Promoting Healthy Communication between Parents and Teens

Teen Mental Health Outpatient

The teenage years of your child make for complicated parenting, “because teens are beginning to make decisions about things that have real consequences, like school and friends and driving, not to speak of substance use and sex,” wrote Rachel Ehmke in a blog post for the Child Mind Institute. “But they aren’t good at regulating their emotions yet, so teens are prone to taking risks and making impulsive decisions.”

This propensity to make inappropriate impulsive decisions can lead to misusing drugs and alcohol, resulting in a substance use disorder (SUD) that requires treatment. Now, parental involvement and clear communication become even more important.

“Teens that have family, and particularly parents, involved in the treatment process, have better outcomes,” parenting expert Tim Thayne wrote in Not By Chance.  “Parents who are engaged in the process are more likely to understand and buy into the approach being taken in treatment, and will therefore support treatment through to completion; by doing so will improve the functioning of their family.”

In fact, it may be time to re-engage with your teenage child. “Treatment affords you the opportunity to fundamentally change the dynamics between you and your teen, not simply warm up the relationship again,” Thayne wrote. “Aim high and shoot to have your relationship look, feel, and function differently by the time your teen is finished with treatment.” 

Healing your relationship may be more possible in a treatment setting as parents and their teens learn more about the disease of addiction and how to employ clear and honest communication with each other. 

According to Thayne, a good parent-teen relationship generally has these qualities:

  • Mutual honesty including honest communication
  • Stick-to-itiveness when things get rough
  • Teen’s acceptance of responsibility for their contribution to the problem
  • Remorse clearly communicated for harm done 
  • Shared love and appreciation for efforts and strengths
  • Mutual respect
  • Good humor and fun
  • Parent-teen relationship not best friend-teen

As part of a good communication strategy, Thayne recommends regular family check-ins. “The sooner you start communicating your values and your interest in your kids, the better the health of the entire family.” Best to avoid slipping into lecture mode, though: communication is a two-way street. 

Also, asking a lot of probing questions may not be as effective as simply sitting back and listening. “Kids are more likely to be open with their parents if they don’t feel pressured to share information,” wrote Ehmke. “Remember even an offhand comment about something that happened during the day is their way of reaching out, and you’re likely to hear more if you stay open and interested — but not prying.”

Clear communication also means conveying expectations but Thayne cautioned that you may have to shift those expectations to something more realistic. “Get ready to acknowledge the good and real growth in your son or daughter. You may not get everything you wanted, but you can find great satisfaction and joy in seeing some of what you hoped for. Expectations must be managed, or we will overlook the real positive changes in our teen while focusing on the negative irritants.”

Good communication between teens in recovery and their parents is an important element of any treatment approach for substance use disorder. Avanti Behavioral Health has developed an effective and highly involved method of family counseling. For more information about our IOP and family programming call us at (720) 753-4030. 


Posted on

June 27, 2023

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