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converstions at dinner table

Talking at the Dinner Table: Having Healthy Family Conversations

By | Talking With Teens | No Comments

Thanksgiving is a time for gathering, laughter, and warm belly-filling food. As with any relationship, the key to building a positive relationship is to keep the line of communication open.

Communicating with teens can sometimes be difficult, in busy households, it’s easy to overlook making time and space in your day to have a really good talk with your child and find out what’s going on in their life.

And if we do make time, sometimes we can get locked into unhelpful ways of communicating – bickering, nagging, criticizing, lecturing – that once we’re in are hard to avoid.

Your relationship is changing, and you have to be flexible and able to change with your child. But don’t ever think that they need you any less as a good sounding board. During adolescence, they need you just as much as they ever did. The best way to support them is by making sure they’ll come to you with any problems they’re having, and that’s why effective communication is so important.

Keys to effective communication

Barriers to effective communication

Try these following to encourage effective communication at the dinner table and beyond.

  • Open ended questions — “how did that make you feel?”
  • Actively listen — let them know you are listening by summarizing the situation as you heard it. “So let me see if I’ve got this right. You……. Is that how it happened?” Avoid adding your own judgment!!!
  • Validate their feelings — “It sounds as if you were [insert emotions here], were you?”
  • Move forward — “What do you think is the best thing to do now?”
  •  Talk about positive things happening in their life, and acknowledge the struggles

Try to minimize the following, which act as barriers to effective communication.

  • Interruptions and distractions — this may display disinterest in what your child is saying
  • Unsolicited advice — no one likes unsolicited advice; rather, try listening fully then ask to offer advice
  • Judgement — who likes to judge off the bat? Not me, and hopefully not you! Instead of judging what your child has to say, validate their point of view
  • Interrogation — O.K. so Thanksgiving is the time to find out what’s going on in your child’s life…

LEAVE THEM ROOM TO TALK, FREELY & OPENLY. They didn’t commit a crime. Don’t keep firing questions at them

There is always more than one way to work through things. Having these sorts of conversations helps your child explore how they manage their relationships and gives them clues about how to communicate well with others.

Author: Elizabeth Nguyen

Bullying and Substance Use

By | Behavior Issues, Health Risks, Teen Safety | No Comments

Bullying transcends childish acts such as teasing, rough housing or joking around. It can be a dangerous activity with devastating physical and psychological effects. It’s a prominent risk factor for substance abuse and addiction, but the person being bullied isn’t the only one at risk.

a free online resource that provides information about adolescent bullying, addiction, and mental health issues recently published an educational guide about bullying and substance abuse.

Read more here.


Health Risks

By | Health Risks | No Comments

You play an important role in keeping your child safe. However, when they are teens is important to find a balance between giving your kids the freedom to make their own choices and mistakes, and enforcing rules to keep them safe. As soon as your kids become teens, they start looking for more independence.

Even when your teens spend less and less time near you because they are busy with school, friends and other activities, it is important that you, as a parent, know how to keep them safe. Having good communication helps you to be part of your teens’ life and help them to be safe.

Here are some links to good sources for safety information:


Teens and Confidentiality

By | Health Topics | No Comments

Teens and Confidentiality

We want parents and teens to talk early and often about sexuality, drug use, and mental health. Your job is not over yet! Parents play an important role in their teen’s health behavior. Yet as teens begin to mature, one-on- one time with a health care provider is a part of growing up. They begin to learn how to advocate for their own health care needs or manage a chronic health condition on their own. These are important things all teens should learn how to do. During this time, teens may ask questions or raise concerns that they might not be ready to discuss with you. Maybe they are too embarrassed. In Minnesota, teens have the right to confidential care around pregnancy, family planning, STI testing and treatment, and drug and alcohol abuse treatment.

While confidentiality does mean that teens can keep certain details of their visit private, we want to partner with and support you in this journey of parenting, since YOU are your teen’s most important adult. Also, confidentiality has its limits. If there is a threat to your teen’s life or another person’s life, providers have the duty to inform you and sometimes someone else, like a social worker, to make a plan to protect your teen.


Teen Friendly Clinic Visits

By | Health Topics | No Comments

Congratulations! Your child is becoming an adolescent! This is an exciting life stage filled with unique opportunities and occasional challenges. All providers that see teenagers look forward to working with you and your teen on how best to navigate these ups and downs. During the clinic visit, they will ask your child directly what the reason is for their visit, and they will explain the treatment plan to him/her. Providers want your teen to know that they regard them as their patient and respect their feelings, wishes, and concerns.

Also, teens need to practice these self-care skills, and starting early allows them to get the hang of it before they are on their own. This will help the teen patient be aware of the importance of taking responsibility for their own health.

Another way providers encourage teens to participate in their own care is to spend time alone with them at the visit. There may be some things your teen will feel more comfortable talking about only with the provider. This is a change from when he/she was younger, but it is the recommended way to best serve teens. Providers will usually see you with your child first, then with the child on his or her own. They can also be a resource to you as you navigate how to parent a teen. They would be happy to meet with you. Remember that parenting a teen is not always easy, but your job is still so very important. You are the most powerful role model in your teen’s life. Sharing your values around alcohol, drugs, sexuality, and interpersonal relationships is vitally important.

Start early, and talk often!

Tips to Stay Ahead of the Game

By | Tips for Parents | No Comments


Let’s face it: the teen years can be bumpy. As parents, we need to be our teen’s anchor, not their best friend. Set clear boundaries; yet approach your teen with love and respect. So figure out those limits that work best for your family, and then enforce them, all the time. While it may feel like we’re “losing our kid” during the teen years, we’re really just a few years away from forming a true friendship as our teen enters adulthood.


Choose your battles. Is it really worth arguing about blue hair? If your teen’s challenging or general attitude gets under your skin, decide whether it’s a battle you want to tackle. Of course you want to stand your ground on issues that are important, but not all issues are monumental. Be selective.


Sex. Cigarettes. Drugs. Alcohol. Guns. Gangs are definitely uncomfortable topics of conversation with your teen. But teens need to hear your perspective on these topics, understand why you feel the way you do, and know you are someone they can come to with questions.


Make it a habit to say at least three positive things to your teen every day (even if it’s just, “hey, thanks for feeding the dog.”) It’s easy to notice the negative, but no one has yet to complain about receiving a compliment – even a teen.


It’s important for teens to have meaningful roles and responsibilities in the family. Start with household chores – cutting the grass, making a meal or doing the laundry – and work your way up. These tasks prepare teens for independent living as young adults, and give them a sense of responsibility and success (as long as they don’t mix the white clothes with the colors, of course).


Friends are a big deal. And you can learn a lot about your teen through their friends, but connecting with the parents of these friends is your lifeline. By checking in with the parents, you’ll have your finger on the pulse of your teen’s activity – inside and outside the home. Talking with other parents also lets you know that you’re not the only one who (gasp!) sets rules for your teen.


If you expect respectful behavior from your teen, demonstrate it daily with your teen. And this may be difficult as teens roll their eyes at you in exasperation or give you the cold shoulder. But grit your teeth and get through it. Respect will be the foundation for building good relationships and getting teens to accept their family’s values as their own.


When kids are ready to talk, be ready to listen. While this undoubtedly happens when you are running late or are really tired from a busy day at work, when you stop and listen to your teen, it’s amazing what you’ll find out. But here’s the kicker: resist the urge to offer too much advice or tell them what to do. Help them figure it out for themselves by asking questions that will guide their decisions.


It may seem like you disagree about everything with your teen. Don’t worry; it’s normal. Teens need to question “the norm” to figure out what makes sense to them and learn how to think for themselves. And while a little latitude is a good thing, you still have the final word when it comes to how your teen should behave.


While the teenage years are certainly challenging, there can be plenty of fun times and good memories. The trick? Know what “fun” means to your teen. And know that it won’t always be your idea of “fun.” At this stage, you may be the last person your teen wants to be seen with in public, but offer to drive your teen and his/her friends to a movie or sport activity (listen to the conversation during the drive – it will be a wealth of information on your teen).

Discovering creative ways to spend time with your teen is what’s important – and makes one-on-one time enjoyable.

Find more fun activities to do with your teen here.


Know the Warning Signs

By | Behavior Issues, Warning Signs | No Comments
  • Not just occasionally – this is normal. We’re talking about continued disregard for your authority and rules.
  • Suspected substance use or abuse.
  • Aggression – fighting with and hurting others.
  • Extreme withdrawal – teens spending an inordinate amount of time in their room.
  • Loss of interest in activities your teen normally likes to do.
  • Change in appearance – neat kids become unkempt, rapid weight loss or gain, etc.
  • Continued talk about death, depression and suicide.

Tips for Positive Communication

By | Talking With Teens | No Comments
When to Talk
  • When TV, telephone and computers are turned off (to reduce distraction).
  • When siblings aren’t around.
  • When there isn’t a time limit. (Not 5 minutes before leaving the house).
  • When everyone is calm.
How to Talk
  • Chose appropriate time.
  • Be respectful of each other.
  • Make a genuine effort to see their point of view.
  • Watch your body language and keep your voice down.
  • Avoid “you statements”.   Instead, use “I statements”.
  • Don’t just talk about the other person’s feelings and thoughts. Reflect and talk about your own, also.
How to Listen
  • Pay attention to your body language.
  • Ask for clarification.
  • Mirror what the other person says (“So you’re saying…”).
  • Let the other person finish their thoughts.
  • Pay attention to the words and emotions – practice empathy.

Talking About Sex

By | Talking With Teens | No Comments

How do adults become askable?

As a parent, it’s very important for you to be “askable”. What does that mean? To be askable means that young people see you open to questions. Being askable about sexual topics is something that most parents want but that many find very hard. Probably many adults didn’t have much sex education when growing up. In many homes sex was not discussed whether from fear, out of embarrassment or lack of knowledge.

Some adults feel worried because they think:

  • They don’t know the right words or the right answers;
  • They are too old for their kids;
  • They can be giving too much or too little information; or giving information at the wrong time.

Being askable is important. Studies show that youth who have less or wrong information about sexuality and its risks may experiment more and at earlier ages compared to youth who have more information. Research also shows that when teens are able to talk with their parents about sex and about protection, are less likely to have sexual contact than teens who haven’t.  Finally, youth often say that they want to talk about sex, relationships, and sexual health with their parents—parents are their preferred source of information on these subjects.

Because being askable is so important and because so many parents find hard to start conversations about sex with their kids, adults may need to learn about sex education to feel more confident talking about it. Here are some tips from experts about sex education.

  1. Remember how you felt when you were a teen. Remember that it was a difficult time. One moment, a teen wants to be totally independent, and the next moment urgently needs an adult’s support.
  2. Remember that teens want respectful conversations for both sides. Avoid ordering. Share your feelings, values, and attitudes and listen to and learn about theirs. Remember that you can’t order anyone else’s feelings, attitudes, or values.
  3. Don’t assume that a teen is sexually experienced or inexperienced, knowledgeable or naive. Listen carefully to what your teen is saying and/or asking. Respond to the teen’s actual or unstated question, not to your own fears or worries.
  4. Don’t underestimate your teen’s ability to weigh the pros and cons of her/his options. Teens have values, and they are capable of making responsible decisions, especially when they have all the needed facts and the opportunity to discuss options with you. If you give your teen misinformation she/he may lose trust in you, just as she/he will trust you if you are a reliable source of clear and truthful information. Of course, a teen’s decisions may be different from ones you would make.

Being askable is a lifelong component of relationships. It opens doors to closer relationships and to family connections. It’s never too late to begin!

Tips to Talk About Sexuality

  1. Get accurate information from reliable sources. Remember that sexuality is a much larger topic than sexual contact. It includes biology and gender, of course, but it also includes emotions, intimacy, caring, sharing, and loving, attitudes, romance, and sexual orientation as well as reproduction and sexual intercourse.
  2. Learn and use the correct terms for body parts and functions.  If you have difficulty saying some words without embarrassment, practice saying these words, in private and with a mirror, until you are as comfortable with them as with non-sexual words. For example, you want to be able to say “penis” as easily as you say “elbow.”
  3. Think through your own feelings and values about love and sex. Include your childhood memories, your first love, your values, and how you feel about current sex-related issues, such as contraceptives, reproductive rights, and equality with regard to sex, gender, and sexual orientation. You must be aware of how you feel before you can effectively talk with youth.
  4. Talk with your child. Listen more than you speak.  Make sure you and your child have open, two-way communication—as it forms the basis for a positive relationship between you and your child. Only by listening to each other you can understand one another, especially regarding love and sexuality. Often, adults and youth perceive these things differently.
  5. Don’t worry about :
    • Being “with it ” Youth have that with their peers. From you, they want to know what you believe, who you are, and how you feel.
    • Being embarrassed. Your kids will feel embarrassed, too. That’s okay, because love and many aspects of sexuality, including sexual intercourse, are very personal. Young people understand this.
    • Deciding which parent should have this talk. Any loving parent or caregiver can be a good sex educator for his/her children.
    • Missing some of the answers. It’s fine to say that you don’t know. Just follow up by offering to find the answer or to work with your child to find the answer. Then do so.

Dos and Don’ts when talking to your teen

By | Talking With Teens | No Comments
Don’t say Instead say
You shouldn’t feel that way Please, help me to understand you
So, you can’t do any better? What are you feeling right now?
Why did you do that? Tell me, what happened?
You always do… Does what I am doing bother you?
I’m always the one that has to do this What is happening between us?
How could I do this in a different way?

Other common obstacles for communication:

  • Mandate to do something
  • Talk too much
  • Assume or make conclusions beforehand
  • Negative body language (look distracted)
  • Not making the time to listen
  • Take total control of the situation
  • Give advice or solutions
  • Give warnings or threaten
  • Criticize
  • Judge negatively
  • Make fun of them
  • Sarcasm
  • Question everything