Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Adolescent Counseling Services:  Know the Friends 

by Pamela Garfield, LCSW, Site Director of Gunn High School

Last year I had a great opportunity to lead a discussion of parents in the Sophomore Parent Network. Many parents in the group were worried about substance abuse and were wondering how to ask their children about drugs. ‘How do we communicate when they are growing so independent?’ ‘How do we remain in the know?’
Ahhh, the joys of raising a teenager...Therapists call this adolescent stage “Separation Individuation”. This is the phenomenon of your kid growing more independent and needing to learn life lessons on her own, yet still needs you as a base when she gets in over her head. One minute she is responsible, the next minute she is impulsive, immature, and clingy. What is a parent to do? How can one keep up?
The reality is even if you are the best parent in the world, it’s unlikely that your teenage son or daughter will tell you everything. This is especially true if there is a topic that is shameful or embarrassing. It’s part of normal development.
So what do you do if your independent teenager gets into trouble, how can you know? If a teen withdraws, a parent can feel stuck.
In the PTA meeting, a wise parent said “Get to know your child’s friends”. If your child is going through something they feel ashamed to talk to you about, the friends are more likely to tell you about it if they feel comfortable with you. 
The Palo Alto community has shifted in the last five years. Students are being trained in QPR - Question, Persuade, Refer - in their Living Skills classes ( As a result, youth have learned to speak up about someone in trouble. Many have already had positive experiences talking to an adult about getting help for a friend. The community has learned to come together and help others. However, it can still be difficult for a struggling teen to talk to their parents about their 
As the new school year starts and your child is making new friends, take notice and interest in them. Notice who your child’s friends are because they may have shifted from last year. Be approachable and available to your child’s friends because they will probably be your most valuable resource. 

Adolescent Counseling Services is a community non-profit, which provides vital counseling services on nine secondary campuses at no charge to students and their families. To learn more about our services please visit the ACS website at or call Pamela Garfield, LCSW Site Director at Gunn (650) 849-7919. ACS relies on the generosity of community members to continue offering individual, family, and group counseling to over 1,500 individuals annually. ACS provides critical interventions and mental health services, building a better future for tomorrow. If you are interested in helping to support our efforts, do not hesitate to call to make a donation. It goes a long way in helping teenagers find their way!

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