Ask a Child and Family Professional How do you support your young people to understand and discuss social justice issues? And how can you talk to your teens about the social justice issues they are seeing on social media? As a society we have never been more exposed to social justice issues than we are now, which has seen a shift towards our younger generations being more active with social justice issues than previously. This comes at a time when teens are developmentally wired to be exploring their identity; asking ‘who am I, what are my values, and what do I stand for?’ This is something to encourage and be proud of in our teens. However, the sheer amount of information available to them can be overwhelming, so at times they may need our support to understand and navigate these issues. TIP 1 – EDUCATE YOURSELF One of the first things you can do as a parent is to educate yourself and check in with some of your own beliefs around the issues. By increasing your own knowledge about social justice issues you are role modelling positive behaviour to your teen and positioning yourself to have informed discussions with them. TIP 2 – LISTEN Be willing to learn from your teen. Listen to their point of view about the issue. Be curious and open minded about what they have to say, so that you can understand why they hold their beliefs. It’s ok to offer alternative points of view, but be sure not to push these ideas onto them; instead invite them to think about the issues in other ways. TIP 3 – LEARN TOGETHER Ask your teen where they are getting their information from, making sure it is from reputable sources and offering them alternative sources if needed. This is a good opportunity to do some online research with your teen and explore the issues together. This is a great way of connecting with them and showing them that you value their thoughts and ideas. TIP 4 – SUPPORT Support your teen to have positive boundaries around their focus upon social justice issues. Remember that teens are wired to feel things passionately, so it’s important to be mindful of how this may be impacting their own mental health and wellbeing. Are they constantly distracted by the issue or having trouble sleeping? It’s helpful to support your teen to consider how much time they are spending reading and discussing the issues and whether this is affecting their mood. Talk with them about what can they do to take care of themselves whilst being active in social justice issues, being sure not to tell them what to do. Instead, express any concerns you may have by using “I” statements, for example “I feel worried about you”, then get their input around what they think might be helpful before sharing your ideas. They may find that simple solutions like talking to someone about it, or just putting their phone away for a while and having fun with friends can make all the difference. Child & Family Professional, The Benevolent Society Speak with a professional now We also partner with The Benevolent Society to offer free personalised one-on-one support for parents and carers of teens over the phone and online. For more information: https://parents.au.reachout.com/one-on-one-support
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Ask a Child and Family Professional How can I support my son through a breakup? It is difficult to see your teen upset or in distress. It can be particularly challenging watching your teen be negatively impacted by a relationship breakup because parents often feel helpless in the situation. Teens can experience very big and intense feelings during a breakup but it is important to remember that this is normal for adolescent development. Use this time as an opportunity to support and connect with your teen. Here are a few tips to help you do this: Keep the focus on your teen. Let them decide when they talk to you and what they need from you. Don’t push them to talk about things that they aren’t ready to. Listen without trying to fix things. You can do this by listening more than you talk. Parents often want to fix things for their teens and do this by telling them what to do. Whilst there is a time and place for this, sometimes it’s okay to just sit and listen and be with your teen. That is enough to help them start to feel better. Validate their feelings. By acknowledging how your teen feels this can help them to feel heard and understood. Say things like “It sounds like you really liked this person.” “I can hear how sad this is making you feel right now.” Acknowledge the importance of the relationship to your teen. A relationship that might seem insignificant to us can feel like a big deal to our teens and it’s important to honour your teen’s feelings around this. If you minimise the relationship it can lead to your teen feeling unheard and shutting down the communication with you. Ask your teen what they need. Don’t make assumptions about what your teen needs- instead ask them. Problem Solve. If your teen has identified any challenges around the breakup then ask them if they would like some help to problem solve this. Ask for their input around what they think would be helpful before you share your ideas. Encourage your teen to take care of themselves. Give your teen gentle reminders to take care of themselves by doing things like spending time with friends, watching their favourite movies, engaging in exercise and talking about the breakup when they need to. Child & Family Professional, The Benevolent Society Speak with a professional now We also partner with The Benevolent Society to offer free personalised one-on-one support for parents and carers of teens over the phone and online. For more information: https://parents.au.reachout.com/one-on-one-support
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Ask a Child and Family Professional Motivation: My teen is really struggling with motivation and I am concerned something is wrong. What can I do? Teen behaviours are guided by their emotions, how they feel about a task will over-rule their logical thinking. Teens either like it, don’t like it, hate it, or sometimes just don’t seem to care at all. What you are describing is a common struggle for parents of teens. If you are feeling alone with this, perhaps consider chatting with other parents on this forum. Understanding why teens behave the way they do will help you to manage your expectations. It might be helpful to learn a bit more about brain development during the teenage years. https://raisingchildren.net.au/pre-teens/development/understanding-your-pre-teen/brain-development-teens https://ed.ted.com/lessons/the-mysterious-workings-of-the-adolescent-brain-sarah-jayne-blakemore It can be helpful to think about teenage behaviour as the fight, flight, and freeze response. Fight – they respond with lots of energy. Flight -they avoid. Freeze - when they appear to not care at all. With this in mind, teens will often avoid a task when they feel there are too many obstacles. For example, a teacher is always asking a teen about their homework – it’s due, have they finished it, when will they submit it, are they falling behind? Teens won’t walk away from this interaction with a renewed drive, ready to complete the work so that they are not asked again (the rational thinking response). More often, they will respond emotionally - freezing or avoiding the homework. They may decide that the teacher is not supportive, so “switch off” and no longer want to do that subject. This is an emotional response, not a rational one. This is where as adults we can help our teen to identify the barriers to completing the task - is it too hard, not the right day of the week, are they tired, or is it as simple as not knowing how to start (a common stumbling block!). If we can help our teen identify their feelings and the obstacles in their way, then we are on track to getting them back to task and hopefully with increased motivation. Remember to be curious when helping your teen to problem solve, the barriers may seem obvious to you, but might not be to your teen. This is a journey of learning with your teen- be patient and remember to continue to put effort into connecting with your teen. Praise their efforts, no matter how small, and show interest into the things that do motivate them- whether that’s their friendships, computer games or TV shows. Small gestures will go a long way! Child & Family Professional, The Benevolent Society Speak with a professional now We also partner with The Benevolent Society to offer free personalised one-on-one support for parents and carers of teens over the phone and online. For more information: https://parents.au.reachout.com/one-on-one-support
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Ask a Child and Family Professional Shared Custody: My ex and I share custody of our kids, but the living conditions and standards in each household are so different. How do I have a conversation with my ex about this? Whenever a parent talks to me about shared custody I immediately think of “Team Parenting”- the concept that both parents are on the same page, with agreed values, rules and boundaries. This does not always happen naturally and can be difficult after a relationship breakdown, however it will provide the consistency and dependability that teens’ crave (even though they may not admit to it!). BUILD THE FOUNDATION: As a starting point, it is ideal for both parents to come together to discuss, negotiate and compromise on how this arrangement will work. Keep your teen at the heart of the conversation and focus on your shared goals for them. Practice using the same skills we encourage you to use when communicating with your teen – it a great opportunity to role-model positive communication! - Use active listening - Use “I statements” to express yourself - Take breaks if your emotions are getting too big - Ensure you have your own self-care plan to manage this challenging time Remember, this will be a harder task for some, so don’t be afraid to reach out for support to achieve this goal. You could ask a shared trusted friend to help you navigate this, or access support from a professional (mediation or counselling). INVOLVE YOUR TEEN: Once the “Team Parent” standards are set for both houses, it’s time to involve your teens. Teenagers like consistency. Their lives outside the home can seem quite hectic so it’s important that home life is predictable and they understand what is expected of them. A teen can have a secure base in two different homes. There may still be some differences between the two households and that’s ok, as long as it’s consistent, predictable and communicated clearly to your teen. When inviting your teen into these discussions, consider using a Family Meeting approach. Ensure that your teen has a real opportunity to express their wishes, and that you give their opinion consideration. Be clear about what rules are non-negotiables and where you are willing to be flexible. Be honest about the challenges you are facing, and the times perhaps you didn’t do things as well as you would have liked to. These are all opportunities to build communication skills, and strengthen connection with your teen. Be kind to yourself, and remember with anything new, there is a bit of trial and error. As you work through this as a family you will find ways to make your situation work for everyone Child & Family Professional, The Benevolent Society Speak with a professional now We also partner with The Benevolent Society to offer free personalised one-on-one support for parents and carers of teens over the phone and online. For more information: https://parents.au.reachout.com/one-on-one-support
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Ask a Child and Family Professional Sexting: My daughter is sending and receiving nude pictures on social media. What conversations should I be having with her right now? How can I help her to understand the impact of her actions? I imagine you’re feeling pretty worried about your teen right now and the choices she is making. The world of social media and sexting can be fraught with challenges and it’s likely that this was never an issue that you had to deal with when you were a teen. If you feel unsure how to navigate this situation one of the first things that you can do is increase your own knowledge around sexting, particularly the legal ramifications for young people. A good place to start is here: https://yla.org.au/qld/topics/internet-phones-and-technology/photos-and-videos-on-your-phone/ Before you approach your teen think about the purpose of your conversations. What do you hope to achieve by talking to her about this issue? Here are some key points to focus on during your conversations: - Express your concerns to her. Use “I” statements to communicate your feelings to her. For example, “I’m really worried about what you are doing”. By using “I” statements you are removing judgement and blame and minimising the potential for her to become defensive. - Increase your understanding of the issue from her point of view. Listen to her without judgement and blame, acknowledge and validate her feelings and point of view. Keep your reactions in check and show her that you can handle what she has to say as this will allow her to feel safe and keep the lines of communication open. - Check her understanding of the issue. Use gentle and curious questions to find out whether she perceives this behaviour as an issue, if she has thought about the risks and also whether she has any idea of the legal implications of what she is doing. For example, “How do you feel about sending/receiving nude pictures?” “Have you thought about what might happen to these pictures?”, “Are you aware of the legal issues of sexting?” The focus here is about increasing understanding rather than interrogating. - Provide her with factual information. Without lecturing her provide her with information that you can both discuss calmly. Perhaps you could do some online research together. Some important things to focus on might be the risks associated with sexting such as losing control over the image once it is shared, your teen’s digital footprint, and the legal implication Once you have been able to share and discuss this information support your teen to work out what steps she might like to take next. One of the first things she might consider is to remove any nude images of herself or others that may be stored on any of her devices. If it is safe to do so she could also approach the person that she sent the image to and ask them to remove the images. She may need your support to do this. If your teen becomes aware that an image of her has been posted somewhere on the internet then you could contact the e-safety commissioner to help you remove the image: https://www.esafety.gov.au/key-issues/image-based-abuse/take-action/report-to-esafety-commissioner Child & Family Professional, The Benevolent Society Speak with a professional now We also partner with The Benevolent Society to offer free personalised one-on-one support for parents and carers of teens over the phone and online. For more information: https://parents.au.reachout.com/one-on-one-support
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Ask a Child and Family Professional "Thoughts of suicide: My teen is suicidal, what do I do and how do I get help?" The thought of your child harming themselves is overwhelming. It is a difficult time but there are steps you can take to help you both navigate this and increase safety for your teen. However, if your teen is at immediate risk- call “000” or take them to hospital. Strengthen your support team: The more supports you have around you and your teen the better, whether they are formal or informal. A good first point of contact is your GP to organise a mental health care plan to access mental health support if needed. In times of COVID-19, telehealth and virtual appointments are available. It can also be helpful to invite your teen to identify people they would like to include on their support team – family, friends, teachers, coaches, mentors, etc. as well as the type of support they would like from them. Increase safety: Talk to your teen about when, how often, and the type of thoughts they have. This will help you to find ways to build safety – a Safety Plan. This may include things like agreeing to lock away medications and blades, having support hotlines visible in the home e.g. Suicide Call Back Service – 1300 659 467, Lifeline – 13 11 14 and Kids Helpline – 1800 55 1800, and when to take your teen to hospital or call an ambulance. This may be a helpful article to read: https://au.reachout.com/articles/how-to-make-a-safety-plan Open up the lines of communication: If emotions are overwhelming your teen, they may not be able to or want to express them outwardly, but it’s important that you and your teen can track how they are feeling. Find a way to communicate that suits them. They may not be able to sit across a table from you and let you know exactly how they are feeling… but they may be able to check in via text from another room with a planned word or phrase that lets you know whether they are having a low, medium or good day. Talk to them about how to recognise their warning signs and their coping strategies for bad days, so that you can both be prepared. Build hope and connection: Look for opportunities to increase your teen’s sense of hope, strengthen their resilience, and connect with others. This will be different for every teen, so tap into what they are passionate about – show interest in their computer game or Tik Tok, join them in walking their dog, encourage their creativity and do it together! Remember to look after yourself: Self-care is more important now than ever. You need to be well to be able to care and support your teen, but stress and exhaustion reduces our patience, pulls apart our wellbeing, and leaves us focusing on the negative. Find supports and strategies for your self-care and look for small and meaningful ways to fill up your wellbeing tank every day. Child & Family Professional, The Benevolent Society Speak with a professional now We also partner with The Benevolent Society to offer free personalised one-on-one support for parents and carers of teens over the phone and online. For more information: https://parents.au.reachout.com/one-on-one-support
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Ask a Child and Family Professional Step Parenting: "My step daughter doesn't listen to me, and often says things that upset me. How can I communicate my boundaries with her, without undermining her biological parents or damaging our relationship?" Being a step-parent can be a challenging experience. It sounds like you are wanting to create a respectful and appropriate relationship with your step daughter- one that fosters a healthy relationship between you and her whilst allowing her biological parents to do the parenting. You may like to consider the following: Work with your partner. Let them know how you are feeling and take responsibility for what you can do to make positive change between you and your step daughter. Understand adolescent development. Understanding what your step daughter is going through during this stage of development can be helpful for you in managing this time of life. Understand what is and isn’t in your control. Let go of what you don’t have control over and take charge of what you do have control over. You have control over you and creating the foundations for a respectful relationship with your step daughter. Understand the importance of building a relationship first. There are many ways to build connection. One is through validating her feelings and perspective. This doesn’t mean you agree with her feelings or perspective it means you are hearing how it is for her. With this understanding she is likely to feel heard, more likely to feel safe and therefore more likely to be open with you. Understand the importance of listening. Listening provides the opportunity to know and understand your step daughter. Understand boundaries. Boundaries are not about control, they are about setting a line in the sand you do not want crossed. For example, it sounds like your step daughter’s comments can really upset you. You can set boundaries by owning your feelings and articulating this to her through ‘I’ statements. ‘I’ statements are all about respectful assertive communication. Respectful to yourself because you are expressing your feelings, respectful to your step daughter because you are not blaming her, you are telling her how you feel about the behaviour you are receiving. Understand the importance of being a positive role model. Manage your emotions, communicate respectfully, apologise when your behaviour is less than you expect, show compassion for yourself when you disappoint yourself. Teens learn so much from what they see. Child & Family Professional, The Benevolent Society Speak with a professional now We also partner with The Benevolent Society to offer free personalised one-on-one support for parents and carers of teens over the phone and online. For more information: https://parents.au.reachout.com/one-on-one-support
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Ask a Child and Family Professional "Managing screen time: What is the right balance of screen time and how do I put limits in place when I feel my son is spending too much time gaming or on electronic devices? " Screen time is one of those issues that inevitably causes conflict in the home and an excellent site to help you understand the issue is https://www.esafety.gov.au/parents However, each family is different and when we look at gaming and screen time from the perspective of our teens there are a few complicating factors to consider that may help you to decide how to manage. COMPLICATING FACTOR 1 – BRAIN DEVELOPMENT Adults have the benefit of a fully matured brain that operates primarily from their cognitive and pre-frontal cortex to problem-solve and make rational decisions and choices. Teens on the other hand, operate primarily from their emotional brain, making choices and decisions based on what ‘feels’ good. And for them – gaming feels good – it is a fun escape from the pressures of being a teenager and keeps them connected with their tribe. TIP – Look beyond the gaming and social media to the need your teen is trying to meet. Is it escape? Is it connection? Acknowledge you understand how important it is for them to escape, connect, etc. and start a conversation about how they may be able to do this in other ways - more time catching up with a friend in the park is far more appealing than spending less time on the screen. COMPLICATING FACTOR 2 – READING EMOTIONS Teens read conflict and battle on their parent’s faces – even if it is not there. Many parents tell us that no matter how they phrase requests to their teens it often escalates quickly to arguing and hostility. In many instances, due to the rewiring of teen brains, they legitimately see anger and hostility in your face and feel under attack. Try not to think of your teen as being oppositional… as frustrating as this is to parents, it will pass. TIP – Build a foundation of ‘screens are not enemy’. Talk positively about gaming and screen time and join in/ask questions when possible, whether you find it fun or not - this will give you ‘credits in the bank’ when it comes to having those difficult conversations. Be mindful of your body language, tone and facial expression and when you think you are presenting as friendly, calm and collected, turn it up even further! This will give you the best shot at being heard without triggering an emotional response in your teen. COMPLICATING FACTOR 3 - SLEEP Teen’s sleep cycle can change up to 3 hours. If they fell asleep naturally at 8:30pm previously, this can now shifts to 11:30pm. No amount of cajoling can change this; it is simply biological. And when sleep doesn’t come naturally, we all tend to reach for our devices as a distraction. Teens are influenced by the routines in the home, so if parents watch Netflix until late, or work online, or catch up on Facebook, so will teens. TIP – Approach screen-time as a family issue, rather than a teen issue, something that everyone struggles with at times. Owning and sharing the problem aligns us with our teens and invites solutions from the family for the family - shifting the focus of the conversation from judgement, blaming/shaming or punishment, to one of understanding, compassion and compromise. https://parents.au.reachout.com/skills-to-build/wellbeing/things-to-try-technology/managing-your-familys-screen-time https://parents.au.reachout.com/skills-to-build/jonos-parenting-tips/playing-the-game-when-it-comes-to-screen-time-limits Child & Family Professional, The Benevolent Society Speak with a professional now We also partner with The Benevolent Society to offer free personalised one-on-one support for parents and carers of teens over the phone and online. For more information: https://parents.au.reachout.com/one-on-one-support
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Ask a Child and Family Professional Question: “How can I maintain routine for my teen now that my family is all home all the time?” I spoke with my colleagues about this week’s topic and asked for their input as all parents are managing the current environment differently, and this is new to everyone. There is no right or wrong way to do this, you just need to figure out what works for your family. Common themes we are hearing from parents at the moment is that things are new, different, challenging and overwhelming. It’s okay that things aren’t going swimmingly, let’s be kind to ourselves and especially our children and teens who are used to going to school, having parents leave for work, and have time to socialise and engage in sports and activities. When looking at routine in the home, one of my colleagues suggested changing the language around routine to a “Well Being Plan”. Let talk more about this. This Family Well Being plan encompasses everything that makes up each person’s day - including things that they enjoy as well as chores or responsibilities. For teens, it should include talking online with friends, Netflix, games and some schoolwork or chores. By encouraging teens to speak about what they would like their day to look like, the whole family can negotiate and problem solve together about what is likely to work for the whole family. As I said initially, this is also a time to be kind to ourselves and lower our expectations. Letting go of “normal” expectations is a good place to start- and sharing this with your family. Ask your teen to discuss their thoughts on the matter and create ownership of what is important to them but also what they want to achieve. Don’t forget to be honest and open with your teen, its ok to say the “new normal” is hard, or that you miss your friends or going into the office. Normalise the challenges, but then also take the opportunity to model good self-care. Things are going to be different, we are going to feel different and so will our kids and that is OKAY. Don’t feel bad for not taking up a new hobby or rearranging that book/cd/stamp collection that you have had on your to do list. May I suggest that your to do list should include more of the here and now, which will in turn become your new rhythm or routine. Be Kind and Rewind Child & Family Professional, The Benevolent Society Speak with a professional now We also partner with The Benevolent Society to offer free personalised one-on-one support for parents and carers of teens over the phone and online. For more information: https://parents.au.reachout.com/one-on-one-support
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Ask a Child and Family Professional
Question: "My daughter is not eating and I am concerned she may have an eating disorder. How do I talk about this with her? "
I imagine you might be feeling quite worried right now, even overwhelmed. The idea that your daughter might have an eating disorder might seem like a pretty heavy topic to tackle with her, but before you let your thoughts snowball let’s stop and have a think about what’s happening and how you might approach this with her.
Start by thinking about all the observations you have made that are making you concerned and about any other behaviours that you have noticed. It can be helpful for you to make some of these observations before you have a conversation with her about your worries so that you can build a better picture of what you think is happening for her. It could also be helpful to educate yourself about Eating Disorders. A good place to start is here: https://thebutterflyfoundation.org.au/
Before you have the conversation think about how you usually talk with your daughter and what success you’ve had in the way you approach conversations in the past. Try to create an environment where she feels safe to talk to you. Not sure how to do that? Here are some pointers:
- Let your daughter know that you love her and that you are always there for her if she wants to talk. Use “I” statements to let her know how you are feeling for example “I’ve been feeling a bit worried about you lately”. Take ownership of your feelings.
- Introduce the topic with her by sharing your observations. For example, “I’ve noticed that you haven’t been eating as much lately? Is there anything you want to talk about?”
- Listen to her without judgement and focus on her emotional state rather than her physical appearance. Try to avoid jumping in to fix her issues, instead use curious and open-ended questions to learn about her world, for example “what’s made you decide to reduce your eating?
- Acknowledge her feelings and point of view, even if you don’t agree with what she is saying, for example, “I can hear that this is really important to you and I want to understand.”
- Support your teen to build positive self-esteem and body image. Think about the language that you use such as being “healthy and fit” rather than “skinny”, and eating “balanced” meals rather than “dieting”. Support your teen to be healthy by talking about what healthy means. This conversation could also provide you with some insight into her thoughts.
- Lastly, be mindful that your daughter might not be ready to have this conversation, even if you are. Give her time to digest what you have said before expecting her to respond. Be respectful as you can’t support her if she isn’t ready to talk to you. Just keep letting her know that you are there for her.
If you think your daughter might need and/or is ready for professional support then make an appointment with your GP to discuss your concerns.
Want to learn more? Check out this video about eating disorders.
Child & Family Professional, The Benevolent Society
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We also partner with The Benevolent Society to offer free personalised one-on-one support for parents and carers of teens over the phone and online.
For more information: https://parents.au.reachout.com/one-on-one-support
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