Thoughtful Parenting: Trusted adult relationships help deter negative behaviors

Lindsey Simbeye
For Steamboat Pilot & Today

Having difficult conversations with your child, such as those pertaining to substance use, sexting, pregnancy and violence, can be challenging to navigate.

The most important thing to remember is to be approachable, focus your conversations on the facts and take a positive youth development approach. According to Healthy Kids Colorado Survey data, youth who feel they can ask their parents for help are 31% less likely to vape. Don’t under estimate your impact.

Conversation tips

  • Reflect: Regardless of what you tell young people, how you tell them is driven by your point of view, your ability to be a role model, the desired result for the conversation and the context.
    • What do you think of the issue? What are your experiences and opinions? 
    • What personal actions can you use to reinforce the messages or may detract from your message? 
    • What do you hope to achieve — protection, provide information or skills, intervene or change behavior?
    • Are you preventing a situation or responding to one? Are you focused on one incident or a longer-term approach?
  • Know the underlying question: There is often an underlying question driving the type of information young people want. Knowing this will affect your approach and the information you share. For example, if a young person says, “All my friends are vaping and say it is good for me,” they might be wondering if this is an acceptable behavior or want to know your personal beliefs. 
  • Practice the O.A.R approach: An approach that can help adults practice the skills of being a trusted, askable adult. O.A.R. stands for open-ended questions, affirmations and reflections.   

Often, teenagers exhibit problem behaviors as a way to cope with stress. Help them to identify stressors in their lives and find healthier ways to work through those challenges. Talk to your kids, but remember, teenagers are adept at identifying and rejecting disingenuous lectures.

Approach discussions as learning opportunities for you both. Take a fact-based approach. Use open-ended questions to keep the conversation going. Include affirmations to focus on the strengths and assets of the young person in your life. Leverage reflective listening to build trust and show that you are understanding their needs and point of view. Taking a nonfactual, condemning or punitive approach will result in your son or daughter becoming defensive, and your conversation will end quickly with little effectiveness.

Grand Futures provides learning opportunities for parents, school staff, coaches and mentors to practice these skills. For more information, contact 970-819-7805, or visit or to access more helpful resources. 

Lindsey Simbeye is the executive director of Grand Futures Prevention Coalition.

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