Communication strategies for parents and teens

Recently, Shelterwood Program Director Rujon Morrison and Brain Balance Program Director Amanda Gunter joined forces to share communication strategies with parents. Their presentation “New Connections: Empowering Communication” walks through many facets of how parents and teens connect with each other.

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Rujon Morrison and Amanda Gunter discuss communication strategies for parents and teens.

During their conversation, Rujon and Amanda explore:

  • Various methods of communication, from loved-based vs. fear-based to healthy vs. unhealthy
  • How our unique temperaments influence the way we communicate — and the way we prefer to be communicated with
  • The components of emotional intelligence
  • Communication styles and attachment styles
  • How a teenager’s brain age and developmental stage impacts their communication
  • The relationship between IQ and EQ (emotional intelligence) — and how this impacts our ability to share our thoughts or share our emotions

Amanda and Rujon offer actionable ideas and tangible strategies to communicate while navigating the often turbulent teenage years, as well as how Shelterwood works with teens on communication and restoration. Listen below:

How parents stay involved at Shelterwood

At Shelterwood, we know that the decision to place a teen in a residential treatment agency is a difficult and life-defining one . . . but it is a decision that is caring and courageous. Ultimately, our goal is family restoration, and parent involvement is critical every step of the way. During a teen’s time at Shelterwood, parents are continuously engaged.

Every teen begins at Shelterwood in our Rebalance 120-Day Intensive. Designed to initiate the real transformation your teen needs, our goal during this phase is to help parents determine what is best for their teen and their family. The only way to know the answer is to begin — and parents are engaged continuously. During a teen’s first 30 days, the Shelterwood team conducts in-depth assessments to pinpoint the root of the struggle, from behavioral to neurological factors. We analyze brain function, strengths and weakness and how he or she processes information. Shelterwood parents love how our assessment helps them understand their teen like never before.

From the start, Shelterwood parents have access to our Parent Portal. This online hub is a key resource in family communication, with a wide variety of features built to move families forward in the treatment process and prepare for a smooth transition back home. The user-friendly portal includes a team blog, parent resource library, messaging system, photo album, calendar, therapeutic and academic reports and more. Combined, these resources make certain that parents stay up-to-date on their teen’s progress.

Twice a year, Shelterwood sponsors parent weekends. These weekends are opportunities for one-on-one connection here on the Shelterwood campus. Designed for family restoration, these weekends are moments of transformation and encouragement for both parents and teens. Parents tell us that getting to really know the staff who care for their teen is a highlight of the weekend. Moms and dads are engaged in many activities, such as seminars, small group meetings and family counseling. We also have meetings with the teaching staff from our school, testimony from Shelterwood grads and parents, meals with staff, meals together with teens and a wonderful closing chapel service. In addition to these special weekends, parents are also given the opportunity to visit their teen on and off campus throughout the school year in accordance with the student’s individual treatment plan.

ShelterwoodLifestyle July 2017 56 1024x683 How parents stay involved at Shelterwood

Communication is key at Shelterwood. Shelterwood therapists provide parents with weekly updates on their teen’s progress in therapy, as well as interdisciplinary reports from the treatment team. Additionally, we extend an invitation for parents to attend quarterly meetings with the various department heads to determine general satisfaction and resolve any issues or concerns that might be emerging.

Our efforts at Shelterwood always drive towards a smooth transition back home, and that is why we make sure that parents are deeply involved in the development of their teen’s aftercare plan. To encourage parents and keep them equipped for the journey, we also offer support in a variety of ways post-graduation. Teens are invited back to select mission trips and spiritual retreats, which are great refreshers for the work done at Shelterwood. We also hold periodic Family Intensive Retreats as refreshers for you as parents. Our Family Program also offers you important, ongoing topics to navigate the first year home.

All of these components combine for strong parent involvement throughout a teen’s time at Shelterwood. Together, we experience the transformation of a lifetime for students and families.

Parent Weekends at Shelterwood

Shelterwood Parent Weekends are an integral part of our treatment strategy. We host these very special events once in the spring and once in the fall. Designed for family restoration, we love witnessing transformation and encouragement on both sides: for the parents and teens.

Parent Weekends are planned with the intent to move the entire family forward along the treatment process, with the goal to see an increase of faith, hope and love in the hearts and minds of these families. These weekends are opportunities for families to grow in hope for healing and family reconciliation, as well as in love and appreciation for one another. Every weekend includes plenty of space and time for encouragement and training for moms and dads.

parents weekend 1 Parent Weekends at Shelterwood

Placing a teen in residential treatment is one of the most difficult decisions a parent can make, but it’s a decision that is courageous and loving. These weekends offer a chance to connect with fellow parents, discovering that no one is alone on this journey.  

Parents consistently tell us that meeting the staff who care for their teen is a highlight of the weekend. At Shelterwood, we’ve worked hard to create a place of individualized care with a low staff-to-student ratio. Every teen is educated, counseled and discipled by a full team of experts and moms and dads love meeting this team during Parent Weekends.

Moms and dads are engaged in many activities, like seminars, small groups meetings for parents and family counseling sessions. We also have meetings with the teaching staff from our high school, a testimony from a Shelterwood graduate and their parents, meals together with staff and meals together with their teens and a wonderful closing chapel service ending with an open mic and video montage.   

Our entire staff of 90 works together to make these weekends special. And a strong team of Shelterwood alumni parents cover the event in prayer! We see God at work in remarkable ways on these weekends. We’re already looking forward to our next weekend for parents of teen guys at the end of April.

Mistakes Therapists Make

Four common errors that therapists make with teenagers, that Doré E. Frances has come across in her practice.

Mistake 3: Improving Family “Communication”

Screen Shot 2015 06 02 at 12.50.45 PM 300x202 Mistakes Therapists MakeThe most pervasive idea in both individual and family therapy is that young people run a muck because the family doesn’t “communicate” well. Too many therapists, in my opinion, focus on discussing what each member of the family feels without acknowledging any difference in status between children and parents.

They seem to believe that children may comment on parents’ sex life or spending habits as freely as parents would address the same subject with their child. When a young person is out of control and drunk on power, this attention to open communication is like throwing gasoline on an open flame.

I once told a 14-year-old client who was insulting his parents in a coaching session to stop speaking that way. He jumped up, pointed at me and shouted, “You’re my advocate. You have to let me say whatever I want as long as it’s what I really feel!”

I realized that this is what he had been taught by his former therapist at home before he entered a wilderness therapeutic outdoor program..

Therapists commonly teach parents and children to speak in “I” messages, and when no power struggle is going on, this practice is perfectly reasonable. However, when adolescents are angry and explosive, there is typically a power struggle going on, and this level of communication inflames it by raising an out of control teenager’s status to that of an equal partner with their parents. In power struggles, teenagers challenge parents about the content of an issue, and parents respond in the same vein.

John then screamed at his mother, “This is just bullshit! You always pull this kind of controlling shit on me. Everyone else’s parents are letting them go to the party. We’re not doing anything wrong mom.”

She responded to the content, defending herself by saying, “this isn’t bullshit.” She insisted that she and her Screen Shot 2015 06 02 at 12.50.09 PM 257x300 Mistakes Therapists Makehusband didn’t always control John and that she didn’t care what other parents allow. Some therapists might encourage this kind of interaction, thinking the teen and parents are communicating, when, in fact, the teenager is defining the issue and browbeating his parents. The communication approach I prefer simply acknowledges the process of the interaction and keeps parents from lapsing into a defensive position.

So with John’s mother, she might have said, “You know what, young man? As long as you’re talking to me that way, you aren’t going anywhere.” 

Often, I actually coach parents to be more mysterious and indirect by keeping their knowledge and plans to themselves. For instance, as a parent learns more about their teen’s friends, we encourage them to accumulate that knowledge until it can be used as part of a cohesive plan of action.

For instance, when parents learn about an illicit party this coming Friday night, instead of confronting the teen, it may be better to organize several parents to show up there together to break it up.

Difficult teenagers often work very hard so that parents don’t learn anything about their lives outside the home, while parents usually talk constantly, sharing all their plans and giving away whatever strategies they may be developing. Teenagers usually will resist their parents’ taking control of information by threatening further misbehavior or escalating the confrontation on the spot in an attempt to make parents capitulate.

By paying attention to process and not giving in to the temptation to explain and justify, parents can maintain their calm and gain greater authority.

Check out this interesting video on The Principle of Confusion

Relieve Stress

Screen Shot 2015 03 20 at 2.49.09 PM Relieve StressToday, over a quarter of teens say they experience extreme stress at school. Now, experts are concerned that as stress rises in adolescents, they will be setting themselves up to form bad stress habits at an early age. Stress related behavior includes lack of sleep and exercise, as well as poor eating habits. Experiencing stress for extended periods can lead to depressive thoughts and behaviors as well. Beginning these stress-related habits young could prove dangerous as teens grow.

Often, as parents, we respond to the stress levels of our children by wanting to manage or alleviate their stress. In reality, not all stress is negative. A healthy level of stress can motivate students to learn to manage tasks, prioritize, and get things done. Teens pick up on our cues. How do I react to stress? My teen most likely will begin responding similarly.

As I learn to let go of my desire to micromanage my teen’s academic stress, I learn to see how he responds to the stress of school in his own way. Experts question what academic stress looks like in teens, expressing concern that as attention spans shrink, stress is more related to tasks that are required of the teen but not desired.

The average teen is experiencing extended screen time and decreased exercise time. Exercising and engaging in physical activity are the quickest way to relieve stress. Noticing when our teens are stressed gives us an opportunity as parents to suggest healthy outlets for their stress. And, it gives us the opportunity to encourage our teens to expand their view of what they believe they can accomplish. Our teens are strong and resilient. While stress can certainly be unhealthy in high doses, it can also be useful in motivating our teens to begin practicing good habits rather than bad. Engage with your teen about his or her level of stress. Walk them through their choices in how to respond and react, and take note of how you are reacting to stress in your own life. Your teens are watching for healthy cues and patterns.