Everyday Strong: Becoming a safe space for your teen
You hear her door slam upstairs and then the sound of music blasting through it. There is no way your little girl is going to that party tonight — it would be dangerous and inappropriate. Why can’t she see that? You are frustrated with the situation and feel sorry she is so upset, but was there a better way to handle it?
It is easy to feel like there is no way for us to parent our kids without them getting upset. In a way this is true, but there is one strategy — and a few different ways to employ it — that could help! It is called Safe to Talk.
Safe to Talk is when caring adults allow themselves to be a safe place for kids and teens to come when they need to talk. Being a place where teens can feel safe to talk means being loving, accepting, and supportive. How can parents be a safe place for their teen while also parenting? The key is to create the safe space first and be a parent second.
Creating a safe space can be done by listening to your teen. When your teen comes to you with a question or problem, don’t answer right away. Instead, put duct tape over your mouth and actively listen. This means nodding your head, encouraging them to continue, and asking them questions about how they feel or what they think about the situation. Don’t say anything, just take in the situation and how they feel about it first.
There may be sometimes when you are not ready to listen and/or your teen is not ready to talk. In these situations, don’t force the conversation. Let your teen know you need a minute to calm down, or tell them that you are ready to listen when they feel comfortable talking to you. By giving your teen space and the choice to come to you, they will feel more in control of the conversation and more comfortable talking to you.
In a new Youtube video produced by EveryDay Strong, LCSW Tiffany Statham discusses the concept of Safe to Talk. In the video, Statham compares our emotions to the story of Goldilocks and the three bears. Sometimes we are coming into these conversations too hot by wanting to lecture our teen, blame our teen or give them our opinion. Sometimes we are too cold when we are dismissive of our teen’s emotions or start responding before listening.
Come into the conversation just right by physically turning yourself toward your teen, giving them your full attention, and actively listening to their feelings and experiences. Now, when you answer their question, give advice, or parent your teen, they will know you understand their perspective first and are taking that into consideration.
Dr. Matt Swenson, a child and adolescent psychiatrist, says that when we see youth act out with defensiveness or insistence, it may be because they don’t feel safe to honestly speak about their challenges, feelings, and ideas. Help create this safe space by learning to actively listen to your child.
United Way of Utah County is on a mission to help every child in our community feel safe, connected, and confident. You can listen to our latest podcast episode at
anchor.fm/everydaystrong (or on Apple Podcast and Spotify). Learn more about us at everydaystrong.org