By Melissa Ford
As your teen navigates Oak Park River Forest High School along with 3,200 other students, who is guiding your teen, answering questions, making recommendations and providing support?
Who is in your teen’s corner?
Look no further than your student’s school counselor/college advisor.
When it comes to school counselors, we felt like we won the lotto with Brandi Ambrose. Ambrose brings years of experience, lots of care and kindness and a true interest in supporting her students and their parents.
Recently, I interviewed Ambrose, my go-to-person for all things TEEN! Valuing her perspective on what “makes teens tick” (She is school counselor to approximately 270 students.), I asked Ambrose for any insights she could offer parents to make parenting teens easier and more rewarding.
Below are Ambrose’s responses, reminding parents it’s always about relationships, respect and letting go.
Simple times are favorite times
I interview my students so I can get to know their needs. I’ll ask questions about their goals, strengths, weaknesses and their family, and it never fails: their favorite memories are not the big summer trip or a unique destination, but rather they’ll say ‘I just like spending time with my family.’ For instance, if a teen and his/her parents have made several college trips, it’s the time spent together in the car, the conversations along the way, the fun places they visited that stand out. It’s not their impression of each university. Truly, it’s the little things that happen along the way that makes them remember the trip.
Step into their world
Teens like when their parents step into their world and appreciate what they do. Some of my students’ favorite times are when their parents listen to them, go to their events and do things with them that they enjoy. For example, one of my students, who is an avid skateboarder, told me his dad accompanied him to the local skatepark, videotaped him riding and performing tricks and then later they watched the tape together. This is a great way to connect with your kid and share his/her enthusiasm and interests.
It’s not what you say . . .
Kids will model and respect what their parents do. No kid really respects when their parent is the cool parent. The respect comes from guidelines, discipline and the knowledge that their parent is looking out for them. I tell parents to listen more, role model more and talk less. Otherwise, your kids will eventually tune you out.
Let your child struggle
Students do not benefit if parents take care of everything for them. Over the years, I’ve seen parents that let their teens do the legwork and these kids thrive. Let school be somewhat of a struggle; let students push themselves in class. They’ll feel accomplished and successful! Since parents are trying to teach independence - guide your teens and let them learn along the way by doing less.
Failure is a gift
A lot of our kids get their first taste of failure during the fall of senior year; they receive their first college rejection letter. Many parents and kids don’t realize that this is a gift. I’ve watched many students feel the rejection; they internalize it. Then, they eventually turn it around and keep trying. It’s difficult because these kids are perfect! They have the perfect ACT score, grades, college applications, but not every kid that applies to his/her preferred college gets in. Our kids are resilient and struggle is a part of growing up. They can handle it.
Get rid of the To-Do list
I learned this tip from one of my colleagues. Every once in awhile get rid of the To-Do list on the weekends. Go do something together with your teen. Even if your child doesn’t like the outdoors, take a nature walk. You will learn more about your teen if you do something out of the normal day-to-day experiences.
Find the good in your teen
I like to tell parents to hold steadfast to the idea that truly, your teen wants to get along with you even if s/he argues, fights or doesn’t do what you’ve asked. You can find a way out of the arguments if you can find common ground with your teen. Look at the bigger picture such as your child being a productive, kind person rather than not getting an A on a test. Find some happiness together and create good relationships at home, and I guarantee the academic success will follow.
Be proud of me!
The #1 most shocking realization for parents is when they learn their teen just wants them to be proud of who s/he is. I’ve seen tears come to parents’ eyes when they make this discovery. Never underestimate how much your child wants you to be proud.
Keep kids involved
At the high school, your child will be more successful if s/he has a connection to the school. Get your teen involved. Kids want to do well; they want to have friends; they want to be a part of things. When they don’t get that connection, you see them start to slip.
What do you want parents to know?
I hope parents know how much we love their kids and want the best for them. If parents have questions, we encourage them to reach out to their teen’s school counselor. We are there for you and your student.
Thank you to Brandi Ambrose for her thoughtful responses. If you have any insights or wisdom on raising teens, please feel free to share your ideas.