What's on Your Kid's Mind Today?

by Jessica Gilstrap, LMHC
Recently I was asked to speak at one of our local high schools here in Orlando and spent time with a group of 9th – 12th graders (14-17). The topic of our discussion was centered on family systems and family dynamics. During our time together, they posed many interesting questions relating to families and family relationships. I wanted to take some time and share some of these questions with you and discuss what was on the minds of these particular adolescents that day.

1. Should parents and kids be real close friends/best friends?
Surprisingly, the answer is No. Parents are not called to be their child’s best friend; they are to be their parents. I often talk with parents who think that it is better to just be their child’s friend or pal; this is just not the case. Children yearn for rules and boundaries; they want to know what they can and cannot do. It brings children to a level of security when they know that they are operating within a framework of expectations. When parents become their child’s friend, they later have difficulty establishing guidelines for expectations, thus relinquishing their parental responsibilities.

2. What problems are most prevalent in our families today?
In my counseling practice, we see many different types of family issues. Ordinarily these issues stem from some form of abuse which can manifest itself in many different ways. The most frequent types of abuse are: physical, sexual, emotional, spiritual, and verbal. Following abuse, teenagers act out through rebellion, truancy, forms of addiction and adjustment. As you might have surmised, each of these issues tends to relate back to the parent’s ability to set appropriate boundaries and expectations. The fact is, when one family member is struggling or rebelling, unfortunately it affects the rest of the family system. Single parents tend to face the most difficulty, because they must fill all of the roles: breadwinner, rule setter, and enforcer. It is hard enough to raise children when both parents are in the home and active, when you have a single parent that is forced to wear both of the “parental hats”, it is definitely challenging.

3. What is the impact of family activities?
A family operates as a unit and when the family does activities together, whether it is going to a child’s sporting event, going to the park, or attending church together, they learn to communicate with one another. Communication is key when thinking about relationships. So often I see families that do not know how to communicate with each well and this poses a myriad of issues. Also, the value of the other family members becomes increasingly more real, because you spend time with one another. Family interaction is very important; families that spend leisure time together and hang out together have a greater tendency to get along. The challenge becomes greater as the teenager gets older and begins to make their own plans and follow their own schedule; this is where planning and setting expectations is critical. A parent’s goal here should be to get the child to make an investment in time to be with the family. When we invest, we recognize value. A word here for parents, pick activities that your teenager will enjoy, even if it is not your number one choice. Whether camping, biking, hiking, or just having a set dinner time, your goal is to spend time and communicate. We find that watching TV, or going to the movies does little to open lines of communication.

4. How do we improve family relationships?
A broken family relationship is not something that gets “broken” in a day or a week and therefore will most likely not be “fixed” in a day or a week. Parents, kids tell me overwhelmingly that it is their parents’ fault! Maybe, maybe not, but we have learned that parents make as many mistakes as kids do. When you do, and you will, take responsibility for your actions. When you model this behavior, your children will do the same. Healing in a family is something that takes both a willingness to recognize the issues and a motivation to make the necessary adjustments to facilitate healing.

We have discussed the importance to time together, and of communicating with one another. Make planning and communicating a priority in your family. Set the stage by planning time and events so you can be together. Take responsibility for setting this in motion.

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