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  • Lauren Boyle, LCSW

The Key to Raising Resilient Teens: Compassionate Communication

As a social worker, I often talk with teens and parents about resiliency. I have seen the development of resilience firsthand in working with individuals and families. It has become evident to me that the word resiliency is a bit vague, and my clients want specific strategies on how to help build resilient children and teens.

As a therapist for 22 years and a parent for 14 years, I am especially interested in resiliency as a concept because the higher a person’s resiliency level, the higher the likelihood for enhanced day-to-day wellbeing and stability with mental health. And who doesn’t want that for their kids?

A question I often get from parents is “How can I increase the likelihood that my teen will see me as a resource in a time of need?” If I had to recommend one strategy to help our children build resilience, it would be…….drum roll please…... compassionate communication.

The three main tenets of compassion

During my career as a social worker, I have found that compassion has three main tenets:

  • Being empathetic and kind

  • Staying present/connected

  • Holding one’s feelings in a balanced way

In my experience working with families, leading with empathy and validation as opposed to judgment or minimizing feelings tends to improve relationships.  It is in our nature as parents to want to “fix” things for our teens. While that is very well-intentioned, it often leads our kids to feel judged. Instead, we need to lead with validation and concern and then follow up to see if they are looking for problem-solving or are looking for an empathetic and compassionate ear. I have discovered that leading conversations with validation and empathy will help to build a healthy communication dynamic with our children. 

Another demonstration of compassionate communication is how we treat ourselves. As parents, if we make a mistake or face a challenge, we need to speak to ourselves with kindness. It is possible to accept responsibility without being critical of ourselves. Over time, as our teens see us being kind to ourselves, they will be more likely to come to us with challenges, knowing that we will likely be kind to them as well. We can role model self-compassion for our teens. Even when we do not think that our teens are watching how we as parents treat ourselves or speak of others – they are!

Over time, compassionate communication will help to increase the likelihood that our teen will view us as a resource and reach out to us in a time of need. Being a resource for your teen helps to build resilience and wellbeing!

The Ryan Bartel Foundation, based in Loudoun County, was created with the goal of preventing youth suicide by building resilience. Through evidence-based programming, summer camps, and parent support, the foundation helps teens and their parents not only build stronger connections but also strategies to navigate the stressors of modern teen life. 

You can learn more about teen mental wellness programs, parent workshops, and this year’s summer camp here.

Lauren Boyle is the founder of NOVA LiveWellBeing, an outpatient mental health practice serving Virginia, Maryland, and New Jersey, as well as a member of the Ryan Bartel Foundation Mental Health Advisory Board. Read more about Lauren here.


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