Start Over with a New Dynamic

By Scott Schimmel

I have three kids, elementary school aged and younger. Being a parent is amazing—it brings meaning to every part of my life. But, at the same time, it's the most complex and difficult endeavor I've ever attempted- and gets harder every day. Each kid is different: with different needs, a unique personality, unique challenges, and unique strengths. As a family, our lives are noisy, busy, and stressful. There are constant demands, deadlines, and decisions to make. There are sacred, beautiful moments throughout each day, and we try not to miss them, but on most nights my wife and I collapse on the couch after the race is finally over and wonder how we’re going to survive the next day. The reality is, we’re just getting started.

I can only imagine the overwhelming stress ahead in our future someday to have three teenagers at one time, in one house. An older parent once told me the physical demands of having younger kids (diapers, baths, putting on their clothes, making meals, etc) is replaced with equally exhausting emotional demands as they grow older (wondering where they are, anxious about their choices, curious about who their friends are, pained as their hearts break).

Every day I have the privilege of spending time in deep, honest conversation with students, guiding them to explore their deeper, authentic selves—where they’ve come from, who they are, where they’re headed, and a lot more. I’ve learned that in many ways kids are a product of their environment and culture. Helping students explore their past and understand their family narratives is useful for emerging adults to connect the dots and notice the patterns of who they really are and where they’re headed in life. As we listen to students tell stories about their upbringing and the influence of their parents I hear a lot of appreciation and gratitude expressed, but it’s often quickly coupled with a broad sense of annoyance.

It’s made me realize something: Being a teenager is hard, but parenting a teenager is even harder.

In our experience, most parents tell us that they know their kids really well, but in conversations with their kids, they totally disagree. Often students share that their parents judge who they are by certain, isolated instances and situations resulting in assumptions that aren’t necessarily accurate—like assuming their kid is lazy because they’re watching a Netflix marathon one day rather than studying. As misunderstanding grows, angst and annoyance emerges, distance is created, and communication begins to break down. Conversations become one-way exercises in futility:

“How was your day?”


“What did you do?”


“What did you learn today?”


“What’s wrong?”


Conversations shift quickly from simple to antagonistic, and the relationship gap widens.

What’s a parent to do? How can you change the cycle of irritation and create new patterns of communication that can help you get to know your kid better?

Here are six conversation starters to do a hard reset on your relationships, and create a new dynamic:

  • What’s working well, and what’s not working for you considering how our family operates?
  • If you could pick one thing for me to stop doing, what would it be?
  • If there is one thing that you wish I would do more of, what would it be?
  • What’s something you wish I knew about you?
  • What do you wish our family did more of together-- or less of?
  • What’s something that you’re good at that you don’t think I’m aware of?

Parenting a teenager is really hard, and we don't think parents can do it well without support. That's why we created a helpful checklist that can help you see the milestones and attributes to look for as you seek to raise healthy, thriving adults and programs to support your student's growing-up process.


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