis, church is especially powerful, providing a place of love, hope, acceptance, and direction.

When teens attend church or a church function, they are surrounded by many strong role models and mentors. These individuals can renew hope in teens wrestling with issues of self-worth. They can provide reassurance that although life may be disappointing right now, it is bound to get better. And they can reiterate the importance of making healthy choices for a better tomorrow. This is the guiding light of ministry.

Many churches also offer a community of people who love and care for one another unconditionally. No matter the situation, many individuals will step forward to help a hurting teen. Despite some stereotypes, there are many churches that do not judge and that ultimately want the best for each and every person who steps through their doors.

For many teens, a mission or service opportunity might be a great opportunity to get their minds off their problems. Every ministry has its own mission that empowers church members and those in the community they serve. Having a mission often helps teens see beyond themselves and gives them a good reason to stay on a positive track.

Sometimes the best way to get on track to positive thinking is to talk openly about the things that are going wrong with someone who cares. Church leaders are in the business of listening. Churches offer a confidential place to confess and confide. This could be a starting point for a teen who is struggling. Talking to someone and knowing that they are not alone could be exactly what a teen needs to begin a new life. Increasingly, church leaders are being trained on mental illness and are partnering with mental health providers to link struggling individuals with services that can help.

There is much in the Bible to offer solace and comfort to hurting individuals. The Gospels, Paul’s writings in the New Testament, and many of the Psalms provide guidance and hope. Each church has people who will pray and discuss Scripture with a teen. Sometimes it helps to know your problems are not new!

Perhaps the most important role of a church is to provide positive social interaction and a strong support system. Talking with people and becoming involved with church-sponsored activities can be a great way to get a struggling teen to focus on others and more positive living. As humans, we are hard-wired for love and belonging. Inherently, churches are filled with people who have accepted and received love from God and want to reach out to others and share that love.

Being a teen can be painful at times. Churches offer them a way to express themselves and give back. They not only offer a relationship with God but also relationships with others.

Tips for Dealing with Holiday Stress

By John Townsend, Ph.D.

Most of us feel two distinct emotions around the holidays: anticipation and anxiety. The anticipation is about looking forward to the people and activities that mean something to us. Unfortunately, so is the anxiety, which concerns the more difficult family members we’ll come into contact with and the stresses that come with all of the preparation and demands, from Christmas shopping to cooking to parties.

Here are some ideas to help you experience higher anticipation and lower anxiety.

Take some deep breaths. Right now.
As you read this, put down your device for 60 seconds and take deep breaths. Most of us can inhale for 3 seconds and exhale for 3 seconds. Others can go to 5 seconds. The reason this will help is because we have a tendency to blow through articles and blogs and not really take in the information. We just plow through the paragraphs and go to the next demand on our calendar, so the content doesn’t help us. Simply do the exercise to take a break from your stress. This will help you to feel some calmness and centeredness, and you’ll be able to really consider the tips here and how to use them.

Block out the free time you need.
We don’t get into trouble by overscheduling. We get into trouble by under scheduling free time. (I hope sleep time is blocked out on your calendar so other activities don’t interfere.) Scheduling free time is a real help to manage holiday stress. How many hours off in the morning, afternoon or evening do you need to have a great season? Block those times out. These can be times for working out, hanging out with a friend, doing a hobby or taking a nap. When you put work, sleep, meals, family responsibilities and chores in, you have to make sure the rest of the day doesn’t get eaten up in holiday prep or activities. I suggest at least an hour every day that is “you” time.

Limit those “difficult” people.
Holidays can be a time of dread because of commitments to spend an evening (hopefully not a whole week!) with family members who talk nonstop, have awful social conduct, are alcoholics or make things all about themselves. (I’m getting stressed just writing this.) One helpful idea is to consider not inviting every single person who is related to you. While the holidays are great times for bringing people together, there is no rule that says someone who is toxic gets a free pass. You may have to buck the system with other family members, but at least you will have brought it up and shared the possibility.

On those occasions that include the difficult people (for example, at a party you are attending but not hosting), simply do this: Be kind, give them a couple of minutes of greeting time and go talk to someone else. You shouldn’t be rude, nor should you take the opportunity to have that conversation you’ve been avoiding (“I’ve been waiting all year to tell you how your drinking has impacted me”). Just have a quick check-in and wish them well, then spend 90 percent of your time with people you love. For more information on this, read my book How to Deal with Difficult People.

Get everyone aligned.
Have a family meeting and tell everyone you want them to have a great holiday this year. Talk about your calendaring of free time and help them with theirs. Let them know you’re going to focus on being with people you enjoy and minimize time with the hard ones. Help them to have the same perspective and courage to do that for themselves as well.

Check out
We have just released it, and you will find lots of videos about relationships and families that are practical and helpful as well.

Let’s de-stress the holiday season, and have a great one!!

Start Conversations

At the Table: Conversation Starters with Your Teen

Are day-to-day events and aggravations taking over the conversation between you and your teen?

At Christmas time this year, we encourage you to engage more intentionally and deeply with your daughter. In general, it’s important to leave questions open-ended to avoid one-word responses. Based on your teen’s reaction to questions, you can often delve more deeply or go off on an interesting tangent.

Jennifer Kolari, child and family therapist and author of “Connected Parenting,” recently suggested three open-ended questions that will get your teen to open up.

  1. “If you were suddenly given a large sum of money and that money could be donated only to one charity or cause, what would it be and why?”
    By asking this question, you are tapping into your teen’s ideas and passions and creating a wider discussion about what she values or may be learning in school and from society. Use thoughts about charity and philanthropy to start a discussion about gratitude, a relevant topic during the holidays.
  2. “If you could do one thing for the rest of your life that involves your passion — and you would be paid for it, no matter what it is — what would it be?”
    This question will get your teen thinking about her dreams and goals as well as her personal talents and gifts. “The idea is to start a conversation about meaningful work,” Kolari says. Helping to frame “work” in your daughter’s mind as a part of finding meaning and purpose in life, versus clocking in and holding your breath until Saturday, can go a long way in helping to develop your teen’s healthy work ethic and a rewarding career path.
  3. “Millennials are getting a bad rap. What do older adults have to learn and what do you think millennials can teach them?”
    It is important to draw on the gap between generations and make connections between them. What is your child wanting to contribute to the world?

Above all, truly listen to your daughter after asking these questions. Learning how she views herself and society will help to create a strong bond of communication and trust between you. Additionally, remember to keep an open stance with your daughter. As much as possible, you want to create a dynamic where she feels safe and comfortable talking with you about a wide range of subjects, ideas, and emotions.

Teaching Confrontation – Appropriately

All parents have the same “impossible dream.” We want our kids to become grown-ups who have a strong voice and will not allow themselves to be pushed around or controlled by others. At the same time, we want our kids to do what we say with a great attitude and a smile. This is what psychologists call desires in conflict.

We can’t have it both ways. You want your children to be able to stand their ground and confront others in healthy ways later in life, and there is a training ground for that: their relationship with you! So here are some tips to help you help your child develop this important capacity, with minimal hurt feelings for either of you.

Model healthy confrontation

Kids learn a lot more when information is caught, not taught. How you confront your spouse and kids is highly predictive of how your child will confront others. Research indicates that the best model is one in which there is both warmth and clarity.

Warmth is the emotional expression of being “for” and “with” the other person. Warmth is the opposite of rage and emotional withdrawal. Clarity is the clear expression of expectations and consequences. The mixture of these two components is powerful.

Encourage respectful honesty

Kids need to learn that it’s acceptable to be unhappy or angry. Perhaps they feel that they have already studied enough or want to stay out later during the weekend. It needs to be OK for them to express that to you. Every child needs to have their point of view understood. It might not change the situation, and they still may have to do their homework, but at least they will know their voice was not punished, and that they are not alone.

Try to make all communications between you respectful. You don’t want your child throwing a tantrum at her first job when her boss asks her to work late on a project. That’s no preparation for real life. In my book Boundaries with Teens, I list three types of communications that can reflect whether a confrontation is respectful or disrespectful:

  • Words: Certain hostile or abusive words are not OK, and your teen needs to know what they are. My wife and I told our kids, “You can tell us you’re really mad at us if that’s how you feel. But that’s how you say it.”
  • Attitude: Rolling eyes, sneering and interrupting the conversation is not the way to go. It’s fine to be unhappy, but not with a disrespectful attitude.
  • Behavior: Slamming doors, throwing stuff and walking out of the room before the conversation is done aren’t respectful actions. Tell your child, “I need you to finish our talk and then you can leave, but leave respectfully.”

Teach your overly compliant child to speak up

Some kids don’t have the ability to confront anything. They are just helpful, positive and approval-seeking. While this seems like the perfect situation, these children are often in jeopardy of not knowing how they feel or how to handle tough situations with others.

Most of the time, an overly compliant child is afraid of disappointing you or being rejected if they challenge you. So make that a conversation and make it safe for them to have a voice. Say, “I know you love me and you are a great kid. But I want to hear what your opinions are even if you disagree with me. I won’t get mad and we’ll work it out.” In time, your child should (timidly at first) speak up.

The point here is, be the training ground for your future young adult, who needs to know how to navigate work, career, friendships, love, marriage and parenting. Help them learn how to stand up for themselves and confront others in the healthiest ways possible.

Best to your parenting.

Compass Rose Academy Employee Highlight: Kinsey Horner

It wasn’t until her senior year at Indiana Wesleyan that Kinsey found her home in Wabash. She learned about Compass Rose during her senior seminar class at IWU. She was nervous about the idea of working residential treatment but changed her mind after a campus tour. “I was totally convicted by the Holy Spirit,” she said.

Kinsey fell in love with being a part of Compass Rose the second she arrived on campus. “I never imagined myself working in the residential setting, but I was totally overcome with conviction when I stepped on campus. This is not just a treatment program. It is a family. Very real and powerful life-changing growth happens here.”

Due to her love of our family environment, it was no surprise that one of her favorite things about working at Compass Rose is parent weekends. “It’s an incredible time of connection, vulnerability and healing,” Kinsey said. “I feel closer with our students and their families during our quarterly ‘reunions.’”

One of Kinsey’s best qualities is her love for the girls. She is always connecting with them and making them feel loved. For example, she recently told us about a particular encounter with a student that made an impression on her. “A few months ago, I was having a conversation with a student and she was talking about one of her favorite foods. I said, ‘I love cheesecake too! Let’s go out for cheesecake when you graduate!’ She looked at me so sincerely and said, ‘You said WHEN I graduate. You have a lot of faith in me!’”

That last statement had a powerful impact on Kinsey. “It seemed to be the first moment she realized that she could do this and that she had people believing in her and coming alongside her in this journey,” Kinsey explained. “Since then she has blossomed and taken real steps toward graduation and her treatment. These girls just want to know that their past does not have to define them and that we believe in the hope of a new future for them!”

As a lead house parent at Compass Rose, Kinsey’s responsibility is to provide a safe and secure environment for the girls as they grow during their time here. She takes pride in forming connections with the girls that result in long-lasting change at the character level. As part of the treatment team, Kinsey is also responsible for providing insight into the progress of students and advocating for their needs to be met.

When she is not supervising and delegating daily activities in the cottage, you will most likely find Kinsey taking a long afternoon nap or enjoying an exciting day on the lake with her family!