The Truth About Teens And Weed


On an afternoon I’ll never forget, one of my teen clients walked through the door, dropped into a chair, and proudly stated that he had discovered the key to happiness: weed. It’s his medicine, he says, and it makes him feel good. If he could only get a medical marijuana card, everything would be solved.

I’m not against the use of medical marijuana. According to a recent report from the US National Academy of Sciences, there are many benefits of marijuana use, but only three that are conclusive after analyzing 10,000 studies.

1. Easing chronic pain in adults

2. Decreasing chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting

3. Relieving symptoms of multiple sclerosis

This seems significant.

In my coaching practice it seems like increasingly more of my clients are permanently stoned. Teens see weed as medicine. “What strain?” “Is it Couch Lock weed? Or is it weed you can do before school?” This is what I hear on a regular basis. “Emma” believes it’s her stomach medicine and uses it multiple times daily, but now she cuts school half of the time, dropped in her academic standing, can’t face that her stomach issues were anxiety-related (MDs were consulted… no other physical diagnosis was found) and that her anxiety is as strong or stronger than ever.

I’m writing this article for parents. I want you to know about the growing insanity — the irrational thinking — around weed and teens today. The notion that weed is a cure-all for the anxious teen is not only scientifically false but also extremely dangerous.

There’s a backlash from legalization of weed — now it’s legitimate, and kids really believe they can self-medicate. These kids aren’t used to having to be uncomfortable. The myth among their parents is: I need to save my kid from discomfort at all costs. This is a lie.

It’s precisely the navigation of this discomfort that teens need to explore. Learning to cope with the chaos that comes up in the world, learning to fall and get up again, seek and receive guidance — this is the journey teens need to have if they are ever going to learn to make smart decisions on their own. We want them to know how to pay attention to their own individuality and respect themselves, to really know who they are. Weed interrupts this process. It changes our thinking and stunts the growing up process… sometimes permanently.

Not only am I hearing the argument for weed from teens more and more, but I’m also seeing the negative side effects with growing frequency — side effects they don’t see or appreciate. My teen clients are losing their inner drive and motivation. They retreat from the real world and stop engaging with their friends and family. Over time they begin to lose the very skills that they need to function as a member of society. Worst of all, they lose their sense of who they truly are at a time when this is their primary developmental mission. Their unique personality and character is obscured, blunted and even skewed. In their short-term minds, relief is all that matters; in the longer term, they’re blindly sabotaging their future.

Research consistently shows us that marijuana use among teens impairs learning, attention, and memory, triggers or exacerbates social anxiety disorder and depression, and increases the potential for future substance abuse with alcohol and drugs. In my view, the most insidious danger is how marijuana use tears away at my clients’ potential. Teenage years are the ones with potential for exponential growth, maturity, evolution, discovery, connection, relationships, and responsibility. Marijuana blocks much of this, and replaces it with a numbness that saddens me to no end.

I urge you to be on guard. I urge you to take an active role in uncovering and stopping the use of this drug in your household. No parent wants to make that discovery— denial is inherent in parents, as is shown by how many of my smoking teens have parents who insist that “Johnny would never do such a thing.” Turning a blind eye is a form of enabling; it actively contributes to a progressive condition. The intervention by the parent – i.e., boundaries and conversation – must be respectful, kind, yet clear and firm.

I’m not a bystander complaining about “kids these days.” I’m in the trenches every week and I see firsthand the devastation this drug causes. As parents, we have an obligation to give our kids the best chance at a healthy life. Addressing this obstacle is a crucial step in that direction.

While on-going research will continue to influence our understanding of marijuana’s impact on teens, my strong sense and humble request to parents is to take this topic seriously. Risk being humble, loving — and unpopular with your teen. Understand that marijuana use as self-medication is a symptom that needs your attention, not a crime that needs punishment.

Todd Kestin is a teen coach and mentor. He writes about what it takes for teens to step up, stand out, and thrive. You can download his free report, 7 Qualities of Incredible Teens at

Networking: It’s Not Just for Adults Anymore

When you push aside all the technology, all the gadgets and apps and filters, you’re left with a simple truth: we’re people who like to connect with other people. We’re social creatures, always have been and always will be. Connection brings us love and happiness. It also brings us success. No matter what you want in life, chances are a person will make or break it. A new job? A person will make the call. A new business? A customer will make the difference. We may advance by the minute, but in the end we’re just people connecting with other people.

Nowhere is this more important than with your teen. Connecting with others through networking is no longer an option. It’s a mandatory skill. Long gone are the days when a degree from a good school would be your ticket to a great job. This may be years down the road for your kids, but like preparing for an exam in advance, building a network now—and learning the skill of connecting—is always smarter than trying to cram everything in the night before graduation.

From boosting their chances of future success and honing their communication skills to becoming more comfortable talking with adults and thinking of how they can serve others, building an effective network at any age comes with too many perks to ignore.

Dennis Charles, author of Word of Mouth, began his career helping teens navigate their way to successful careers and is a strong advocate for early networking. As he says, “While there has been a drastic rise in teaching math and science, this has led to decreasing social skills,” making it vital that parents take charge and teach their kids how to connect. Below are five tips from Charles to get you started…

Step 1: Teach your teen to build their network with intention. The idea isn’t to collect as many contacts as possible, but to develop a network of quality connections. Depth is far more important than width. Possible contacts for your teen include coaches, teachers, local business owners, and civic leaders.

Step 2: Teach your teen the importance of regular contact. A network is a living, breathing thing. It needs care and attention to survive and develop, so encourage your kids to reach out to the people in their network on a consistent basis, aiming for face to face whenever possible.

Step 3: Teach your teen that networking is a two-way street. It’s about giving as much if not more than you get. Anyone who constantly takes without giving thought to reciprocating will find his or her contacts quickly vanish. How can your teen deliver value to each and every person in their network? That’s the question to ask more often than how can their network help them.

Step 4: Teach your teen to use their love (obsession?) of social media to enhance their network. Social platforms like LinkedIn and Facebook make finding new connections as easy as a few clicks, not to mention the ease they offer of staying up to date and in touch. To kick things off, help your teen create and maintain an updated LinkedIn profile.

Step 5: Teach your kids, as early as you can, how to interact and empathize with other people. Ask them to order at restaurants, help them pay at the grocery store, stand by as they answer the door, and, most important, talk with them at the dinner table with no tech in sight. Or you can overachieve like Charles: “I used to have my teens do presentations at the family dinner table. At first it was uncomfortable for them, but they quickly got used to the concept of presenting themselves and their ideas.” Not a bad way to teach an invaluable lesson.

It’s never too soon to network or to build the skills of connecting with people. Start early, start strong, and help your teen develop an asset that will serve them for the rest of their lives.

Learning Disabilities: Telling a New Story


I was diagnosed with a learning disability in first grade, and every day for ten years after I struggled in every way imaginable.

I was scared, hurt, angry, and defiant. Apparently there was only one way to teach and one way to learn. That’s what I was told. Because I didn’t conform to standards, plop went the label and down went the image I had of myself.

It wasn’t my difficulty with learning that dragged me down; it was the label, the treatment, the role of someone who is broken. Once that seed was planted, it spread to every corner and took root so deeply that a decade passed before it was trimmed down. To be honest, part of it remains.

My schoolwork suffered, my relationships with teachers and friends suffered, and my mental and emotional states more than suffered—they were devastated. I had accepted the label of “stupid,” and wore it around my neck like a two-ton weight, dragging it with me everywhere I went.

It’s clear why self-esteem and confidence play such a large role in my work with teens. I’ve been in their shoes and have experienced the pain. I also found a way out.

I may never work directly with your teen, but what follows can certainly help any child, at any age, discover inside themselves the strength and determination to turn a so-called learning disability into a life-changing advantage. There are many ways to teach, many ways to learn. If your child doesn’t fit the mold of one, don’t worry. There are many other ways for them to shine.


1. Labels: Labels matter. In a world that can lean too far toward political correctness, people grow tired of being told to use this word and not that. I get it. Sometimes we need to stop putting so much time and effort into a word and instead focus on the actual problem. When it comes to labelling someone with a learning disability, however, the warnings are warranted. The instant that label seeps into a young mind, confidence begins to break down. No longer are they Jack and Jill; they’re now dumb and disabled. They live it, they breathe it, and they can become consumed by it. As a parent, it’s your job to ensure friends, family, and especially teachers avoid “disability” and opt for “difference.”

2. The Facts: There is more than one way to learn. Your child needs to learn a new story and this is its heart. He or she may not fit the standard practice, may not follow the standard path. That doesn’t mean the path to learning is blocked for good. It only means a new way is needed, a way that works with their strengths and natural processes.

3. Priorities: When your child is working through these struggles, it’s important as a parent to reassess your priorities. Grades shouldn’t be the one and only measurement of your child’s progress or success. School is just one facet of life, albeit an important one. You don’t want to ignore school performance, but you also don’t want to ignore the other areas such as sports, music, art, relationships, etc. Ease the stress and build on the positive by seeing and speaking to your child as a whole, not one piece.

4. What’s Working: We need to counteract the challenge in learning. Confidence-building is one of my favorite antidotes. Ask your child or teen about what’s working in their lives. Where do they excel? What do they love to do? Where do they forget about their struggle and truly flourish? Again, think beyond school subjects (though they can certainly be a part). When you pinpoint areas of excellence, dig in. “It just comes naturally” isn’t helpful here. We need to identify specific reasons they excel so you can build their confidence with proof of ability and not wishy washy luck and circumstance.

5. Pattern Interrupts: It’s hard to stop a mental pattern that has been playing unchecked for months or even years. That’s where you come in. Interrupt your child’s thoughts pattern when you sense they’re going down the rabbit hole of frustration or hopelessness. Snap them out of it by reinforcing their new story, their story of “different,” their story of “whole picture,” their story of “areas of excellence.” Break the pattern and replace it with one that uplifts and drives forward.

6. Models: It’s hard to tackle this challenge alone. Feeling like you’re the only one who is suffering drags down the soul. But when you realize you’re not alone? When you realize others not only faced the same challenges but thrived? That changes everything. You have a comrade. You have hope. You have proof that something more is possible. You can find the right models depending on the differences you’re dealing with, but here’s a quick example: Dyslexia can feel like a mountain of a challenge, but it never stopped da Vinci, Alexander Graham Bell, Einstein, or billionaire Richard Branson from living a successful life.

Hearing that your child is different is never easy. But different is not disabled. By taking a leading role in your child’s development—and helping them tell a new story—you can avoid the damage of the label and replace it with the strength and confidence to turn a challenge into an life-changing advantage.

Keep Calm and Parent On

The other day I noticed a mother vibrating with stress attempting to calm her crying baby. The little one couldn’t crawl, walk, or talk, but her instinctual senses were sharp enough to know stress when she heard, saw, and felt it. The mother’s attempts were futile — you can’t calm stress with stress.

Keep Calm and Parent On

This snippet reminded me just how often I see the same mistake in my practice. Moms and Dads, with the best of intentions, try in vain to bring calm and order to their teens’ lives. They fail for the very same reason the mother above failed: They’re wearing their frustration on their sleeves, hoping to fight stress with stress.

Not all parents fail in this goal, of course. A seemingly gifted handful have the ability to bring order to their kids’ hectic lives by approaching their roles as parents with a calm, coolness usually reserved for Bond villains. What’s their secret? Though every case is unique, I have seen three skills pop up again and again.

Step One: Do Less.

As a parent who loves your kids, it’s hard not to feel compelled to do everything for them. But I want you to do less, and do so for two reasons. First, your kids must learn how to become capable and resilient if they want to succeed later in life. Doing less now allows them to develop these skills for use later. Easier said than done, but still crucial to their wellbeing.

Second, hovering just feet away from your kids, ready to act on their behalf as a moment’s notice, is stressful. It’s stressful for you and it’s stressful for them. If you put it on yourself to run two people’s lives, you’ll quickly run yourself raw. It’s too much. When you let yourself do less — and give them a chance to do more — you have time to breathe, to relax, to have fun, which means you’ll be refreshed and ready to tackle the larger issues that come your way.

Step Two: Watch for Signals.

Parents who bring calm order to their surroundings are also great at reading their own moods and emotions. Tune into your body. What happens when you get stressed or overwhelmed or frustrated or overtired? What signals predictably appear? They’re there, no question. The issue is whether you can detect them.

I struggled with this myself, but soon found the cure: my wife. I may not have been aware of what my body did as the stress gathered, but she definitely saw it. Like the moments when we’re gripping the wheel with intensity but don’t realize it until someone comments on our white knuckles, she noticed my signals plain as day. She cued me in, which helped develop my own radar.

Step Three: Interrupt the Stress.

Recognizing stress isn’t enough. You need to interrupt the pattern before approaching your kids. Sometimes that’s as simple as noticing the stress, taking a breath, and regrouping. Other times you’ll need to put your parenting plans on hold and do something else entirely; try as we might, sometimes we can’t think our way out of a bad mood.

Once the frustration or bad mood has been recognized and interrupted, you can safely engage with your kids without worry of bringing more stress into the situation — or more gasoline to an already burning fire.

Develop these skills and you’ll have a far easier time serving as a calming force and effective parent, even when faced with the most difficult of situations. But there’s something else I see in clients who possess these talents. They’re modeling ideal behavior.

Kids of all ages learn so very much by watching what we do. They’re more than sponges; they’re mirrors. Hundreds of times, more likely thousands, they’ll be faced with tense situations that call for calm. How will they respond? If they were raised by parents able to remain calm when the world around them was closing in with chaos, they’ll respond in a way that would make mom or dad proud.

Life is stressful. Add parenting to the mix and it can feel as though you’re carrying the weight of the world on your back. Still, you have a choice. Impulsively react or calmly respond. One may be harder than the other, but it’s also well worth the effort.

Four Steps to Becoming a Rock Star Parent in 2016

Four Steps to becoming a Rockstar Parent in 2016

Co-authored by Jason Gracia, author of Shifting the Balance.

It’s that time of year, the time to set goals and resolutions for the year to come. From starting diets and making more money to living of life of your dreams, goals of virtually every shape and size bounce throughout the days and weeks of January. But a goal rarely heard, a goal I believe to be among the most important ever set in mind and down on paper, is the goal to become a better parent.

Spending more quality time with the kids, practicing patience, creating special moments, teaching values and morals… all vital goals to a parent and a child.

But there’s a problem.

It’s not strategies. Tips and tricks tumble from the pages of countless magazines, websites, and blogs.

The problem is motivation.

Like any goal, if you lack the motivation to see it through, it’s as good as whispering in the wind. So today I’m going to walk you through a simple system to help you get and stay motivated to move those parenting resolutions from Do to Done.

Step One: Define the Outcome

Clarity is power when it comes to setting and achieving goals. If the outcome is vague, more cloud than concrete, your chance of success plummets. Why? Because there’s nothing actually to work toward (and, as you’ll see, no rewards or prices to uncover). You need to be as clear as possible with your parenting goals, such that success is obvious when it happens. “Be a better parent” doesn’t make the cut. What does that mean? What steps should you take to get there? When will you know when you’ve done it? Instead, a goal such as “Spend one night a week of quality time one on one with my daughter” is a step in the right direction. The outcome is clear, success is defined, the steps forward are easily uncovered.

Step Two: Uncover the Rewards

When you have a clear outcome, you also have the key to motivation: rewards and prices (prices are up next). Without diving too deep, think of motivation as a balance. On one side are all the reasons you have for wanting to do something. On the other side are all the influences against it (for example, pain is working against exercise). Whichever side carries more weight with you — logically, emotionally, spiritually — wins. If you have more positives than negatives linked up with, say, attending your son’s basketball games, you’ll do your best to be there. If not, you won’t.

The first part of the equation is the rewards, all the good things you associate with following through and acting on your goal. These are the ideas that kick the goal off to begin with, rewards such as a new body after exercise or more money after working for a promotion. To get and stay motivated, you need to make a detailed list of every good thing that will come from reaching your parenting goal. What will it do for you and your family? Emotionally, socially, financially, etc. Think of rewards as weights — the more you have, the heavier the balance will tip toward action.

Step Three: Uncover the Prices

Rewards aren’t alone. They have a counterpart which are often more powerful in getting people to act: prices of procrastination. Think of prices as the rubber band snap of motivation — they are the negatives that will happen if you don’t do what you say you’re going to do. For example, if you don’t help your teen practice driving before the big road test, they may fail. Two major prices to be paid for this laziness: First, their negative reaction to failing. Second, now Johnny can’t drive Sally to soccer as you had hoped. These negatives drive you to make sure you do what it takes to succeed to avoid paying the price. Like rewards, make an exhaustive, detailed list of every price you’ll pay if you fail to do what it takes to become the parent you hope to be. The more painful, the better.

Step Four: Map the First Steps

With your motivational weights in hand, you’re ready to go. But where do you go? That’s the final piece of the puzzle. All the motivation in the world will do you no good if you don’t know what to do with it. You need a plan, but not the usual one. I don’t want you to create a long, drawn-out diagram of what you need to do; that only leads to resistance (negative weight on the balance). Instead, I want you to make a list of three simple steps you can take to move toward your goal. The simpler, the better. The point is to build momentum. A wonderful thing happens when people take small steps toward their goals — the rewards and prices tied to success get stronger. They’re self-reinforcing.

If I want to spend more quality time with my kids, a major reward will be their reaction: love and happiness. When I see that, when I feel that positive reaction, the rewards I wrote on paper take on an entirely new meaning. They’re real, tangible. In turn, they become even more powerful and drive me further toward success. Each small step you take toward your goal will make it that much easier to continue down the path.

You want to be a better parent. That’s the first and most important step. But you can’t stop there. To ensure your early hopes don’t become future disappointments, tap into the natural workings of your motivation to create an unstoppable force for positive change.

Are You Ready for the Teen Transition?

From the moment they placed that bundle of joy and hope and love in your arms, you’ve been in control. You spoke, they listened. (At least that was the plan.) Now you have something else on your hands. Now you have a teenager.

With this new arrival comes a stark reminder of your ultimate mission as a parent: Preparation for success as an adult. You’ve been building a springboard for them during all those years, sharing life lessons, directing their path, and instilling in them the code they needed to thrive. But now the relationship is changing, and most parents aren’t ready for the shift.

The majority of challenges that walk through my office doors stem, not from the teen, but from the parent’s inability to recognize that the relationship has permanently changed. A teen is no longer a child. The relationship is no longer one way.

This isn’t because teens are stubborn, difficult, or simply out of their minds; it’s because teens require a new dynamic for you to achieve your mission. In just a few years you’ll open the door and they’ll walk out, ready or not. To ensure they are prepared for that exit, you can’t parent the way you used to. You have to slowly but surely hand over the control you monopolized for over a decade.

This is hard. You want nothing more than to protect them, which often compels parents to cling to that control. I’ve seen the results. It may feel good in the short term to hover and cover, but that only steals their opportunity to grow. Teens need the room to fail so they can eventually succeed.

What follows are some of my favorite strategies I offer to my clients to help them prepare for and make the most of the transition from teen to adult.

1. Future Pace: The first thing I do is ask parents to consider the relationship they want to have with their teen in two to three years, after they have left the home. Do they want someone unable to make their own decisions? Incapable of rising to a challenge and figuring things out for themselves? This breaks the cycle of short-term thinking and allows parents to recognize the ultimate goal for their kids.

2. From Dictator to Adviser: When they were five, you were the dictator. Do this, don’t do that. Now your role has shifted to an adviser. Teens both need and want to be part of the conversation. When challenges or choices arise, truly listen to their viewpoint and empathize with their perspective. Don’t rush to judgement. Instead, guide them toward the right path. Not easy, but definitely the key to helping your teen develop the muscle to make smart choices.

3. Growth Experiences: Give them the chance to grow and mature. This includes simple tasks like putting them in charge of getting their homework done as well as creating opportunities for them to push themselves forward. I have a client who runs triathlons after being nudged by dad. He now signs up for as many as he can, making new friends and excelling in a new sport. Another client, who loved to read, started her own book club after a gentle push by mom.

4. Outside Help: Sometimes we can’t see the forest for the trees. We are so immersed in the problems we’re facing that we can’t seem to find a way forward. It’s at these times that a coach or mentor is the answer. Responsibility, confidence, integrity and the like aren’t random gifts; they are like any other skill and can be learned and mastered. If you are committed to instilling in your teen the qualities necessary for success as an adult, I can’t recommend reaching out to a trained teen professional enough.

You want to be a good parent. We all do. In our quest to care for our creations, we can miss the greater mission and hold them back from independence. It’s hard to let go of our kids, but if you do your job right, they’ll be ready for it.

It’s Time to Tell Your Teens the Truth

Co-authored by Jason Gracia, Founder of The Expert Agency, and author of Shifting the Balance.

From the minute we open our eyes to the moment we close them for sleep, today’s media works overtime to remind us just how dangerous the world has become. It’s a miracle, we’re led to believe, just to survive the week.

As adults, the relentless news about danger and disease and destruction and death — often untimely — can rattle us, but we’re able to dampen the news with a bit of perspective; we know how the media machine works. Teens, on the other hand, often lack the ability. The bleeding news hits them full force.

So much of what I aim to do in my work with teens becomes much more difficult, if not impossible, when they see the world as a frightening, dangerous place. Goals and the like can’t compete. But everything changes when I push aside the media and hype and reveal the reality of the world we live in.

Though I wish I could do the same for your kids, you’ll have to take the lead and show them the world, not as the media machine portrays it, but as it actually is.


Let’s start with danger. The 24-hour news cycle makes it appear as though death is at our front door, most often in the form of terrorism. While it’s undeniable that certain parts of the world are more dangerous than others (e.g., Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan), the threat of terrorism within the United States is, as CNN’s Jim Sciutto says, “…miniscule. One estimate puts it about one in 20 million.” Though risk is ever present, these odds should put your children at ease.

Violence overall has also been on a drastically steep decline. In his book, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, Steven Pinker makes the unquestionable case for this decline, statistically demonstrating a hundredfold decrease in homicide rates since their peak 500 years ago. We’re living in the safest time in history.


Next let’s tackle how long, on average, we’re going to live. As Peter Diamandis outlines in his breakthrough book, Abundance: The Future is Better than You Think, the average human lifespan has nearly doubled in the past 100 years.

In fact, according to the National Institute on Aging,

The dramatic increase in average life expectancy during the 20th century ranks as one of society’s greatest achievements. Although most babies born in 1900 did not live past age 50, life expectancy at birth now exceeds 83 years in Japan — the current leader — and is at least 81 years in several other countries.

People around the globe are living longer, healthier lives. Take into consideration the advances in longevity just around the corner and making it to triple digits will one day be commonplace.


When it comes to poverty, humankind is moving the right direction. Diamandisshows that poverty has “declined more in the past 50 years than the previous 500. Over the last 50 years, in fact, even while the Earth’s population has doubled, the average per capita income globally (adjusted for inflation) has more than tripled.”

He goes on to remind us that the majority of today’s poor “have access to phones, toilets, running water, air conditioning and even a car. Go back 150 years and the richest robber barons couldn’t have ever hoped for such wealth.”

These are the facts. They may not be startling or scary enough to garner attention on the nightly news, but they paint the accurate picture of our world. We are safer, healthier, and richer now than we have ever been. This is the story we need to tell our children. Danger exists, as does death and destruction, but chance favors a long and happy life for those willing to seize it.

Dashed Hopes: The Two Words That Erase Your Children’s Dreams

For John it was always about numbers and sports.

I worked with John for several years, helping him navigate the treacherous waters of adolescence, and for as long as he could remember he had always wanted to bring together his love of numbers and sports, particularly baseball. One day he walked into my office beaming from ear to ear. He found the answer he was looking for and it resided at the friendly confines of Wrigley Field. He would work for the Chicago Cubs.

John was possessed with excitement. I had never seen him so focused, so committed, so driven to bring a goal to life. Surprisingly, for a dream that stretched high into the clouds his feet were planted firmly on earth. He knew it would take time and effort, and he was willing to start from square one within the organization. The work didn’t scare him. The path was clear and powerful enough to make all the work and all the wait more than worth it.

His parents didn’t share his enthusiasm. “John, you need to be realistic.” They knew of his love of numbers, which is why they had their own plan in mind: accounting. Safe. Secure.

John’s excitement vanished. He started with a fire inside and ended with a flicker. A fresh dream, you see, is a fragile thing. Sometimes enough well-intentioned hole-poking can bring it to a premature end.

I don’t blame his parents or the millions like them who extol the advice of being realistic. They’re doing what all good parents do: protect their children. The higher the hopes, the slimmer the chances of success, and the longer, more painful the fall and resulting crash to earth will be.

But our kids will never see from the tops of mountains if we’re too afraid to let them climb. As compelled as we are to keep them safe, we have to consider not only the possibility for failure, but also holding them back from their potential. Doing so could force upon them limits we ourselves never would have accepted.

I suggest a new role for you, mom and dad.

Instead of telling your kids to be realistic and aim for the safe shot, be inspired by the size of their reach and help them pursue those big ideas with a level head. Guide them to the goal with logic and efficiency, using your experience to help them avoid missteps and seize shortcuts. Add to the dream. Join in the race.

Young adults achieve amazing things every day. Do you want to be the parent who takes away this possibility, or the one who stands behind them and believes?

The 5 Qualities of Real Friends

False friends can tear a teen’s life apart. Real friends can enhance their lives forever. Both options are ever present in a teen’s world. Five qualities make all the difference.

I’ve worked in the field for many years and have sat across from many teens. In that time, and after much digging, I’ve discovered that the friendships that enrich my clients’ lives are built upon five common qualities. By teaching your kids early on the importance of these traits, chances are they’ll avoid those false friendships and hold tight to the ones that truly matter.

Quality #1: Loyal

The best of friends are the ones who stick by your side, in good times and bad. And, as we all know, there can be times of high drama flowing through the halls of high school. The tension my clients feel when they’re unsure of their friends’ loyalty can be overwhelming, forcing them to watch their words, look over their shoulders, and walk with worry. If your teen has in her midst a friend who has proven to be loyal, she has a friend worth her weight in gold.

Quality #2: Trustworthy

So much of the pain experienced during adolescence stems from the unfaithful friend, the gossip who steals your secrets and spreads the word like wildfire. This makes the quality of trustworthiness all the more important. With our heads overflowing with thoughts and feelings during our teen years, we desperately need a safe outlet in which to share. We need someone to go to, openly, free of the fear that our innermost thoughts may soon be common knowledge. If your teen has a friend he can trust, he has a friend to follow.

Quality #3: Honest

The truth can hurt, but sometimes that is exactly what we need. The biological need for acceptance is so strong that teens often stick to a script of agreement; whatever is said, whatever is decided, we all agree it’s the right thing. It doesn’t take long to see how this type of thinking can get kids into a great deal of trouble. The teen who stands against the group and says what he truly feels is a rare teen indeed. And that’s precisely what every teen needs—a friend who speaks the truth, even when that truth is hard to hear. It’s a guard against the terrible decisions teens are prone to, especially when every other voice is in agreement. If your teen has a friend who is honest, he should hold tight to that friend.

Quality #4: Sympathetic

Ever share a deep thought with a friend who has his face glued to the screen in his hand? How about a friend who sets all distractions aside and truly listens with their entire mind and body? Quite a different experience, isn’t it? One leaves you feeling ignored and insignificant while the other leaves you feeling heard and validated. Teens experience these same feelings in their relationships, all the while fighting through a sea of distraction far greater than anything we encountered at the same age. This makes the quality of a sympathetic listener even more important to your teen. If she has a friend who knows how to listen—truly listen—she has a friend worth sticking by.

Quality #5: Engaged

A friendship whose entire life exists on Facebook or Snapchat isn’t a friendship at all. It’s a loose acquaintance, a poor imitation of an authentic relationship that fails to satisfy within us the deep-seated need to form real bonds with those around us. Quality time, shared experiences, distraction-free conversation…these are the building blocks of a rewarding friendship, building blocks that disappear when a digital connection is the only connection we have. If your teen has an engaged friend, someone who takes the time to share in-person experiences, he has the making of an authentic friendship that faithfully fulfills the definition.

As teens, we were desperate for connection, so much so that we often latched onto even the hint of a friendship, whether the qualities above were present or not. This is too risky a game to play with such an important part of your teen’s life. Instead of haphazard connections, help your kids form rewarding friendships by guiding them toward bonds built upon loyalty, trust, honesty, sympathy, and engagement.

The Secret to Speaking ‘Teen’

As many of us have heard by now, men and women come from different planets; Mars and Venus, respectively. This insight has opened the door to a new world of understanding and connection. Men and women think, speak and act differently. Embracing this fact clears the way for fewer bumps and faster solutions, not to mention far better relationships.

I’d like to add another planet to our solar equation.

Teens, as much if not more than your average adult, are from a different planet, too. This probably doesn’t come as a shock to many parents. There’s just one problem: Those parents ignore this fact every chance they get.

Parents communicate with their teens as if they shared a brain. They make logical requests, logical arguments and rebuttals. Logical to them, that is, and they expect instant understanding in return. But they don’t share brains. They don’t even share the same language. Teens are a different breed with a different perspective. This difference, and a parent’s inability to appreciate that difference, causes many of the problems I witness in my private practice. To improve the situation and repair the relationship between parent and teen, I offer the following advice.

1. Recognize Reality
When you want to speak to your teen, when they’re acting up or out, when they’re driving you mad, the first step is to recognize the reality into which you’re entering. You’re engaging with someone from a different planet, with a different map of the world and a different language. Just as wonders have been worked by recognizing the differences between men and women, the same benefits await with your teen.

2. Listen Sincerely
Armed with your new attitude, listen to your teen. Truly listen. I’m not talking about making eye contact while mentally preparing your next sentence. I’m talking about soaking up their words and letting each one step into your mind unblocked. Have you ever been really listened to? Amazing feeling, isn’t it? Not only will doing so make your teen feel that way, but it will allow for smoother communication and mutual understanding.

3. Adapt Your Perspective
You accept the fact that your teen isn’t from your planet and you’re keeping your mouth firmly closed in an effort to actively listen to what they have to say. Great job, Mom or Dad. Next, I need you to swish their words around in your mind free from your inner critic. It’s only natural to tear apart their counter-argument; in an almost knee-jerk reaction, many parents have an answer to their teen’s every move. I want you to be different and to see things from their perspective. Time has made it difficult to step back into a teen’s shoes, but the more you can remember what it was like to be in the chaos of adolescence, the better you’ll be at reaching your teen where they live.

4. Confirm What You Hear
Great communication requires true understanding, so instead of assuming you know what they’re saying, get confirmation. “If I’m hearing what you’re saying, you think/want/need…” Such a response shows your children that you’re really listening and that you have a sincere desire to understand them. That alone can diffuse even the most stressful of situations. But that isn’t the main benefit. When you confirm, you may find that your assumptions were wrong, giving your teen the chance to clear up the confusion.

5. Respond
The steps above combine to do one thing: teach you a new language. With this skill in hand, you can respond to your teen in a way that reaches them, that makes more sense than a response from a parent who “just doesn’t understand.” This isn’t to say your teen has the freedom to say and do whatever they choose; you’re still the parent. It means you and your teen will, perhaps for the first time, speak the same language.

If you play your cards right, they may just invite you to their planet.