If you have ever looked at your teen and wondered, who are you and what did you do with my sweet child, you are not alone.
At Family & Youth Initiatives, we receive a lot of requests from parents to fix their teens. But we’re not in the business of fixing.
What we do is focus on helping them improve relationships by connecting and becoming closer, more than on their teens’ specific, unruly behaviors.
For parents, it’s often difficult to navigate where to start. Fortunately, we have a new toolbox with tips and resources on how to make this happen. It’s called Forward Together at forwardtogetherco.com, a statewide campaign that is the brainchild of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and the Colorado Department of Human Services.
Forward Together is all about building and strengthening bonds between parents and teens.
Sounds pretty great, right? Except parents with teens who are speeding down F Street, ignoring curfew and showing signs of engaging in questionable behavior are often left scratching their heads.
Why talk about their relationships, which oftentimes seem okay, rather than the out-of-line, unacceptable behaviors?
At first, this does sound counterintuitive. But ideas within Forward Together are built on valid and reliable assessments, including the Developmental Relationships Survey from Minneapolis-based Search Institute, which has conducted research on youth and published findings since 1958.
Its actionable data and insight bridge research and practice to help young people become their best selves.
The secret sauce is the effectiveness of our relationships and how to get there.
Forward Together offers some ways in. Colorado youth are featured in short videos and TV spots, talking about the small moments and actions that brought them closer to their parents, who stand on the sidelines in the studio.
It’s interesting what teens noticed and what made that difference.
With or without these heartwarming moments, how do we directly empower our teens to make healthy, safe choices?
First, recognize that we don’t always see that our teens make decisions all the time, whether it’s to continue a friendship or get into a car with an inexperienced driver who has been drinking.
Start by telling them how much they matter and you’re there for them, especially when they are standing in the crossroads, faced with tough choices. Tell them again. And again, no matter how awkward.
Our statewide data backs this approach.
The Healthy Kids Colorado Survey in 2019 shows that youth who have someone they can go to with a problem are less likely to make unhealthy choices, such as misusing drugs and alcohol or engaging in violent behavior.
Forward Together covers a lot of ground, including barriers to connection, shared struggles, building relationship skills, the science of youth development, tips to start conversations and more. It’s a wealth of resources.
Attention on relationships rather than behaviors in wilding teenagers is certainly a shift.
It gives parents a little bit of a break. We don’t have to lecture. We don’t threaten. We don’t need to know all of the answers.
Instead, give this relationship business a try. Leave Parentland and journey into their world. Do what they like to do.
Just be there with them. Connecting with teens doesn’t have to be a grand gesture. And it sure beats trying to fix them.
Ann Marie Swan is a Family Partnership Specialist with Family & Youth Initiatives, a prevention division within Chaffee County Department of Human Services. FYI provides evidence-based prevention resources for children, youth and families.