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How to Communicate With Your Teen


Have a Conversation

Have you ever had a conversation where you just needed to vent? You just needed to get out all the pent-up frustration, anger, disappointment (whatever emotion that you were feeling at the time out), and the person that you were talking to immediately started telling you how to “fix” the problem? How were you feeling in that moment? Heard? Validated? Or the opposite?

Recently, my 17-year-old came in grumbling and lamenting about the struggles of high school existence. I listened for a bit, commiserated on how terrible small-town living is (sarcasm), and offered really “helpful” suggestions. Cue the eye-roll! Yep, I fell into the “fix-it” pattern; it’s ingrained. We are a society of “fixers.” We want to listen to an issue, come up with a few reasonable alternatives and fix the issue. But what happens if there isn’t a solution? Or, really a problem to be fixed?

The “fix it” trap is a very common style of miscommunication within couples and families. Wait…miscommunication? They’re talking about an issue and the other person is trying to help them with it, how is that miscommunication? The miscommunication happens when the intent of the speaker and the intent of the listener don’t match up. You might be asking yourself, “How am I supposed to know what my spouse/child/friend wants or needs out of a conversation? I’m not a mind reader!” My response is simple, yet really difficult for many of us because it’s something completely different from our typical pattern…ask. You read that right, just ask the person what they want or need from the conversation.

During the exchange with my child, after seeing the eye-roll and hearing the frustrated huffing and puffing, I knew that I had not given them what they needed from me. However, I didn’t want to make an incorrect assumption, again, so I simply apologized and asked, “I’m sorry, how can I help you right now? Is this something you need to talk about or something that you need help figuring out?” Now, I know that people are going to read this and say to themselves, “I try asking my child/spouse/ friend what they need and they just get mad!” Yep! The pattern is ingrained in the other direction as well. Sometimes the speaker may not even realize that they aren’t seeking a solution, but an opportunity to talk. What are you supposed to do then? Listen.

Take the time to really listen to what the person is saying, validating his/ her experience (even if you don’t agree), ask some questions to clarify to make sure that you are truly understanding, and empathize with what’s happening. Giving the person your undivided attention will give you (and the other person) the opportunity the truly ascertain what’s needed from the conversation. Go talk!


Fight the New Drug

popular kids

A few months ago I attended a presentation with my teenage son at Canyons School District titled “Fight the New Drug”.  As a therapist, I was expecting the typical “why porn is bad” -type of platform.  What I found was a fresh approach that was all-inclusive, carrying out an anti-pornography message across borders of religious beliefs, political agenda and social backgrounds by presenting it as a public health issue, rather than as a moral, political or religious argument.  Historically, pornography used to be a matter of personal opinion.  Some people felt it was natural, normal, even expected to be consumed.  Others felt it was “bad” or “wrong” due to their personal religious beliefs or political views.  However, few people, if any, seemed to have concrete evidence to support their view.  FTND’s mission exists to provide individuals the opportunity to make an informed decision regarding pornography  by raising awareness using only science, facts, and personal accounts.

Teens learn how they are impacted  on 3 levels:  Personally, (recent finding in neuroscience), relationally (personal stories) and socially, (connecting the link to sex trafficking and sexual exploitation), in a delivery using multiple creative mediums that captivate youth!  Founded locally here in Salt Lake City, Utah as a non profit organization campaign in 2009, they have carried their message to over 300 schools and colleges in North America, reaching thousands of teens (it’s target population).  They also deliver through social media and have a massive following that has created a powerful social movement online.  Their slogans can be seen on T shirts worn by Hollywood stars like “Porn Kills Love”, “Fight for Love” or “Stop the Demand”.

What impressed me most about this presentation I attended and what I find sets it apart from any others I’ve seen, is their online recovery program, “Fortify”: A Step Toward Recovery”, free to anyone under age 20.  Most young people (I never see in therapy), suffer silently, already deeply trenched in a porn addiction, too embarrassed or ashamed to reach out and ask for help.  Fight the New Drug offers anonymity where  teens (and adults for a nominal fee) can finally seek help NOT just feel guilty.  The website also offers a free book “Parents guide to addressing pornography with children” to assist families.  FTND encompasses 4 programs: Media, Mobilization, Protection AND Recovery, a solid, comprehensive non profit that few others offer.

Check out today.


Esteem Building Exercise for Teens

Wasatch Family Therapy
Believing positives about yourself when you feel crummy can be difficult and sometimes feels impossible. This is especially true for teens suffering from Anxiety or Depressive Disorders. Often times, teens, like adults, get stuck repeating or focusing on negative aspects or assumptions about them selves, and are resistant to looking for a more balanced or kind perspective. This constant self-criticism not only amplifies negative mood and behavior, but also makes it more difficult to see those positives that actually exist. To help counteract the negative self bias I hear from many teens I work with, I ask them to develop a “Positives List.”

Unfortunately for most, simply writing down positives is not a big enough step to actually believing those positives. The key step to making this process work is in writing a detailed account (1-2 paragraphs) about when, in the past, they actually demonstrated that quality or characteristic. I usually have them write 2 examples, but sometimes one is enough. When appropriate I also have them add when and how it impacted others or their environment positively. This process requires that they begin to search for actual memories to back up the positive they have listed, rather than just stoping with a word bank. Since the event has already occurred it is easier for the positive qualities to be substantiated.


4 Tips For Getting Teens to Engage in Family Time

4 Tips For Getting Teens to Engage in Family Time

1) Model the behavior you want to see

Although it may not seem like it, your teens are watching your behavior just as much as you are watching theirs. Show your teens that family time is an important part of your family life by being consistent, enthusiastic, and engaged. Put away your cell phone and focus on the family if you expect them to do the same.

2) Make it a scheduled event

Pick a day and stick to it! Chances are your teen’s social life is buzzing with friends, school, and other activities, making a scheduled event increases the chances that your teen (and you) will fit it into the schedule. Send them a reminder a few days before and remember to tell them the day of that you are looking forward to spending time with them.


6 Ways to Grow A Teen’s Self-Esteem

Many people young and old, male and female, struggle with recognizing their self-worth and their true potential in life. Often we are our worst critics. Most of us would gasp in horror if we heard another person speak out loud the thoughts we tell ourselves because it would be considered abusive!

Recently, as I was speaking to a group of young people and their parents on the topic of self-esteem, we broke down the definition of what self-esteem truly means. This is an interesting concept and I think helpful to break down into segments.



  • To esteem something is to hold it in high regard, to treasure it, to value it.
  • The self is you, the individual

How amazing it would be to think of your self in this manner. Is it possible to hold yourself in high regard, to value yourself, and to treasure it – i.e. to treasure you, the real you?


Dealing With Diabolical Teens

Having a defiant teenager is a particularly difficult stressor on a family.  A lot of parents get Wasatch Family Therapy Teensfrustrated and hopeless, wanting to give up altogether.  This stressor can also affect the couple relationship significantly.  So, what is the best thing to do with a defiant adolescent?

When addressing the issue of “diabolical teens,” one of my colleagues jested, “you just praise the hell out of them!”  This may seem counter-intuitive, but studies have shown that praise and positive reinforcement are the most effective tools for long-term changes with adolescents.  Understandably, the natural tendency of parents is to be stricter, yell, and demand compliance.  Sometimes this will work in the short-term, but will likely further damage the relationship and will make teaching your teen less effective.  Dale Carnegie suggested that “a drop of honey catches more flies than a gallon of gall.”  We can catch some of those pesky teenage behaviors more effectively through praise than with criticism.


How Much Should I Tell My Children About An Affair?

The answer is as little as possible.  Children may require an explanation if they see or hear evidence of infidelity or if they are going to read about it online or in the media.  In some situations, talking with your children is the only way they can understand what is happening in the family.  However, children should never be told details of an affair and asked to keep it secret.  Share only with your children what you are comfortable with them sharing with friends, teachers, and relatives.  If you and your spouse are working to repair your relationship rather than separating or divorcing then it is usually better to keep the matter discreet.

Consider the psychological and emotional burden it would place on a child to overhear his mother accusing his father of loving another woman.  Imagine a father, feeling hurt and betrayed, blurting out to his children that their mother is having sex with a coworker.  Exposure to such information can create fear, confusion, and insecurity for the child.

There are times when parents do find it is necessary to say something.  For example, your children may ask, “Why are you and dad going to counseling every week?” or “Are you and mom getting divorced?”  When this happens, it is best to sit down with your children together and answer their questions simply and honestly.  Here are a few examples of age appropriate responses:

Preschoolers: “Mommy and Daddy have a problem that has nothing to do with you.  We both love you so you don’t have to worry.”

Grade-Schoolers: “What have you noticed that has made you worried?”  “Mom and Dad are having difficulty getting along, but we still love each other and want to work things out.”

Teen and Young Adults: “Yes, your mom and I are going to see a therapist every Monday night for the next few months.  I made a mistake and got too friendly with a woman at work, but your mother and I love each other and want to stay together.”

What children want to know most is that their lives will not be disrupted and that they can count on their parents to be accessible and responsive to their needs.  By limiting exposure to details, discussing fears, and constantly reassuring children of your love and commitment to them and your marriage, you create an atmosphere of safety and emotional security for your children.

For further information, a book I frequently recommend to my clients on this subject is “Not Just Friends: Rebuilding Trust and Recovering Your Sanity After Infidelity” by Shirley P. Glass, PhD.



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Kate Hofer, LPC Presents Art Therapy Training for Professionals

Wasatch Family Therapy’s Kate Hofer with Collette Dawson-Loveless will present a CPRT for Teens and Art Therapy training on April 27th, 2012 for the Association of Play Therapy Utah Chapter. The training  focuses on strengthening the bonds of attachment between parent and child. The training will be held at the Foster Care Foundation located at 5296 S Commerce Drive #400, Murray, UT 84107.

Contact the Association of Play Therapy Utah Chapter for Registration.

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Why Am I More Awkward Socially Now?

This isn’t really a question about me, its kind of people in general (or well maybe it is just me, I dont know)….
So, ever since I started high school I have felt more awkward and stressed out about people than ever.  I think that’s normal though, right?

Anyway, its weird because before high school, I actually had less friends than I do now.  Why do I feel more awkward when now I have more friends? You should probably know that I now go to a high school for the arts, and everyone at my new school is super nice and accepting.

So… How do I get to be less awkward? Does everyone get awkward in high school? What changed between 8th and 9th grade that is making me so self-conscious?

A: Thanks so much for writing in! You bring up excellent questions and I’m very impressed that you’re so in touch with you internal experiences and feelings — that will be a great asset as a performer/artist. Did you go through any other family or life changes before starting high school? There may be several explanations for your feelings of awkwardness for you to consider.

You’re describing feelings that I often hear in my practice from new college students who have largely based their identity on being the best and most accomplished in their high school. In college, they are surrounded by hundreds of bright and talented students which challenges their sense of identity and worth. I wonder if this same phenomenon has happened for you, only in high school instead of college? High schools with a specific focus tend to attract highly motivated and talented students, like colleges. While fellow student are accepting and nice, they are also your “competition,” and their talents may feel more threatening to you than what you experienced with your jr. high school peers.

Attending a high school for the arts may also lead you to feel more emotionally vulnerable and unsure of yourself. Artistic creation and expression require you to access different aspects of your emotional experiences and that may be leading to feeling more awkward. As a performing songwriter, I can relate to feeling more vulnerable when I am “putting myself out there” creatively.

Big life transitions like changing schools tend to make everyone feel a bit more anxious and self-conscious. Moving on to high school is the next step toward adulthood, requires more homework, more responsibility, and new social situations and that may take some time to get used to. I suggest talking with your parents about your feelings, or consider talking to a school counselor. What you’re experiencing doesn’t sound out of the ordinary for a life transition. If your awkwardness doesn’t go away in a month or so, please consider talking to a therapist to help you get to the emotional root of what your experience and to look into the possibility that you’ve developed an anxiety disorder.

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