13 Ways to Connect with Your Teenager

By Dr. Ben Belnap | Licensed Psychologist | Associate Superintendent of Student Wellness, Park City School District

Here are “13 Ways to Connect With Your Teenager.”

Show interest in your teenager: They don’t want to talk? They’d rather just sit and watch Netflix? Instead of telling them to shut the TV off, sit down with them. Ask them about their show. Be interested. Don’t expect them to take interest in you or openly share their feelings (e.g. family dinner discussions). They won’t meet you halfway. You’re going to have to start by meeting them where they are

Use accurate reflection in your interactions: You might say something like, “Okay, so if I’m understanding you correctly, you’re saying you can’t trust Olivia because she talks about you behind your back. Is that right?” If it’s right, tell them what a horrible feeling that must be. If it’s not right, ask them to clarify. Don’t seek a solution. Just ask and try to understand. It really does help. You can trust me…unlike that filthy liar, Olivia.

Empathize: Try to imagine what your teen could be feeling. Dig deep into the recesses of the adolescent brain you once had. Look at it the way your adolescent brain would have looked at it. You might actually remember and relate. This helps you avoid that ever-present black hole of parenting: “This is just temporary.” “You’ll look back on this in just a few months and laugh.” “You’ll be better in the end for having gone through it.” It may be true. But remember when your parents said stuff like that to you? You didn’t believe them. You thought they were annoying. You swore you’d never say that to your kids. Think like an adolescent. Don’t get sucked into the black hole.

Remind them it’s temporary (without telling them it’s temporary): Help link their feelings or behaviors to events. You might say something like, “Since you are on the debate team, taking 2 AP courses, and working 15 hours a week, I understand why you’re feeling so overwhelmed right now.” This seems obvious, but when we are overwhelmed by the emotion of an experience, we have a hard time connecting the dots as to why we are so emotionally wound up. This exercise helps your teen to engage the logical/rational mind by connecting the proverbial dots for them. When we logically connect the dots about our emotional experience, it helps us to understand that our distress is connected to an episode. It helps us understand that the distress is temporary; not permanent.

Communicate that you believe your teen’s behavior and/or feelings are reasonable: If your teen is isolating or refusing to go out, you might say, “Since your friends have bailed on you, I can see why you’re hesitant to try to hang out with new people. It makes sense to me why you would want to be by yourself. I am sorry you’re feeling this way. What an awful feeling.” Leave it there. Don’t offer a “…but you still need to…” Leave it alone. The connection is better received than the perfect life-changing lesson you think you have prepared.

Treat your teen as a valid human being: Be genuine. Recognize that they are seeking a solution to feel better, however ridiculous or irrational that solution might be. Nothing is more disingenuous than, “I understand that must be hard for you, but…” Stop it. Your teen is a human being with real human being emotions. Seems obvious, but so many parents forget it. Don’t forget it.

Empower them to solve their own problems: This happens not by telling them to solve their own problems. Rather, this happens by listening, asking sincere information-seeking questions, and eventually saying something like, “Wow. What a tough situation. What do you think you should do about it, and how can I support you?” If they offer a terrible plan—or even a great plan—ask, “Okay. So what do you think would happen?” Or, “How do you think that might solve your problem or make you feel better?” This empowers a teen. This helps them to learn that they can solve their own problems. It also communicates that you trust them to solve their own problems.

Go through old photo albums together: Remind them of core characteristics and attributes they had when they were younger. When looking at an old picture of them, ask them what they think the little boy or girl in the picture expected to accomplish in their lives at that time? Share funny or nostalgic memories from those days. Remind them that the little boy or girl in that picture is still inside of the teen. Remind your teen how much you loved them back then and how much you still love them.

Focus on the emotion; not the behavior: When your teen does something impulsive or acts out, replace “Why did you do that?” with “It seems like you’re really upset. How are you feeling?” They may not immediately respond, but if you continue to do this with sincerity, they will come to understand that you care for them as an individual and are concerned about their feelings regardless of their behaviors.

Ask them to make you a playlist. Listen to it. Give them feedback: Look, no one said parenting would be easy. This is a prime example. You don’t want to do it, but music is one of the primary methods teenagers use to connect. My own dad once told me in passing that he thought Rivers Cuomo from Weezer had a cool voice. He probably doesn’t remember this at all, but it meant the world to me to hear him say that when I was 16 years old. If you show interest in their music and actually listen to their playlist, you are telling them you are interested in them. You are interested in their emotional experiences. You care about them. This eventually leads to emotional connection and opens the door for open and honest communication. Just try it.

Service: Reaching out to others puts problems in perspective. Service gives a sense of meaning and purpose. Clear back in 1896, Mark Twain said, “The best way to cheer yourself is to try to cheer someone else up.” It’s as true today as it was then. They will complain. They will protest. Offer them big rewards and drag them to go serve somewhere with you anyway. It pays huge dividends down the road!

Foster passion: A common characteristic between individuals with major depression is a loss of passion about something in their lives. What is your teen passionate about? What did he/she used to be passionate about, but lost it somewhere along the way? Find it. Foster it. Watch a movie about that subject with them. Take them to the library to read about it. Do an internet search with them. Whatever you need to do, do it. Passion drives purpose, which drives resilience.

Praise effort: When you see your teen trying to cope with his/her struggles, praise that effort. Don’t worry about how successful they are; praise the process. Focus on how far they have come since whenever. Focus on how hard they are trying. Let them know how much you respect and look up to them for their efforts. Even if the effort is minimal, make a big deal about it. Leave out the negating follow-up temptation of, “Imagine if you fully applied yourself how much better you’d be doing.” Just stop at the praise part. If you do this, they will come to you for advice. And when they come to you, they will actually listen and appreciate your feedback.

Show Your Pedal Pride on Friday, May 18

In partnership with the Park City Municipal and Summit County, Park City School District is asking students and parents to show their pedal pride during its annual “Bike to Work, School and Play Day” on Friday, May 18.

The event is an opportunity to remind students about safety and the importance of bicycles as great options transportation and recreation.

Those biking to school should meet at 7:50 a.m. at PC MARC, Aspen Villas, Arches Park (south side of Comstock) or Park City Heights (meet at 7:30 a.m.). The route, along Kearns Boulevard, will lead the cyclists to the Park City High. Law enforcement, Park City staff, parent volunteers and teachers, will be assisting with the ride that morning to ensure safety along the route.

The Park City High School visitor’s parking lot will be a community hub for bicyclists, parents and students from 7:30-10 a.m., with breakfast served and bicycle safety materials and bike tune-ups.

The Snyderville Basin will be hosting snag and swag booths that morning from 7:30-8:15 a.m. at Trailside, Jeremy Ranch and Parley’s Park Elementary Schools.  That afternoon at Trailside Park (upper parking lot) there will be a bike obstacle course, helmet fitting, barbecue, and safety demonstrations from 1-3 p.m.

At McPolin Elementary, a Bicycle Rodeo for students will be held from 11 a.m. to noon. The PCHS Mountain Bike Club will set up the rodeo, the school’s Bici Club will wash and tune-up bikes, a parent volunteer will be conducting helmet fittings, and representatives from Park City Municipal will provide safe riding tips.

Parents and students not able to bike to school tomorrow (May 18), are invited to attend breakfast at PCHS (7:30-10 a.m.) or lunch at Trailside Park (1-3 p.m.).

The Park City area has received numerous accolades as a bike-friendly city, and the League of American Bicyclists recognized Park City Snyderville Basin Community with a Gold Level Bicycle Friendly Community award — the only community in Utah to receive the Gold-level award.

Park City School District is happy to partner with Park City Chamber, Summit County Health Department, Summit County Sheriff’s Department, Park City Police Department, Mountain Trails Foundation, Snyderville Basin Recreation, Park City Municipal, and Summit County to conduct this community-wide event.

Sheriff’s Office to Educate Parents About Safety, Drugs, and Electronics

Parents are invited  Monday, May 14, to spend an evening with law enforcement learning about school safety, drugs, and electronics.  The Front Line Blue Line — Parents and Police Working Together, is presented by the Summit County Sheriff’s Office, Communities That Care, and Park City School District.

“The threats and dangers in our society are constant and rapidly evolving,” said Lt. Justin Hemingway, patrol division commander for the Summit County Sheriff’s Office. “Your school district and law enforcement are united in keeping children safe and protecting the sanctity of the family and the home. This is one of the most important events you can attend all year.”

The event begins at 6 p.m. at Ecker Hill Middle School. Sheriff Justin Martinez will address school safety, Lt. Greg Winterton will talk to parents about drugs and harmful substances, and Sgt. Ronald Bridge will talk about electronics and the Internet.

Following the speakers, community resource booths will be available to parents, including the Sheriff’s Office, Summit County’s Health Department and Mental Wellness Alliance, Valley Behavioral Health, CONNECT Summit County, Children’s Justice Center, and Park City School District.

Free childcare will be available for children ages 4-11, and PCSD students will receive an incentive if their parents or guardians attend.

District Wellness Committee Seeks New Members

Park City School District is looking to expand its Wellness Committee by four in an effort to have a more well-rounded community voice.

“Specifically, we are looking for a pediatrician, school counselor, student, and parent,” said RJ Owen, Director of Child Nutrition Services. 

The Wellness Committee acts in a advisory position on topics such as nutritional standards in schools, what foods are offered, nutrition education, and physical activity.

The Wellness Committee is currently reviewing the district’s wellness policy and will be making recommendations to the Board of Education for future revisions.

The district is accepting applications until June 6. The committee’s next meeting is this fall, and there is no term limit. 

Applications are available online here, or at the District Office, 2700 Kearns Boulevard.  Completed applications can be dropped off at the District Office or emailed to rjowen@pcschools.us.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month

Park City School District is proud to support CONNECT as its hosts a month of events in throughout Summit County focused on mental health awareness. May is national Mental Health Awareness Month and CONNECT has 18 events planned on topics such as mindfulness, social media wellness, opioid epidemic, aging, depression, and eating disorders.

CONNECT is a grassroots, non profit community advocacy organization that brings together residents who are concerned about mental health issues facing our community and who want to see  improved mental health services with greater accessibility in the county.

Wednesday, May 2, Park City High students will take part in “Ask Me Anything Night,” a question/answer session beginning at 5:30 p.m. at the Park City Library’s  Jim Santy Auditorium. Pizza and dessert will be served.  Those taking part in the interactive, cross-narrative discussion representatives from CONNECT, Park City Library Teen Advisory Board, Latinos in Action, iMPACt/Park City High Hope Squad, and the PCSH Gay-Straight Alliance. Student speakers, who also presented at Tedx Youth Park City, include: Piper Moeller: What Does a Drug Addict Look Like;  Saide Ortiz: Battling Cultural Stereotypes; Natalie Fink: A Piece of my Soul; and  Lexi Laufer: Let People Love.

Thursday, May 3, features “Social Media Wellness: Understanding the Intersection of School, Stress, and Social Media.” Author  and national social media expert Ana Homayoun will discuss how to better understand the new world of social media socialization and offer practical tips on how making better choices around social media use and overall wellness. The event begins at 6:30 p.m. at the Park City Librarys Jim Santy Auditorium.

Monday, May 14, Park City School District is partnering with the Summit County Sheriff’s Office and Communities That Care to host “Front Line and Blue Line: Parents and Police Working Together.” The event begins at 6 p.m. at Ecker Hill Middle School and is open to parents. Sheriff Justin Martinez will address school safety, Lt. Greg Winterton will talk to parents about drugs and harmful substances, and Sgt. Ronald Bridge will talk about electronics and the Internet. Following the speakers, community resource booths will be available to parents. Free childcare will be available for children ages 4-11, and students will receive an incentive if their parents/guardians attend.

For a complete calendar of mental health events in May click here

Safety Update | March 2018

Park City School District is continuing its goal to improve safety and security districtwide, in an effort to create a positive learning environment for all students. Here are the projects and programs the district has been working on since our last Safety Update.

Increased Law Enforcement Presence: We hope you have noticed the increased police presence around our schools. The Summit County Sheriff’s Office and Park City Police Department have asked their officers to increase their patrol around our schools, and when possible, to go inside the school and be visible to our students. We are appreciative of law enforcement’s extra efforts on behalf of our students and staff.

Safety Report Presented to Board: Cole Smith, a safety and security expert with the Tresit Group, presented the Board of Education with his analysis of district safety protocols on Feb. 27. Smith, a former Special Agent for the Department of State Diplomatic Security Service, submitted a report that includes recommendations for the following: visitor access policy, background checks, lessons learned from drills and areas of improvement, historical threats in Utah and best practices for school safety, future training for staff, access control and perimeter, and modular classroom threat assessment.

The report states: “All eight schools in the district would be among the top schools for safety posture and preparedness in the State of Utah based on frequency of drills, school involvement in safety planning, community engagement, and social upgrades for access control.”

Smith said the current steps being taken by the district to improve safety procedures, visitor access, and perimeter security are in line with best practices.

The full report can be viewed here.

Elementary Front Offices: Based on recommendations from the Tresit Group, we have worked with architects to redesign the elementary school front offices. The revised drawings should be finalized the first week of April.

“I am disappointed that we have not been able to finish the front office vestibules with the proposed timelines,” said Superintendent Ember Conley. “We have had delays due to changes in Utah Procurement, difficulty in receiving materials, and changes in contractors. This delay has also allowed to get a second opinion of the designs from the Tresit Group which will provide schools with even more security.”

–McPolin Elementary: We are expanding the front counter and adding two additional doors to ensure secretary visibility.

–Jeremy Ranch and Parley’s Park Elementaries: Finishing floor molding, adding a door and wiring entry for speakers.

–Trailside: Adding an additional door and wiring entry for speakers.

The Board is discussing the need for additional security at the schools until the front offices are complete the end of May. The Tresit Group recommends leveraging local law enforcement. Work on secondary school offices will begin in June.

Door Lockdowns/Panic Buttons: In February, we once again tested the door lockdowns and front office panic buttons throughout the district to ensure they are all in working condition.

Visitor Management System:  Beginning next school year, all visitors to our schools will be required to enter through the main/front door of thbuilding and report to the front office to sign in and receive a visitor badge. Visitors will be asked to submit their driver’s license or other valid form of government-issued identification containing a photograph to obtain a visitor pass. Valid forms of ID include a current driver’s license or state-issued identification card from any of the 50 states, U.S. passport card, Active Military ID, or other government-issued identification containing a photograph. There may be other cases that do not fit into these areas; they will be handled case by case, at the discretion of the Principal or Superintendent.

PCSD is currently testing visitor management systems that can scan I.D.s and automatically allow visitors into the front office. A final recommendation will be made the first week of April, and purchase will begin through procurement in mid-April. The last week of April the district will begin training and communication for the new visitor system. The system will be consistent at all PCSD schools.  Once the system is purchased, we will have a soft launch later this spring.

Fencing at Elementary Schools: The district is in the process of receiving bids for fencing at each school. Construction will begin once the weather becomes warmer and the ground is dry and ready for concrete work. The Tresit Group is reviewing the location and security of proposed gates. We hope to begin installation the week of April 16.

New Legislation: The district is coordinating with the Tresit Group on the new legislation passed this session regarding hardware height and provisions for locks and bolt locks that are used in a school lockdown or lockdown drills. This change in the law will allow for use of newer classroom door lock technology that previously did not meet building and fire code standards.

Mental Health: An important component of school safety is school culture, school counseling, and mental health issues. The district has increased school counselors and social worker counselors to support families and students. We have also doubled the number of nurses in the district, enhanced community partnerships with Communities That Care and the Summit County Health Department. PCSD is also an engaged partner in the Summit County Mental Wellness Alliance that works to improve awareness about mental health and substance abuse. The Board of Education is continuing to provide more resources to assist with the mental wellness of students.

Next Safety Drill: The district will continue to conduct safety drills on a monthly basis. We will no longer provide advance notice to students, staff, or parents in an effort to practice under more “real-time” scenarios. The Great Utah Shakeout  (earthquake drill) is April 19 and all schools will be participating.

See Something, Say Something: Parents and teachers, please continually remind your students if they see something that seems odd or out of the ordinary, they should report it to you or school administration. If it happens outside of school hours, immediately contact the Park City Police or Summit County Sheriff’s Office (depending on where you reside). Once we are notified of something suspicious, we immediately involve law enforcement and begin the process of investigating the tip.

SafeUT App: The SafeUT app is a statewide crisis text and tip line that provides real-time crisis intervention to youth through texting and a confidential tip program. While the main thrust of this program has been crisis counseling and suicide prevention, the app can be used to report bullying issues as well as potential school safety threats or related issues. It’s been reported that tips shared through the SafeUT app have already prevented dozens of planned acts of violence at Utah schools.

Teacher Possession of Firearms: As per state law, teachers and administrators are allowed to have concealed weapons in their possessionat school, as long as they meet the requirements outlined in state code. There is no requirement that administrators ask their teachers whether or not they are permit holders and/or whether they carry within the schools.

 

National Breakfast Week to Feature Free Breakfast at Schools

To encourage more families to take advantage of the healthy choices available for school breakfast, Park City School District will celebrate National Breakfast Week, March 5-9, by offering free breakfast on Wednesday, March 7, at all school cafeterias. The menu will include sunbutter and banana sushi and cold soaked oats parfait with fresh fruit and greek yogurt. Wednesday’s complimentary breakfast will be available while supplies last.

Breakfast hours at each school include:

– Park City High:  7:10 – 7:35 a.m.

– Treasure Mountain Junior High: 7:10 – 7:30 a.m.

– Ecker Hill Middle: 8:30 – 8:50 a.m.

– Jeremy Ranch Elementary: 7:50 – 8:15 a.m.

– Parley’s Park Elementary: 7:40 – 8:10 a.m.

– Trailside Elementary: 7:45 – 8:15 a.m.

– McPolin Elementary: 7:30 – 8:00 a.m.

Sponsored by the School Nutrition Association, National Breakfast Week is a week-long celebration of the School Breakfast Program. Research indicates that students who eat breakfast:

– Reach high levels of achievement in reading and math

– Score higher on standardized tests

– Have better concentration and memory

– Have improved attendance, behavior, and academic performance

– Are more alert

– Maintain a healthy weight

“A healthy breakfast at the start of the day is one way to ensure students are getting the best education possible,” said R.J. Owen, Director of Child Nutrition for PCSD. “National School Breakfast Week helps us educate parents and students about all the healthy, great tasting, and appealing choices we offer.

The district serves 50,000 breakfast meals a year, and is anxious to get more students to start their day with breakfast. School nutrition professionals in PCSD  prepare breakfast and lunches every day that meet federal nutrition standards – limiting fat, calories and sodium – while encouraging students to choose from the fruits, vegetables and whole grains offered with school meals.”

The cost of school breakfast for students is: $1.25  at elementary schools, $1.35 at Ecker Hill Middle, $1.45 at Treasure Mountain Junior High, and $1.50 at Park City High. Students who receive reduced-priced meals only pay $.30 for breakfast.

Superintendent featured in American School Board Journal

Park City School District Superintendent Ember Conley is featured in the February issue of the “American School Board Journal” produced by the National School Boards Association. She was interviewed for the article, “Killer Epidemic: Schools Deal with the Repercussions of the Opioid Crisis.”

In the magazine, Dr. Conley discusses the deaths of two 13-year-old middle school students who fatally overdosed within days of one another in September 2016.  She quickly learned the “depths and breadth” of the opioid crisis in Park City and Summit County. “We listened to a career drug enforcement agent tell us that this epidemic is the worst drug crisis in the nation’s history,” she told the national publication.

The superintendent emphasized bringing students into the conversation following the deaths of the two eighth-grade students. The article states: “Many students mentioned that they’d only been taught to say no. Instead, they wanted to know the consequences of drug use. The district responded by revamping the drug abuse component of its life skills curriculum, emphasizing the impact of drugs on brain development. It began introducing these concepts to students starting in late fourth grade. The district also emphasized a culture that promotes a safe, healthy, and engaged environment for students and teachers. Programming around mindfulness and yoga have taken off in the elementary schools. There’s been added focus on nutrition and the importance on rest and rejuvenation. A teacher training initiative emphasizes focusing on students’ unique strengths. To help guide and coordinate its increased mental health outreach, wraparound support programs, staff training, and counseling efforts, the district created a new position: assistant superintendent of student wellness.”

“Utah has the highest suicide rate in the nation, the fourth highest opioid use,” Conley told Michelle Healy, associate editor of American School Board Journal who wrote the article. “Our students are coming to us with [an array] of issues. Being able to add additional staff, counseling, training, and conversation has been extremely important.”

Dr. Conley told the magazine that the school board put together a two- to three-year plan to fund the district’s new resources. It also supported the decision to stock all district schools—elementary, middle, and high—with naloxone, the opioid-overdose reversal drug often referred to by its brand name, Narcan. School nurses and first responder teams in each school have been trained in its use, she said.

The American School Board Journal is an award-winning monthly education magazine published by the National School Boards Association.

Schools Seeing an Increase in Cold and Flu Absences

Schools in Park City School District are seeing an increase in cold and flu absences this winter. In order to control the spread of infectious diseases at our schools, the district nurses are asking parents to keep the following guidelines in mind when deciding whether or not to send their student(s) to school:

Symptoms of influenza include and are not limited to: fever, chills, muscle aches, cough, congestion, runny nose, headaches, and fatigue. In addition, symptoms may also include chest discomfort, head congestion, headache, nausea/vomiting (more common in children), shortness of breath, and sore throat.

– If you have concerns regarding the flu, have your student seen early. Treatment with medication is usually effective if started within the first 48 hours.

– It is not too late to get a flu shot.

– Students should remain home for the following reasons:

       Any temperature greater than 100 degrees. Students should be fever free, without fever reducing medications for 24 hours prior to returning to school.

       Strep infections require treatment with at least the first dose of antibiotics. Students should also be fever free and feeling well before returning to school.

       Vomiting and/or diarrhea require that the student remain home until 24 hours after the symptoms have ceased without medication.

       Marked drowsiness/malaise: Exclude from school if student is unable to actively participate in routine school activities. Needs to be symptom free for 24 hours.

       If your student has pinkeye (conjunctivitis) with purulent discharge. Exclude from school until 24 hours after treatment or cleared by health care professional. 

       Encourage hand washing and refrain from touching the eyes.

– For other guidelines refer to “Park City School District Guidelines for Student Exclusion and Readmission.”

– As a general rule, students should remain home until they have been symptom free for 24 hours. This is important for your student’s health and the health of his/her classmates and staff. Please continue to remind your student of the importance of frequent hand washing, proper nutrition, adequate rest, and proper use and disposal of tissues during this cold and flu season.

– When notifying the school of your student’s absence, please notify the attendance receptionist of the reason for the absence. This assists the nurse in her efforts to control the spread of disease in the school environment.