This past week, I watched Apple’s WWDC event. There is a formula for events that big to go well. While there isn’t so much a formula for helping students, there are some things we can apply to many different situations in order to form a process that can most often lead to the best results.

Our steps have been formed over more than a decade of working with students (7 years as Teen Lifeline), and we keep working to make them better. We get calls fairly often from parents asking how they can get help for their teen. When we get those calls, there are some questions I like to work through that seem most helpful and help me know what information and resources would be best to offer.

These questions are not necessarily in any particular order, but I do typically work through them as I have listed them below. You can decide where you want to start and end in your own situations.

What have you tried? This is an important question for 2 reasons:
1. Gathering this information helps you know how invested the person (or people) is in the process of solving this problem.
2. It also helps you know what has already been tried not only so you don’t repeat, but so you can ask good follow up questions about what has or hasn’t worked in the past.

Once you know these things, you can begin an informed process of making intelligent, helpful suggestions.

What is your teen willing to do? This is HUGE! I still can’t believe when I talk to parents who say, “I don’t know, I haven’t talked to them about it” or “Oh, please don’t tell them I’ve talked to you!” What?! That isn’t going to work. I mean, I understand the thinking behind this, but as the adult, we must know that buy-in from our students is required to be able to move forward.

What do you think will work best? This question needs to be asked in the context of offering options. So you would use it by saying, “Well, I know a good counselor (or group therapist or youth pastor) that could work with your Johnny. Which one do you think will work best for them?” Maybe they have already tried some of these options, so starting with a different one will feel like a new start. The goal here is to get a level of commitment to the process from both the parent and the teen.

What are you willing to do? I’m always careful not to come across wrong when asking this question, but it is so important. Are you willing to take them to counseling and to pay for it? Are you willing to do follow up with them, sit down and have conversation with them? Are you willing to get involved in the mess for as long as it takes to be able to resolve and equip your child to handle what is going on? If they are not willing, you’re talking to the wrong person.

Will you keep trying resources until you find one that works? So many times people give up too soon. The fact is, working on the issue is sometimes the point. It’s not what method you are using but the fact that you are actively working to make things better. So when you try one thing that doesn’t seem to work the way you want it to and give up, you have officially decided you are okay with the issue or behavior continuing.


As I said at the beginning of this post, this is what we are working with today, but we are always looking for ways to improve. Please share your input and ideas so that we can keep making the way we help teens and families better all the time. 

Ricky Lewis is our Executive Director and has been with us since the beginning. As a father of 4, he seeks to help parents and their kids Live Life Better.