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Everyday Strong: Building a real connection with your teenager

By Emmory Jarman - Special to the Daily Herald | Oct 16, 2021


Psychologist Alexandra Barzvi says teens roll their eyes at their parents to express "disagreement, resentment, frustration with what you're saying or doing." (Photo courtesy Fotolia/TNS)

Imagine you’re a parent of a 13 year old, who has checked out from going to school, fights to get in the car every morning, doesn’t do homework and throws a tantrum. What do you do? Where do you go to get help? You begin to feel hopeless and lost. That is where the school counselor, teachers and principal can come in to help.

We talked this week to Jenny Howe, a licensed social worker who used to work on a school board to help kids like this. When a similar situation would arise, she would sit down personally and separately with the parent and child. She would make sure to hear and validate both sides of the situation while also gathering important information to help relieve and find the root to a stressful problem like this.

Relationships are the component of who we are and how we think. By maintaining a good relationship between parents and children can help solve many problems. It starts with understanding; knowing that we all wake up, parent and child, desiring to be happy and not wanting to be a bad person. We also can remember that one parent’s version of good and happy might not be the same as their child’s version. Understanding also coincides with communication. Listening and expressing feelings to one another in an orderly and safe way can help resolve many ups and downs that may happen during frustrating times.

Howe explains how she had a similar experience to having a 13 year old not wanting to go to school and throwing tantrums. Sometimes as parents, we go straight to threats and and disciplinary actions in order to make a child do something — such as going to school. But we all know this isn’t always as effective we want. She fell into this stage one time in life, where both sides were frustrated with each other.

She expresses how if she would have simply stepped back for a moment, communicated, and given space for her and her daughter to both express certain feelings, then things would have gone a lot better. Sometimes parenting is hard, and sometimes it is also hard to not rush into consequences rather than simply listening. She goes on to say that parenting is so much more than just discipline. If personal ego is taken out of the equation, parenting is really about teaching children how to gain skills to become a productive adult.

But what if building that relationship and improving communication still doesn’t do the trick in helping a child get back to school? And you’re still asking yourself the need for more support, which is never a bad thing. There are three factors that can help you know when extra support is needed: frequency, duration and intensity.

Looking back on the experience with Howe and her child, if she continued to throw tantrums everyday before school and it only grew harder and harder to control, then a supportive counselor or teacher could help in the process of overcoming those unwanted behaviors. Most behaviors that are deemed as “unhealthy” or “bad” are mostly there because of an unmet need in their life. If a child is avoiding school and is looking for something else, Jenny Howe tries to find out why a child might be seeking those certain things and why they fall to them instead. She tries to help create those experiences and feelings in a safer and healthier environment, where both sides of the party are compatible. And solving the problem begins to be much easier after knowing the reason and the direction.

A plan can be set up with the school to help the child. For instance if the child is anxious, a teacher or counselor could come meet the child with the parent before the start of school, or have the child start the day working in the school counselor’s office before transitioning into the classroom. Each child is unique, just like parents, with different needs that are to be met and when we understand that both parent and child want a safe relationship with communication and cooperation then most things can stay on track.

For more advice on how to help and support your child through hard times, tune into our new episode on the EveryDay Strong podcast! Jenny Howe, a licensed social worker, provides her insights on how to help both parent and child in gaining a better understanding of one another and knowing when the time is right to get more help within the school.

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.


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