Ask a Therapist: Talking to your Teen with Richard Kneip

Last Editorial Review: 3/24/2004

WebMD Live Events Transcript

Do you feel like your teen is a complete stranger? Do you think your son or daughter might be suffering from depression and are wondering what you can do to help them? Do you suspect your teen is abusing drugs or alcohol? Do you need some tips on how to effectively communicate with your teen? If so, join Richard Kneip, PhD, as he answers your questions about talking to your teen.

The opinions expressed herein are the guests' alone and have not been reviewed by a WebMD physician. If you have questions about your health, you should consult your personal physician. This event is meant for informational purposes only.

Moderator: Welcome everyone! Today?s guest is Richard Kneip, PhD. He will be answering your questions about talking to your teen.

darkerday asks: After a recent divorce, how can I help my 12-year-old son with his uncomfortable feelings around his cheating mother?

Richard Kneip, PhD: I would wonder why your son is so uncomfortable. Your ex-wife?s infidelity, no doubt, was very difficult and destructive for the marriage but is certainly not something a 12-year-old needs to know much about. Since he already knows, I think it would be very important that you and his mother focus on helping him to see that the two of you will be able to cooperate and put hurt feelings aside in the best interest of the children. Of course, how your son deals with his feelings about his mother will depend mostly upon his relationship with his mother. The two of them will have to work out any feelings of anger he may have towards her, but that is something only they can do together.

lara5842 asks: I have a son who is gay and he has lots of mates. How can I tell him I am scared he might catch some kind of infection or AIDS?

Richard Kneip, PhD: The best approach for you would be to be as open and honest as possible. If your son's lifestyle makes you uncomfortable, it may be difficult for you, but I'm sure he will appreciate your sincere expression of love and concern for his well-being. With all of the information that is available on AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, it would be surprising if he were not already aware of the risks and necessary precautions. Nonetheless, fostering an open dialogue with your son will help him to know that you accept him and will allow him to use you as a support.

claytune asks: My 15-year-old daughter admits some casual drug use. Should I have her tested?

Richard Kneip, PhD: Naturally, casual drug use among teens is common, although recent data suggests that first time drug use amongst teens has declined in recent years. Parents should be very concerned when they learn of drug use in their teenagers, but also must be careful not to overreact and precipitate a crisis or unnecessary damage to the relationship. Testing can be a very effective means of monitoring drug use in teenagers, but the resentment about not being trusted that it creates in the teenager might be counterproductive in some circumstances. If your daughter is functioning well (performing up to her potential in school, engaging in extracurricular activities, maintaining a positive peer group) and is giving you little reason to doubt her sincerity about discontinuing her drug use, then it might be wise to hold off until she gives you a reason to initiate testing. If, on the other hand, she insists that she will continue to experiment with drugs or is showing other signs of drug use, then regular testing with clear-cut consequences for a positive drug test probably would be the best way to go. You can find lots of information about adolescence, as well as drug and alcohol abuse and dependence at

BayBeeG123456 asks: My daughter and I always seem to get into fights over nothing and she tells me she hates me and wants to live with a relative. What should I do?

Richard Kneip, PhD: You must get to the root of why your discussions with your daughter end up in fights. My guess would be that you both feel that your viewpoints are not being heard or respected. Teenagers or parents can accept disagreements with each other as long as they believe that their viewpoint is at least being given respectful consideration. I suggest you check out "the top 10 ways to keep peace with your teen" link in the adolescence section at Be honest with yourself and ask yourself if you are following the tips presented there. If you feel that more intensive intervention might be required, some counseling with a therapist skilled in managing parent-teen conflict might be useful.

esxonlegs asks: How do I help my adoptive daughter to feel wanted by her birth mother?

Richard Kneip, PhD: As noble as your intentions are, there may be very little that you can do to resolve your daughters possible feelings of rejection and questions that she may have about her biological mother. As you know as an adoptive parent, these feelings are very common among adoptive children and the best thing that you can do is to foster a loving, close relationship with her. Her questions regarding her birth mother may never be fully resolved for her but a close relationship with you will be critical to her maturation and transition into adulthood.

spoon_man_1999 asks: How do you bring up the subject of masturbation to your teen?

Richard Kneip, PhD: My first question would be why you might feel it is necessary to bring it up. We know that masturbation is a natural and expected behavior in the pubescent adolescent. However, if masturbation is prohibited for religious purposes than the discussion would be introduced as part of a general discussion on the religious prohibitions and foundation and reasons for this. After that, it will be up to the teenager to follow the religious teachings.

detective_sg asks: How can my teen be more popular?

Richard Kneip, PhD: We know that adolescence is a time when teenagers become extremely sensitive to acceptance by their peer group. Teenagers who feel "unpopular" may feel rejected by their peers and suffer lowered self-esteem and diminished self-confidence. However, everybody can't be popular, and therefore, it is important that parents support and nurture their teenager's strengths and talents, and appreciate their uniqueness in a loving and supportive home environment. It is also important to afford the teenager ample opportunity to participate with their peer group, popular or otherwise, in activities that allow them to express and develop their individuality. I suggest you check out the article "Middle School Malaise" at Although, it does not address popularity specifically, it is a thought provoking overview of some of the social and academic challenges faced by teenagers in the school environment.

ride1wheel asks: Do you have any advice for a high school teacher with teens who aren't motivated to do assignments?

Richard Kneip, PhD: While I am not trained as a school psychologist, I do find in my work as a therapist that teenage lack of motivation and academic underachievement often reflect a lack of support in the home. Many times, these children may have parents who do not value education, or sometimes they are living in a divorce situation spending half time at each parents home, making it difficult for parents to coordinate and supervise their schoolwork. If your district has a school psychologist, I would suggest you meet with him or her to discuss possible motivational and educational strategies to increase student involvement.

dacook_65 asks: Why do my kids feel they need to have the last word in for every discussion?

Richard Kneip, PhD: They feel they have to have the last word in because they are kids. Although it is difficult, it is our job as parents to accept that kids will express their anger and frustration in all sorts of disguised ways, and it is important for us to stay focused on the message and to not get too caught up in the way it is delivered. You will find a lot of informative tips on parenting and maintaining positive relationships with teenagers at

shotrain asks: How do I face my teen when they come to me with an unexpected pregnancy?

Richard Kneip, PhD: First of all, it will be important for you to acknowledge to yourself and to your child how scared they must be and how difficult it must have been for them to give you this information. It suggests to me a trusting relationship already exists between the two of you. Because of the life-changing implications of teenage pregnancy, I would recommend that you enter some kind of intensive counseling or therapy immediately to provide a forum where all of the decisions and plans can be discussed. Most importantly, I think it would be critical that you be supportive and not criticize, but instead focus on the present situation in planning for the future. Keep in mind that your child needs you now probably more than ever.

millennium_baby_hp asks: How do you know when your teen is suffering from depression?

Richard Kneip, PhD: Childhood and teenage depression can sometimes take the form of anger and irritability rather than sadness and withdrawal, as in the case of adults. Nonetheless, the same hallmark symptoms that are present in adults are often present in teenagers and includes disruption of sleep (oversleeping or lack of sleep), changes in appetite, social withdrawal, crying spells, and in extreme cases, thoughts of death, suicide, and extreme feelings of guilt and worthlessness. You can find more thorough descriptions of depression and a review of possible treatments at

poonahtunah asks: My 10-year-old?s school is talking about sexuality too explicitly too soon. How much longer can I pull her out of these "sessions"?

Richard Kneip, PhD: I would suggest that you discuss your discomfort with school administration and consider alternatives for your child. Bear in mind that the school has included this material in their curriculum based on local, state, or even national standards for sex education for children. It may be possible that you are far more uncomfortable with the material than your child is and it is important that children be allowed to gain an understanding of human sexual functioning in a straightforward and factual way. Nonetheless, if you cannot be comfortable, then you should meet with the teacher and administrator to discuss it.

merlin_dwm asks: How do I tell my teen that her father and I are getting a divorce?

Richard Kneip, PhD: Ideally, the notification would come from both you and your husband after the two of you have gotten to a place where you can inform your child without expressing the hurt and blaming that so often occurs among divorcing couples. The news will be difficult, of course, but your child will be greatly reassured by seeing that you and your husband can work together to minimize the disruption and help the family through a difficult transition. Family counseling can be very helpful during these times. You can find more information on divorce and it?s impact on children at

That is all the time we have today. Thank you for all your excellent questions. You will find more information on today's topic at

Moderator: Thank you Dr. Kneip for your answers on how to talk to teens. We hope you all enjoyed this chat today.

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