Survive & Thrive: Enhancing Parent-Teen Communication

0623110001677293512.jpgWhen planning our Thrive and Survive series of fun and meaningful workshops for teens and their parents, Tori Halote and I wanted to engage the group in interactive, body-based exercises for parents and teens to do together. Interactive activities provide an opportunity to communicate about what each learned from their separate portions of the workshop. Body-based activities engage new neural networks to allow for new insight or awareness and better retention. The first workshop in the series addressed stress and anxiety, so we created a safe space for discussion without putting pressure on the family to start the conversation. Thus, the jar activity was born!

For this activity, we gathered 5 different colored beads and labeled them according to various kinds of stress teenagers experience (school, social, family, current events, and other). We gave everyone their stress jars and had the teens add as many color beads into their jar as they are feeling anxiety in that area of their life. Next, we instructed the parents to fill their jar with the amount of stress beads they imagined their teenager had regarding each topic. This offered practice in the all-important skill of mentalizing about the teen’s inner experience.

Parents and teens sat back-to-back on the OT gym mats to be comfortable and to prevent them from seeing one another’s jars. When everyone was finished, we asked them to compare their jars. This opened the floor for enlightening communication about the teen's relative stress levels and what the parents perceived the source to be. 

We felt a lot of positive energy and heard great feedback from this activity, as parents were able to express curiosity about their child’s stressors and were able to reflect on some stress they were misrepresenting or projecting onto the stress beads jar they were creating. It also was a great opening for the teens to share freely and explain the actual causes of their stress and anxiety without the trigger being present. We are looking forward to incorporating more body-based interactive activities into future workshops which provide space and tools to foster spontaneous communication and deeper understanding between parents and their teenagers. 

Alora Barrera, AMFT Associate Marriage and Family Therapist #113735
Supervised by Grace Kuo, LMFT #101249