In my discussions with parents, I often hear the distress in their voices, wondering if they are making a difference in the life of their son or daughter. They ask questions such as how to help their child avoid substance use, handle teasing/bullying, feel confident and build solid self-esteem. While the solutions to these topics may take time to implement, one thing remains true: parents can and do make a difference. As we found in a 2006 study, adolescents who perceive that their parents (mother and/or father) care about them, feel as though they can talk to them, and value their opinions (even if they don’t heed the advice!) are adolescents who have stronger mental health. These are the adolescents who are less likely to experience depression and low self-esteem. They are also less likely to use substances, engage in unhealthy weight control behaviors, and attempt suicide.
Parents can make significant strides toward helping their kids feel valued by taking time on a regular basis to listen with full attention, making eye contact during conversations, and refraining from quick judgment or providing solutions to the problem. Focus instead on holding a discussion in which pros and cons of many solutions to a problem are discussed, and seek to help the young person make an appropriate decision on his or her own.
Reference: Ackard DM, Neumark-Sztainer D, Story M & Perry C. (2006). Parent-child connectedness and behavioral and emotional health among adolescents. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 30 (1), 59-66. Abstract can be found here.