When kids and teens go to therapy, parents often wonder how involved they will be in the therapy process.
At Modern Parenting Solutions, we believe that there is a healthy balance with parental involvement and kids and teens taking charge of their own lives. So how do we manage this balance with parental involvement? How do we know when it’s time to involve the parent in therapy and when it’s not appropriate?
Kids Need A Certain Level of Privacy in the Therapy Room…
In general, we believe that kids and teens can’t successfully change their behavior (whether it’s using coping skills to manage their anger or implementing a smart afternoon study routine developed in therapy) unless the parent is also involved to help support this behavior change. And we know that many parents WANT to be involved with their child’s therapy, but they don’t know how.
We’ve found that the kids and teens who have had the most successful outcomes with therapy are those kids who were able to take ownership of their behavior. This means that kids NEED a certain level of privacy in therapy in order to work through the ups and downs of behavior change, and when mom and dad are super involved with the week-to-week happenings of therapy, the child doesn’t feel safe enough to experiment with behavior change.
As such, we allow the child to try out behavior changes without always informing the parent. This might mean that the parent only gets vague updates on the progress of their child from week to week.
Another scenario that comes up a lot is when kids (mostly teenagers) report doing something borderline dangerous to the therapist, such as trying out marijuana at a party or going a little further with their boyfriend/girlfriend than mom or dad would like. Our policy is that if a child reports something like this to us, we WILL address it with the child or teen. If the child or teen can create a plan to not participate in that dangerous behavior again and commits to the plan, then we won’t bring it up to the parent. There is value in the child or teen taking control of their own lives. However, we always monitor these situations and if the child cannot follow the plan that was created then the next step is to inform mom and dad.
Be assured, however, that our goal is to ALWAYS keep your child safe. If we find out that your child is in danger (i.e. self-harm, suicidality, putting themselves in dangerous situations, being abused by someone, etc.) then we immediately get the child or teen’s parents involved.
…But Parents Need To Be Involved Too
So as much as we’ve seen the value of allowing the child or teen to experience autonomy in their mental health recovery, we also know from research studies and from experience that parents need to also know what is going on in order to support the child or teen’s behavior change.
At Modern Parenting Solutions, this is done by involving the child or teen in a family session. Family sessions are a great way to help families learn new ways of communicating with each other, helping each person see the perspective of different family members, and to work through difficult situations in a safe place.
We like to arrange family sessions pretty regularly – usually once every 4-6 sessions. There is always a specific goal to the family sessions and the therapist and child/teen will have planned the goal of the family session together during the previous session.
Many kids worry that the family session will just be a time where parents will complain about the child – and the therapist will take their side. Also, many parents believe that the family sessions will be a time where the therapist supports the child or teen in justifying their ineffective behaviors. But rest assured that the role of the therapist in these sessions is to guide the conversation in a way where BOTH child/teen and parent will be heard and respected.
We use the family sessions as a way to update parents more specifically on the child’s progress in therapy and we encourage the child or teen to do a lot of the talking during the session. Sometimes, the child/teen might have something difficult to tell his or her parents during these sessions. If that happens, then the therapist will help guide those conversations, recommend healthy ways to deal with this new information, and provide support to the child/teen AND parent if needed.
Take Home Message
It’s natural to wonder about your involvement in your child or teen’s therapy. More than likely, this topic will be addressed up front by the therapist in the intake session, but feel free to ask as many questions about this until you are comfortable with your role in your child or teen’s therapy.
If you ever have questions or concerns, talk to your child’s therapist. We WANT to this to be a great experience for both you AND your child or teen.
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The resources presented on the Modern Parenting Solutions website are not intended to replace therapy – they are for reference and educational purposes only. As every family is individual and unique in their strengths and weaknesses, the resources and advice supplied on this website are general in nature and should never replace any medical or psychological services that you may be currently engaged in. Please contact a mental health professional if you have any questions.
If you are experiencing an emergency, please call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room.
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