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Three main areas of focus when raising teens!

By Stephen C. Schultz

“What is essential is not that the therapist learns something about the patient and then teaches it to him, but that the therapist teaches the patient how to learn about himself.”  Fritz Perls 

As the father of four children, three of which are now teenagers, I am amazed at the level of “parenting energy” that my wife and I put into our family. It seems that we are being pulled in many different directions and find ourselves being more “reactive” to life’s daily endeavors than “proactive”.

I assume that my family is not much different than most other families. As my wife and I move through this enigma called time, we find ourselves trying to meet three very specific needs of our family.

1)      Physical
This includes everything from a bed to sleep in to clothes, food, healthcare and recreation. We find ourselves moving from one activity to another whether it is shopping for clothes, attending a baseball game or quietly sitting through a piano recital. From sports to school to friends to music, there is no shortage of activities that demand not only our attention but financial resource as well.

2)      Emotional
With three daughters and one son, there are certainly plenty of emotional needs to be met, not including my wife and I. Emotions can run high as we all navigate the various relationships associated with the many activities found in the “physical” arena of life. There needs to be emotional safety for teens at home. There needs to be a place where they can feel free to discuss openly their frustrations. There is also the emotional angst of a 13 year old daughter entering adolescence, a 16 year old son navigating the awkwardness of high school and that of a 19 year old daughter exploring young adulthood. These are three very different stages of development.

3)      Spiritual
It doesn’t matter what “religion” you may belong to or even how often you attend services. There is something special about kneeling next to the bed with your child at night and hear them say their prayers before going to sleep. Sitting at the dinner table and saying “grace” helps the family recognize there is something greater than us. Having times of family prayer provides opportunity for family members to voice their thankfulness for blessings as well as hopes and wishes for the family. Spirituality assists us in developing humility, faith, charity and thoughtfulness. It provides an avenue for parents and children to strengthen relationships.

Now, it would be nice if you could just focus on any one of these three areas of life and not worry about the others. The problem; they all overlap. Often families are thrown “curve balls” in the form of addiction, depression, anxiety, learning disabilities or any number of other teenage diagnosis that blur the line between the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of the teen. Sometimes these family issues are generational where parents have struggled and fought some of the same demons themselves.

In either case, the important thing is to “disrupt the patterns” that continue to contribute to the family distress. This is often easier said than done, especially with teenagers. Teens inherently have a “center of the universe” mentality which contributes to heightened conflict when parents seek to stop certain behaviors.

When the stress level in the home gets bad enough, most parents make the move to have their teen see an outpatient therapist. If the teen is willing and recognizes there are some things to work on and improve, this is a great option. However, most teens, if they agree to go, do so begrudgingly. Time and financial resources appear to be wasted as the teen simply sits in the therapist’s office giving cursory answers to the many questions of the therapist. More times than not, the students then leave the therapist’s office only to continue engaging in the same behaviors.

When there is depression, anxiety, social awkwardness, school failure, drugs, alcohol, indiscriminate sexual activity or failure to launch, simply seeing the therapist twice a week instead of once is no longer an answer. There needs to be a more clinically sophisticated intervention. There needs to be a shift to an environment that is conducive to disrupting patterns of dependency and unhealthy relationships. There must be an effort to assist the student in having success in relationships and developing competencies in the activities of daily living. For teens to be successful in life beyond the limitations of their struggles, they must first learn to develop resilience and gain an aptitude for navigating life’s hardships.

They also need to be somewhere that allows the parents and the rest of the family time to heal. So often, the troubled teen tends to require all the attention within the family as they live a life of avoidance. Other family relationships are neglected due to the constant attention and energy directed at the troubled teen. The teen needs to be in a safe place where he/she can learn how to learn about themselves.

Is a residential therapy placement right for your teen? Find out more information here.


I would agree that as parents we all need to address the physical, emotional and spiritual aspects of our developing teens. A number of very good points are made in this article, and I would support the information shared. I advocate that parents need a good knowledge of temperament to help sort out some of the issues their teens are dealing with. If you understand what makes your teen "tick", (i.e, their personality - temperament - behavior), and what makes you as a parent "tick", you can sort out the differences easier. If things escalate, then it might be time to seek out the services of a good therapist who can offer suggestions. That said, I also support solution-focused counseling which puts the onus of solving the issue on the client (with knowledgeable guidance).
Wayne Jones: co-author of "Great Parenting Skills (GPS) for Navigating Your Kid's Personality" [available on Amazon].
Thank you Wayne for your comments and insight! Much appreciated!

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