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Tips for checking in with your teen

Father and teenage son

It is no secret that cracking into the thoughts and feelings of a teenager can make breaking out of an escape room seem like a breeze. And for those of you who have tried, those escape rooms are not big confidence builders. Yet, emotional check-ins are an important way for parents to support the mental health of their children. Parent and teen communication about mental health enables parents to get a sense of what is going well, identify and address problems, and teach strategies for coping with stress and difficult circumstances.

If you are struggling to start these conversations with your teen, you are not alone. The good news is that there is no secret formula – just go ahead and ask. If your questions are met with suspicion or snide comments, don’t fret. Remain calm and explain why you are asking. Expressing your feelings openly is an excellent way to model the type of communication you seek to have with your teen.

Here are a few more tips for starting conversations:

Be patient

Not every teen will feel comfortable with the new questions. Try cutting down on the ‘annoying parent’ factor by taking a cue from your child about how much talk they can handle. Take it slow and don’t push too much if they seem resistant to the discussion.

Short is still sweet

A quick check-in is OK. Your teen may not want to share a lot of detail or engage in long conversations. Brief updates can often give you enough information. Of course, if you feel your child is struggling or at risk of developing a problem, be more persistent for the sake of their safety and well-being.

Don’t give up

The act of asking questions communicates your support, and this alone makes a difference, even though it may not seem like it. It is also OK to ask how you could better communicate. This strategy is not always successful, but you may be surprised by the answers you receive. Remember that your effort means something, and over time it will hopefully result in improved communication.

Find the “right” time

The best time for a check-in varies for teens and families. Think about the flow of your day and week to determine what might work. Try to pick a time when you are alone and not distracted with other activities. If you seem to be striking out, consider asking your child what times feel better for talking. At the very least, you may learn when not to ask!

Make observations

When you have a concern about your child, try using concrete examples of what you observe and asking about the behavior. Taking a gentle, curious approach may feel less confrontational and may elicit a better response. Approaching the conversation in this way may also help your teen to be more aware of and learn to reflect on their own behavior.

Success is relative

Although your teen likely will not share everything with you, any communication is a good thing and a step in the right direction. This is true even if it means asking you for other help, like assistance connecting with a teacher or therapist.

Remember, however difficult and defeating it can be, finding a way to communicate with your teen is a critical way to support them during this tumultuous developmental period. In asking, you are saying that you care. That message never stops being important and will always make a difference.

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