Give Children and Teens the Best Chance for Success

laughingfamilyBy Kent G. Larson, L.C.S.W., Youth Services Family Therapist

Many individuals have expressed to me that they don’t want to have kids as they wouldn’t want to bring a child into this world as difficult as it is. Others, though they want to raise children, are afraid to do so for the same reasons. This world is full of various crimes, violence, drug and alcohol abuse, peer pressure, horrible school situations, gangs, and the list goes on. Is it necessary to not have children in order to protect them from the evils of today?

While there are no guarantees, and children definitely don’t come with owner’s manuals, there is much that parents can do to protect their children from the evils of today or assist them in getting through today’s challenges and have wonderful fulfilling lives.

In the 21 years I have been a family therapist, I have worked with many parents, families, and lead parent groups. I share from the Strengthening Families Curriculum, the risk and protective factors from the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (CSAP), and from personal experience.

What can parents do to give their children and teens the best chance for success in this day and age?

strengthening-familiesThe family (whoever makes up the family) is the basic unit of society. It has the ability to be there for us throughout our lives. Though there can be contention and problems in a family, it can also provide us with playmates, someone to talk to, support us, role models of what to do an numerous situations our lives, discipline, care, financial support, structure, safety, and people to back us up when we are in need.

When a child or teen sees parent figures that get along with each other and showing respect to each other and their children, it makes a huge difference on how they see the world. This fosters the children being respectful and getting along with their siblings, friends, future roommates, and spouses.

However, in order to effectively perform these functions the family needs opportunities to bond, enjoy each other, and to buy into relationships with each other. One of the CSAP protective factors is having family dinners as often as possible. It is stated that even one family dinner one time per week makes a difference in reducing drug and alcohol abuse among teens. In the Strengthening Families Program, dinner is provided along with the groups and is modeled as a way to strengthen the family. Regular family dinners assist in having the structure to spend time together, communicate, check in with each other, to laugh and enjoy each other, to go over individual and family plans, and to support each other with needs which are identified in these conversations.

The Strengthening Families curriculum teaches parents to have “Our Time”, a time where parents spend 15 minutes or more doing things with each of their children that the child picks (within reason). This doesn’t require that money be spent, but does require the parents time and willingness to share in things that their child/teen likes to do. This is demonstrated in the following Poem by Elrod C. Lenny. Pre-teenagers have generally not started distancing themselves from their parents.

I wish my Daddy was a Dog

One day when Bruce was just a lad, first starting out in school,
He came into my workshop and climbed upon a stool.
I saw him as he entered but I hadn’t time to play.
So I merely nodded to him and said, “Don’t get in the way.”
He sat awhile just thinking…. As quiet as could be,
Then carefully he got down and came and stood by me.
He said, “Old Shep, he never works and he has lots of fun.
He runs around the meadows and barks up at the sun.
“He chases after rabbits and always scares the cats
He likes to chew on old shoes and sometimes mother’s hats.
But when we’re tired of running and we’re sitting on a log,
I sometimes get to thinking. . . ‘I wish my daddy was a dog.’
“‘Cause then when I came home from school you’d run and lick my hand
And then we’d jump and holler and tumble in the sand
And then I’d be as happy as a little boy could be
If we could play the whole day through–just my dad and me.
“Now I know you have to work real hard to buy us food and clothes.
And you need to get the girls those fancy ribbons and bows.
But sometimes when I’m lonesome I think t’would be lots of fun,
if my daddy was a dog, and all his work was done.”
Now when he’d finished speaking, he looked so lonely there,
I reached my hand out to him and ruffled up his hair.
And as I turned my head aside to brush away a tear,
I thought how nice it was to have my son so near.
I didn’t mean for man to toil his whole life through,
“Come on, my son I’m sure I have some time for you.”
You should have seen the joy and sunlight in his eye,
As we went outside to play – just my son and I.
Now, as the years have swiftly flown and youth has slipped away,
I’ve tried always to remember to leave some time to play.
When I pause to reminisce and think of joys and strife,
I carefully turn the pages of this wanderer’s book of life.
I find the richest entry recorded in that daily log,
Is the day that small boy whispered, “I wish my daddy was a dog.”

Elrod C. Leany

teen-talkMost of the time it just takes a parent going out and throwing the football with their kid(s), playing Legos (showing interest in what is being built), going to the park and playing with their kids on the equipment, playing barbies, doing the crafts or projects with their children, looking at their pokemon cards, and looking at a new item the child has recently acquired in his/her collection. The main ingredients are taking time with their child/children and showing interest in them or what they are doing.

The people that I spend time with are the people that make me feel good about myself when I am in their presence. It is the same with kids and teens spending time with their parents or siblings. If children and teens feel good about themselves when they are in the presence of their siblings or parents, children and teens will generally want to spend time with them. It is important for parents to be aware of this and to work at creating this type of safe and enjoyable atmosphere around the home Though children still need to be disciplined, it is important that parents also provide a safe, nurturing, supportive, and fun atmosphere for their children to grow up in that will support discipline from parents.
The following things can happen to strengthen parental relationships with their teens and children. As already mentioned above, (1) “Our Time” (2) being present when their children are in a sports events, dance recitals, or a music recital or event event in school or the community, and (3) having fun with their children in passing them in the hall, when they come in from being with their friends, or any other time.

talk-with-sonHaving weekly family activities can have a tremendously positive impact on a family. Whether this is a hike in the mountains, a picnic, a family game night, etc. These activities require dedicated time and not a lot of money. Though teenagers may initially resist this (if it hasn’t happened much before) it is never too late to start. However, the earlier the focus on the family starts the better. When kids are in the habit of having family time, the usually welcome it, look forward to it, and don’t resist it.

The real test seems to come as children grow into teenagers and their options and abilities for associations outside the family expends. Does the child have a strong enough bond with his/her parents and siblings in order for the parents and siblings (older) to have a positive and strong influence in his/her life. When the relationship is already strong, it can withstand the natural tendencies of teens to be drawn to and influenced by their friends. With a strong ongoing relationship parents can be a positive influence on their teens well through the teenage years.

Consistent non-punitive discipline creates the best situation for children and teens. This enables them to know their parents’ expectations and promotes behavior change, stability, and positive self esteem. Parents who point out the positive things their children and teens are doing, and who do so so more frequently then pointing out negative things have the best impact on their children and teens. In my own life I know that I wanted to work harder and better after receiving compliments or expressions of appreciation from my parents the when I was criticized without the positive feedback Frequent criticism with very little positive feedback, is rarely a way to motivate children to do what parents would like them to do. This has a tendency to break their spirits.

Teaching children to do work and to enjoy work according to their age, maturity, and abilities is also a very important part of raising children. This has a tendency to reduce entitlement and teach responsibility. Children can learn to appreciate their accomplishments and contribution to the family when work is a regular expectation of parents and when parents work right along with them and joke around with their kids while working to make it fun.

Parents can have a huge impact on their kids and teens with strong relationships (one on one and in the family), being there for each of their children, consistent reasonable discipline, and teaching them to work and enjoy work. I have seen the benefits of each of these things in my life, in my career, and through research.

There is a story of a 10 year old boy whose father came home from work and immediately buried his head in the newspaper. The boy asked, “Dad will you play with me?” His Dad responded “later son!” About ten minutes later the little boy was back asking, “Dad will you play with me now?” His Dad responded “later son!” And yet a third time the little boy came back “Dad, will you please play with me?” By this time his Dad was getting irritated. He ripped a picture of the world out of a magazine and tore it up into many pieces. He told his son, “Put this together and tape it. When you are done, bring it back and I will play with you”. In no time at all the little boy was back with the picture of the world taped together. His Dad was amazed and asked “How did you do that so fast?” The boy responded “Well Dad, on the back of the picture of the world was a picture of a home. I just put the hole together and the world fell into place.

I think that story says much of what will benefit and help children and teenagers through the challenging situations they will face as they go through the teenage years. With strong familial relationships, they will likely get through just fine.

For more information about Salt Lake County Youth Services counseling programs please call 385-468-4500 or visit

This entry was posted in Communication Tips, Family Activities, Family Counseling, Mental Health, Parenting Tips, SLCO, Teen Counseling, Youth Groups. Bookmark the permalink.

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