Two Questions Your Teen May Not Be Asking You (Even Though They Want To)

Teens of every generation have the same questions--but not always the same language and phrasing. The children of 1950s, 60s, and 70s America weren’t asking how to “advocate for themselves” with that specific phrasing--but children and teenages have always asked how to best communicate on behalf of themselves, however limited.

Today’s children deal with the same issues that the early 21st century 30-, 40-, and 50-year-old set dealt with when growing up in a world that is still learning how to deal with addiction, mental health, and boundaries for children at home and school.

How Do I “Advocate” For Myself?

A teenager in a scheduled meeting with her teachers, school and adjustment counselors, therapist, and parents may sound like she knows how to ask questions at the right time, but the reality is that her 30-plus student-packed classroom is not welcoming to a shy or introverted student, no matter how welcoming the teacher is. The parents may not listen to her at home (even though they seem understanding at the school meeting). The counselors--who have between 200 and 500 students to keep track of--may only offer cliche or flat answers between writing hallway passes back to class.

So a child needs the skills and confidence to push for attention and advocacy from a young age. She needs to constantly be heard and know how to listen, and her network needs to be connected weekly or monthly. This can be done either by teacher-signed progress reports, quick emails between counselors, or a constant flow of texts and communiques lead by the parents within the network. Sometimes a student won’t need all of this, but if she does, then it will only benefit her when done properly. And then you have to wait and trust that the student is speaking up for herself when she needs it--in and out of the classroom.

Am I An Addict?

Many adults can point to the year or party when they first became addicted to a substance or the lifestyle that enhances use of those substances. “I started smoking pot at 13 and drinking at 14,” you hear adults in recovery say. Or you might hear testimonies of older teens talk about popping pills for fun at first and then developing an actual habit that required making or stealing money. And no one is safe from the disease and habits of addiction--not the honor or AP student, or any kid in between.

The reality is that most teens drink, smoke, and try drugs without becoming addicts or heavy users. But there is that point where your teen may be wondering if she is depending on too many vices to get her through the weekday. She may be hiding it from her parents because of shame or fear, and those parents need to know what kind of pressure they’re putting on their child as well as the outlets for that pressure. The same goes for kids whose parents aren’t in the picture enough or at all. In this case, teachers and counselors need to spot behaviors that will beg questions about parties, health, and appearing professional at school. Teenagers of all stripes will self-medicate to get through a rough patch whether they tell you about it or not. And some will escape their adolescence without falling into any type of addiction even though it seemed like they were heading there at some point.

This is why parents and adults who care for children and teenagers need to be realistic about teen-related topics and open to them talking honestly about whatever their needs are--even if it’s the basic need to be heard and spend some time with someone in the know.

So Is My Kid Okay Then?

Of the thousand things we do for our children from the in utero days to the last months they are living at home, we never know which ones are the reasons that they succeed or miss the mark. And after they reach a certain age, it’s really their choices that affect everything. We can guide, hover, annoy, aid, or ignore them, but in the end we can’t keep them from danger, discovery, or damageable risk. Good kids fall into trouble; troubled kids fall into rewarding positions. But parents who have a strong network for their children will see the most success. That network should consist of counselors, friends, family, and as many watchful adults as possible, including teachers who the parents know and trust. Even a homeroom teacher or a favorite elementary or middle school teacher can be helpful in keeping an eye on the child--you never know what they’ll see and hear.

A loving parent who keeps a watchful eye will know when her son smells like smoke or is acting a little “off.” Small experimenting for teens is normal, so when that loving parent has that talk, hopefully it will open even more confidence in the teen to ask or opine about anything--especially how they’re feeling and reacting to the world around them.

Author's Bio: 

Mendi Baron, LCSW, of Ignite Teen Treatment, Elemental Treatment,,, is a passionate advocate for teens and young adults in the fields of mental health and addiction. Baron creates programs to bring a unique approach to the treatment of adolescents and young adults who are struggling with a variety of emotional and behavioral disorders and substance abuse issues. Clinically trained, Baron earned a BA with honors in psychology and social work at the University of Maryland and an MSW at the University of Maryland School of Social Work. His extensive experience as a therapist includes individual and group counseling for children, adolescents, and families in various settings.

Gaining insight and experience, he has worked at several treatment centers including the Chesapeake Center for Youth Development, the Carroll County Youth Services Bureau, Chabad Crisis Centers, and the Center for Discovery and Adolescent Change. Before launching Elemental Treatment, Mendi conceived and built, from the ground up, mutiple successful, high end adolescent residential and outpatient programs in Los Angeles. Mendi has appeared on the Dr. Phil show, is regularly featured in mental health and addiction publications, and speaks around the country in person and on Tv/Radio on these topics.

With his newest ventures, Mendi instills a rare blend of energy, creativity, and experience to the treatment of teens, young adults, and their families struggling with addiction and mental health issues. The son of a Rabbi, eldest of 11 children, he is a part-time rock musician, boxer, cantor, and father of three.