An Independent School • Grades 5-12
Q&A: Upper School counselor Julie Lutton '03 on parenting teenagers
Q&A: Upper School counselor Julie Lutton '03 on parenting teenagers

"In good company," in the spring 2019 issue of Lakeside magazine, explores different ways Lakeside partners with families, and features the work of the student and family support program.

Mental health counselor Julie Lutton '03 returned to Lakeside in 2012 as one of two counselors at the Upper School. Her areas of clinical expertise include identity development, substance abuse, and adolescent masculinity, and she provides trainings on masculine identity development and on working with masculinity.

Q: What are some of the demands that high schoolers today are facing?

A: Growing up has never been an easy task, but high schoolers today face some particular challenges that can be difficult for parents and guardians to navigate. While technology and access to the internet have been incredible resources for today's high schoolers, technology can also lead to an overload of information, whether it is about frightening global events, worrying college admission statistics, or about a social gathering that one wasn't invited to. Students (and parents and guardians!) now have to learn how to decide how much information to take in and from what sources, when to set boundaries to protect themselves, and how to appropriately contextualize the information they receive. This is particularly challenging for parents and guardians because these are skills that adults usually haven't mastered for themselves, and they didn't have their own experiences with these challenges in their own adolescence to draw from when making parenting decisions. 

Q: Given that changing context – particularly when it comes to technology - what does that mean for the act of raising teenagers?

A: While the terrain may be new, I recommend that parents and guardians use familiar principles for parenting – consider setting boundaries based on your values and being explicit about this with your student, engage in open, honest, and frequent communication with your student about these topics, listen more than you speak, and ask for help from multiple sources.

Q: What should parents and guardians keep in mind when their child is having issues?

A: Two of the most important things a parent or guardian can do when their student is struggling are to listen with empathy and to gather resources for themselves and for the student. Listening with empathy means being curious about what your student is experiencing, genuinely wanting to hear about their experiences from their own perspective, and avoiding trying to "fix" the problem. This can be hard to do when we see our student struggling – sometimes it seems like there is a simple solution! However, asking your student what they think would be helpful might surprise you, and it can encourage them to build their problem-solving abilities. Listening with empathy means talking a lot less and asking a lot more questions. Questions like "what do you mean by that?" and "can you tell me more about that" can go a long way towards students feeling heard and understood and building a stronger relationship between the parent or guardian and the student. 

Secondly, I recommend helping the student seek resources of their own, whether it is counseling, a mood-tracking app, a mindfulness class or group, etc. I also recommend that parents and guardians seek out their own resources to navigate difficult times – parent coaches, a trusted friend or community leader, a book about parenting, or consulting with our family support program are all great options. Don't try to go it alone!

Q: How do the counselors work with students at Lakeside?

A: The counselors [on both campuses] provide social and emotional support and counseling to students, and we also provide some health and wellness education for all students. Hopefully we can be a part of a student's "team" – a group of people at school who work to support the student and family as they navigate through their [education].  Everything overlaps – when a family experiences an event, that can impact the student's academics, their emotional wellbeing, their friendships, their finances, etc., so that is why we work together to take care of the whole student.

You can reach Julie and her colleague Meredith Bledsoe at USCounseling@lakesideschool.org or by calling 206-440-2928 or 206-440-2749.