It has happened at Care to Change: a car pulls up to our entrance, and a teenager steps out. A quick goodbye to Mom, and she moves toward our door, carefully watching the car as it exits the parking lot and heads for home. The teenager taps her phone and walks back down to the parking lot. Five minutes later, the Uber driver arrives and whisks her away to a friend’s house, a store … anywhere except the counseling appointment Mom made over the teen’s protests.

We feel for both parties. Parents recognize their children need some support or even an objective ear, and they’re happy to make arrangements for counseling and pay the fees. The teens see themselves as adults and resent being told what to do or having their parents make yet another decision for them. (It’s often difficult for parents to remember the emotions they felt from their own teenage years.)

Trying to force your kids into counseling sessions probably won’t be productive. Even if they show up for appointments, they’ll probably be resentful of you as parents. If talking to a counselor is your idea and not theirs, they may not be a cooperative participant, but their relationship with you may even erode.

So what do you do if you’re convinced your son or daughter would benefit from counseling and they’re resistant to the idea? A lot comes down to how you bring it up. If, in the middle of an argument, you angrily snap, “You’d better start seeing a therapist!,” they’re not likely to agree. Compare that to having a calm conversation and saying something like, “I know we have a tough time discussing things these days. I wonder if it might help you to talk with someone who isn’t part of our family?” Never suggest that something is wrong with your teen’s mental state or that you don’t trust them to make important decisions. Ask for their thoughts and listen carefully to what they have to say.

Instead of simply setting up an appointment for them, do a little research and find two or three potential counselors. For example, you’ll find photos and information about the Care to Change team on our website. Ask which of the counselors looks like a good choice and offer to set up the first meeting.

It may be beneficial for both of you to attend the first session together. If you do, be careful how much you say. Some parents spend the first session ranting and raving about the teen’s perceived failings. Instead, simply explain that you both thought the teen could benefit from an outside viewpoint and then let the counselor and your teen do most of the talking. It’s tough, but focus on similar goals and the benefit for your teen.

If you can’t get your teen to agree to see a counselor, set an appointment for yourself to discuss the situation. You won’t be the first parent in this situation, and we have experience at overcoming reluctance. In addition, you may gain some strategies for improving your relationship with your son and daughter. Your relationship with your teen is worth the investment.

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