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How to be That Adult: A Letter from Your Teens to You

(Chelsea Update would like to thank Kate Yocum for the information in this story.)

The SRSLY Student Leadership Team asked more than 70 Chelsea High School students to answer the question, “What do you look for in adults who you can trust and ask for help?”

Ten common themes in their responses stood out. Some of the team’s student leaders offered their voice as advocates for their classmates, so this is a letter from your teens to you. Whether you’re a parent, coach, teacher, grandparent, older sibling, or caring community member, this is for you. This is what they need you to know, and what they want to thank you for doing.

How to be that adult:

Knowing the adult authentically cares. It doesn’t take much, as expressed by so many of the student respondents. Specific behavioral traits cited included kindness, patience, understanding and support. “Teenagers can easily read adults and sense when you’re genuine. When we know it’s authentic, it immediately builds a level of trust and allows us to open up to you.” said Nicolette Rivers, a senior at Chelsea High School.

Help you problem solve rather than attack you for the mistake. According to the 2022 MiPhy survey, 77% of CHS students say they could ask their parents for help with a personal problem, while 43% said they have an adult in their neighborhood they could ask. “If I’ve made a mistake and worked up the courage to bring it to you, I’ve learned my lesson. I’m looking for help moving forward and want to have an honest conversation about it.” said Lia Spink, a senior at Chelsea High School.

24-hour rule. This concept was highlighted by several student respondents. The idea? No matter what the teen does or what the topic is, they can come to the adult and receive comfort, support and help fixing it with no questions asked. In that moment, they’re scared, they’re reeling, and they already know they need you. Twenty-four hours later, the teen knows the topic may be revisited to examine what happened and set consequences. “This inspires a desire to want to be better, to make better choices, because having a non-judgmental role model you respect and trust can make a difference.” said Rivers.

Mutual trust and respect. “As kids, we’re expected to automatically trust our parents just because they’re our parents. Having mutual trust is necessary to build a genuine connection and healthy relationship that’s not just based on what society expects of us,” said Tish Grudzinski, a junior at Chelsea High School. When adults are willing to share with teens, to ask for their advice or share their own struggles, it encourages teens to share with those adults. “It helps us see you’re human, too, instead of you just being ‘mom,’ ‘dad’ or ‘coach.’”

Active listening. No phones. Full attention. No rushing. The same expectations you have for teens to put down their phones and listen, they have for you. They notice when it’s a double standard, but they especially notice when you return the favor. “It makes teens feel respected, appreciated, and valued as an individual.” said a senior at Chelsea High School.

Setting aside quantity, quality time. While it may shock you, and they may not always act like it, teens really do just want to hang out with you. They want to hear about when you were their age, what your favorite things are, but they also hope you’ll ask them about themselves. They’re crossing their fingers you offer up quality time to do something they enjoy so they can share that with you.

According to the MiPhy, 82% of CHS students said they liked spending time with their dad, while 78% expressed they also enjoy spending time with their mom, and this isn’t just about parents. In their responses, teens specified they need adult role models who take the time to bond with them, including teachers, coaches and grandparents.

Be FUN. Teens understand life is stressful as an adult, just like it’s stressful as a teen. They understand there are times where you need to be serious with them and maintain a position of authority, but they also want to hear you crack a joke, laugh at their favorite movie or get on their level and have fun. Being able to light-heartedly connect with the teens in your life will tell them you enjoy them as a fellow human.

Keep what you tell them confidential. “When I’m deciding whether to share something personal with an adult, I need to trust them. I don’t feel safe sharing if I believe it will be talked about without my consent. It’s hurtful. It makes me feel disrespected,” said Amelia Christie, a senior at Chelsea High School.

Emotional maturity. Teens are looking up to you as a role model for so many life skills and behaviors. Emotional maturity was a top-rated theme among responses from CHS students, and explained from their perspective as a self-awareness, willingness to learn and listen, and application of humility when responding to their own emotions and emotional situations with others.

Treat teens’ problems and concerns with the same regard and concern you would with another adult. Validate them. Resist the urge to jump in with problem-solving until the teen asks for your opinion. This can help break down the listening barrier between teens and adults and can often elicit a desire from teens to ask for your help before you feel like you have to offer it.

In addition to voicing their opinion on these themes, students had the opportunity to create PSA videos from their perspective to illustrate exactly what being that adult means to them.

Click HERE to watch the winning PSA produced by CHS students Austin Tackett and Caden Bubenhofer.

“When adults do these affirming things, they’re treating you like a human, not just a teenager, an equal. It makes teens feel supported,” said Grudzinski.

SRSLY wants you to know you can make a difference. You can make it better. You can be that adult. Maybe you already are.

“A lot of adults are eager to talk to teens or for teens to share with them, but they just don’t know where to start,” said Spink. “I hope this project gives them a place to begin.”

“The easiest way to approach this entire topic is by asking the teens in your life what they need, what each of these behaviors look like to them, and their perspective on what these behaviors look like in practice,” said Kate Yocum, SRSLY director.

“They may need one more than another, or really only care about a few. Every kid is different, but making a point to ask them what makes them loved, valued and respected will make any kid in your life feel like they matter,” she said.

To learn more about mental health and the work SRSLY is doing, visit www.srsly.org or find us on Facebook @srslychelsea.

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