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Teen Leaders Help Parents and Students Talk and Connect

Teen Leaders Help Parents and Students Talk and Connect

“There’s no such thing as a perfect kid — they just don’t exist,” said Benita Page, program director at the Tariq Khamisa Foundation in San Diego. “We put a lot of unnecessary pressure and stress on our kids and they, in turn, put it on themselves.” 

Page was a featured speaker at What I Wish My Parents Knew, a virtual forum for students and parents from Canyon Hills High and other schools. Watch a recording of the forum on YouTube

One student shared, “It’s hard to talk to them sometimes. They’re busy with work, and I don’t want to intrude.” 

The latest What I Wish My Parents Knew focused on communication skills, with emphasis on issues that are hard to discuss. Club Elevated conducted a survey to get input from other Canyon Hills students. 

They asked more than 100 classmates, “What’s the hardest topic to talk to your parents about?” 

Good news: The most popular answer was that most students feel comfortable talking with their parents about everything. One out of three students felt that way. 

Eleventh-grader Kyle Estep believes it is a matter of trust. 

“When I talk to my parents, I know it’s confidential,” Estep explained. “I couldn’t say the same if I talked with other students. That information could be easily spread.”

More than a quarter of the students asked said their own mental health is the most challenging thing to discuss. Senior Nick Alcorn reviewed the survey responses on that issue. 

“Students feel they can’t fulfill their parents’ expectations when they say they’re sad,” said Alcorn. “Their parents expect them to be happy and successful, and they don’t want to let their parents down in that way.

“Some students felt like talking about mental health was seen as an excuse to get out of their responsibilities,” Alcorn added. “Their parents had dismissed their feelings in the past. Conversations about mental health don’t happen when teenagers don’t think they’re going to be heard.”  

Only 3% of the students said it was hard to talk to their parents about drugs and alcohol.

However, it was a significant issue for those few. One wrote, “They misunderstand everything. They get upset that I asked, and they’ll think I do drugs.” 

At the same time, having conversations about substance use is critical to making healthy decisions.

“Parents are the number one influence in their child’s life related to their attitudes and behaviors around alcohol,” said Club Elevated’s Via Perlas.

Eleventh-grader Estep added, “Talking with teens about alcohol and drugs might be uncomfortable for parents, but research shows their kids listen, and these conversations have a lasting impact.”

Another small segment of students (5%) said post-high-school expectations are challenging.

Marissa Sheehy graduates this year. She said some relatives seem focused on her college plans, and her parents set clear academic expectations. 

“We have rules about missing school assignments, and losing privileges if you have a lot of those,” she said. “It is not about pressure to succeed academically, it’s more about putting in the effort.”  

She said she knows other adults who place tremendous value on getting good grades.

“When a student feels like they’re stepping out of line as to what this ‘perfect’ or ‘normal’ child looks like, they become afraid, and it becomes difficult to talk to your parent about that,” she explained. 

The workshop concluded with a panel discussion, featuring Page of the Tariq Khamisa Foundation, Lincoln High School Student Naveah Capell, and Yasmeen Elbanna, a North Central Teen Recovery Center counselor. 

Capell explained how parents could misunderstand a child who’s trying to have a conversation. 

“When I’m trying to express how I feel they don’t feel like I’m doing it the right way,” Capell said. “Because you’re talking back, they put that in the category of you being disrespectful.

“Parents read a lot of stuff online and assume it’s right,” Capell added. “It’s easier to ask other adults, and they don’t want to have that awkward conversation. I get it. But when they assume stuff, it doesn’t make good communication between the parent and teenager.” 

“In my line of work, we say that our clients are the expert on their lives,” Elbanna said. “Parents bring wisdom and have guidance to offer, but the kids are the experts on their feelings and what they’re going through. Instead of looking for a solution, kids often just need their parents to listen and try to understand what’s going on." 

If a child is struggling with talking about something parents should understand that it's probably a problem, Page said.

"We need to create safe spaces for our children to find their voices," she explained. "We won’t know how to support them until we let them use their voice and we get out of the way.” 

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