Starting in their pre-teen years or even younger, parenting teens can be a difficult and sometimes maddening, undertaking. Unlike, appliances, they don’t come with a manual.

For the last 15 years I have been doing Equine Assisted Psychotherapy and, what I refer to as “office or talk” therapy, with middle school age boys at therapeutic boarding schools. Additionally, as a grandfather and great grandfather, and father of three adult children, I have had ample life experiences with teens and pre-teens. Being a parent can be a very frustrating experience. What I offer to you, as parents, is common-sense, but enlightened, “horse-sense” for parenting your teen(s) based on these years of experience.

As a mental health counselor (Licensed Professional Counselor), I have worked with teens with a large range of issues, including: anxiety, depression, attention/hyperactivity deficit, post-traumatic stress, attachment, autistic spectrum (including Asperger’s), oppositional/ defiance, adoption, gender identity, etc. Drawing from this background and experience, let me help you with your parenting.

The difference between coaching and counseling is that in counseling the issues are the focus. With coaching, we will focus on you, as parents, acquiring the skills and perspective you need to help you better work with your teens. For example, let us say your teen is high anxiety. How do you help him or her deal with that?

As a caveat before answering this question, let me first point out a truism of parenting from a therapist’s perspective: In a majority of cases, it took me only a few minutes with parents to understand why their teen had the issues he/she had. The teens were mirroring the parents’ issues. Consequently, dealing with your own issues as parents is of major importance. Still, in a large number of cases, it wass the teen’s issue. The parents were high functioning, normally-adjusted adults. Back to our high-anxiety teen…

Role modeling is important. It is critical that you “walk your talk” and not,”do as I say, not as I do.” Like horses, teens and children pay attention to what we do, not what we say. Are you high anxiety? How do you handle your anxiety? Your stress? What are your own issues?

Does your teen mirror your behaviors? Keep in mind, in this case, genetics can play a big role here. In that case, one or both of the parents can be carrying genes that affect this behavior. A teen’s behavior is a function of the genes they carry, which are your genes if you are their biological parents, and a function of their environment. Genes and environment both go into affecting a teen’s behaviors. As parents, we want to teach our children positive, adaptive, personal skills for dealing with their (and your) issues.

In the case of anxiety, here are a few things you can do. First, teach your teen relaxation techniques and encouraging them to use them. There is all kinds of stuff on the Internet that can help you there: meditation, exercise, yoga, and more. I usually try to start with teaching the teens mindfulness, which is a major personal skill that can serve them the rest of their life. Reframing is another usuful tool. Listen to their concerns, a great parenting skill in itself. Sometimes simply rephrasing their concerns in a more positive note, you know, from a glass is half full, not half empty perspective, can be very helpful for them. There are all kinds of cognitive tools like this that you can use.

Take their feelings seriously; their feelings are real. Everyone is entitled to their feelings. Feelings are just what they are. There is no “shouldn’ts” here. Then move on from there. It is not what their feelings are that is the problem, it is what they do with those feelings. Feelings are also impermanent. Teach them to acknowledge their feelings. Just watch the feelings without judgement. Just let the feelings be there, etc., as discussed above.

In all of this, you as parents are honing or developing your own personal skills so that you can better work with your teen. I look forward to hearing from you. You can email me here.