Parenting: Talk To Your Kids

Understanding Depression Slideshow

'Talk To Your Kids So They Don't Feel Bugged' with Kaela Austin

By Kaela Austin
WebMD Live Events Transcript

Marriage, family, and child counselor and talk show host Kaela Austin will offer practical advice about how parents can understand and communicate with their children.

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.

Event_Moderator Welcome to WebMD Live. Today we will be discussing "How To Talk To Your Children So They Don't Feel Bugged," with Kaela Austin.

Kaela Austin is a licensed marriage family and child counselor. She was the former membership chair for the Los Angeles chapter of the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists. Austin was the director of outpatient services for Charter Hospital in Hermosa Beach, California, where she specialized in the treatment of sexual and physical abuse, child abuse and substance abuse. She has previously been the supervisor of clinical group programming and the marketing coordinator of marriage family and child counselors for the women's program at Pine Grove Hospital in Canoga Park, California. She was the program director at Cold Water Canyon Hospital, a non-profit psychiatric facility, and was a participant in the Los Angeles-based Santa Monica Superior Court Program in conjunction with numerous judges and probation officers pertaining to battered women. Austin has been quoted in L.A. Parent magazine, Ms. magazine and "Home Show," "The Suzanne Sommers Show" and KIEV Talk Radio's "Straight Talk with Kaela Austin." Austin can be reached by e-mail at:

Kaela, welcome to the show.

Kaela_Austin Thank you. It's nice to be here again.

Event_Moderator {question presented} Why do parents typically have difficulty talking with their children?

Kaela_Austin Parents have difficulty talking with their children, because when they were children themselves, they most probably had difficulty talking with their parents. There is a tendency to do what was done to you in the way it was done to you. That's the bad news. We can change it. That's the good news. Most adults who were children in the 1950s on up were parented by people who were never permitted to identify their needs and their feelings. In those days, it was considered back talk. In those days, when a child spoke up, and I'm talking about your parents, when these parents of yours, my mother, Allison's mother, Phoebe's mother, when these parents spoke up to their parents simply to say how they were feeling, simply to say what they may have wanted, they might have been slapped across the face with the back of a hand and heard "don't talk back to me young lady/man....and go to your room, we don't talk like that in this family." What happens to those feelings of frustration, hurt and anger? Those parents grow up and they're holding within them resentment, anger and frustration. They take it out in the strangest ways. Sometimes they hurt little children. Sometimes they kick the copy machine because it isn't giving copies fast enough. And sometimes they pick up a weapon and destroy a total stranger's life.

Event_Moderator {question presented} What steps can parents, whose own experiences growing up were unstable or uncommunicative, take to break the cycle and communicate effectively with their own children?

Kaela_Austin I'm really glad to hear somebody ask that question. I would really like to interact with you in person. But, I will tell you this much. Since the early 1960s, there have been small groups of people gathering together who have this idea that we have to take parenting from the amateur job and part-time work that it has become to a professional status. These people are called Parent Educators. They work all over the world, all over the U.S., and they are available if you want to find them. And, we must create arenas and venues for people who have studied how to be professional parents to teach us the effective communication that I teach. One of the things you and others may do is listen to my radio show called "A License To Parent with Kaela Austin." It is on AM870 KIEV at 7:00 PM (PST) on Sunday night. And it can be logged on at:

Let me share something with you users. A year and a half ago I was a semi-retired person, playing golf twice a week and loving it. I was interacting and playing with my new grandson and loving it. And then, suddenly came shootings in Philadelphia between children, shootings in Atlanta of a child against another child, the Columbine caper, Oklahoma City, and I could no longer sit by semi-retired when I know how to teach parents to talk to their children, and how to teach children to talk to their parents, so that both can feel heard. I am doing WebMD. I am doing seminars. I am working with the Los Angeles Family Magazine. I am doing some pal work with them and writing some work with them. They are a very serious magazine and are one of the best resources for services, information and products. I am very proud to be connected with Los Angeles Family Magazine. And I'm not going to stop talking to anybody in any place that will listen to me so that we can stop the violence, stop the anger and deal with it. And I'm not talking about motivation. I don't do motivation seminars. I do real "how to" seminars. Margaret Mead said we must create new paradigms to teach not what to learn, but how to learn. That's what I do. I teach real "how to," and I'm going to teach it until the day I die. You keep asking your questions, and as long as there is a breath in me I will answer them.

Event_Moderator In the news today, they just discovered some children in Orange County that were planning to mimic Columbine.

Kaela_Austin I'm not surprised. I have chills through my body sitting and listening to you say that. I can tell you that there are other children and other adults planning copy-cat performances. And we, all of us, have got to do something about it. We have to stop the notion of you or me. This is no longer a you-or-me world. It must become a you AND me world. It must or we will destroy ourselves and each other. We can no longer pretend that it is not happening at home, in our own homes. We can't pretend it isn't happening. Let's not pretend it isn't happening just because we don't hear about it. It's festering. A fire isn't a fire until there are flames in the air? And hopefully parents and children, human beings, will take hold of this. There isn't one person who does not come from a mother and father who simply grow up and put these masks on, which is what happened in Columbine. These children put masks on and mask their lives from their parents and school mates. They wore masks. Nobody knew who they were, least of all themselves. They think they knew what they were doing. Not at all. And they didn't have the courage to live and see what will happen. These are children who do not know how to process their feelings and they have parents who, innocently, don't know how to teach them. They didn't go to school. How many of you out there have gone to school and have passed the test and have applied for a license to become a parent?

Quick GuidePhysical Symptoms of Depression in Pictures

Physical Symptoms of Depression in Pictures

Event_Moderator {question presented} What is a parent's job?

Kaela_Austin Everybody asks me that question. I love that everybody asks me that question because nobody knows the answer. Can you imagine having a job in which there is no job description or training? It wouldn't exist. If you applied for a job and you were supposed to be a widget turner, you would have to say, "what's a widget, how do I turn it, what's the need of the widget and how can it best be handled?" So you'd have to ask somebody what to do. Unfortunately, what parents do is what was done to them or the opposite. But, that's not addressing the issue of the child that is in front of them. Because if you do what was done to them, you're not paying attention to that child in front of you. If you do the opposite, you're only doing the opposite because you didn't like what was done to you and that is not addressing the child in front of you. The only way you can be in real time is to really take a look at how the world works and how the world worked you to become the person you've become.

Let me tell you what the job of the parent is. The job of the parent is to help our children identify and articulate their needs and their feelings. WE may not agree with what they want, but they have the right to want it. And we, as parents, must permit them the space to say what's going on inside of them. I've done studies in Puna, India and my guru's name is Osho. He says, if children were permitted their anger, there would be anger in the world no more. But because we do not permit children and were not permitted as children to have and express our anger, we have it and we hold it and are steaming with it. The job of the parent, I will repeat to anyone listening, is to help children articulate their needs and feelings for their self-protection. All children are born to grow, to develop, to live, to love and to articulate their needs and feelings for their self-protection. For their development, children need the respect and protection of adults who take them seriously, love them and honestly help them to become oriented in the world.

Event_Moderator {question presented} How can parents respect their adolescence's desire for privacy, yet still address their needs and feelings?

Kaela_Austin Good question. It is imperative for adolescents to want to have their own space and their own privacy and their own growing time. If parents were instructed in how to talk to children so that they can listen to children's needs without feeling threatened, then parents could be able to allow children their privacy. Because when you have a child that you are interacting with and talking to and you have good and clear communication, then trust begins to form and trust begins at about the fifth or sixth year of life. Babies! That's when trust begins. And not just the child trusting the parent, but the parent trusting the child. Both parent and child must learn to trust. I'd like to say something about acceptance and agreement at this moment because it fits in with the question. A parent may not want a child to have privacy for their own fears, but they need to accept that a child has a right to their own feelings. So let me tell you what acceptance is and what acceptance does. And be clear that I'm not only talking about agreement, but I'm talking about acceptance. Acceptance is valuing another. Acceptance is acknowledging differences. Acceptance is validating the other person's perception. Acceptance is allowing the other the right to their feelings. What acceptance does: Acceptance builds high self-esteem. Acceptance allows the other to feel worthwhile and important. Acceptance encourages self-reliance. And Acceptance stimulates internal changes. It is not important that we agree with each other. It is vitally important that we accept the other's difference and want to hear it. Growth happens in the privacy of our own being. When we're being talked to or talking to or having stimulation being thrown at us all the time, there is growth happening. Growth happens when we meditate. Growth happens when we walk along the seashore. Growth happens when a teenager sits in their room grooving to music. Growth happens when a teenager has a private, intimate conversation with a personal friend on the telephone at 11:30 at night.

Lucca_3_WebMD {question presented} I am a single mother. How can I provide a good male role model for my son?

Kaela_Austin As a single mother, it is important for you to provide positive role models for your son. And I'm really glad that you know that. There are a lot of ways of doing that. Books and the way we read books about daddies or brothers is a way of providing a good role model, taking your child to films that are about positive role modeling and fun interactions between boys and their dads, and there are a lot of events that you can take your child to. I don't know how old this child is, but there are a lot of events and a lot of community centers that will provide male-male relationships with your son. Plus, hopefully, you have friends whose partners/spouses who will be able to provide that. I've been a single mother most of my life. When my daughter was three and a half we moved to Los Angeles from Philadelphia. So, I had the same issue with my daughter because it was just as important for a little girl to have positive male role models. One of the families I became friendly with had a husband who loved my daughter and two boys who teased her mercilessly. The other family I became friendly with had a husband who loved my daughter and two boys who teased her mercilessly. My daughter has grown up to be very self-sufficient, very loving, has a beautiful relationship with her husband and we now have a boy child, my grandson, that will hopefully grow up to be a sensitive, tender young boy who doesn't treat girl people too unmercifully until he gets to an age where he values them differently. And please remember to have fun with your children. Adolescence can be a lot of fun. And, by the way, for your information, the March issue of Los Angeles Family Magazine will be directed towards single parenting. Pick it up. You can get it at your local libraries, schools, community centers, children's retail stores and sidewalk newsstands.

Event_Moderator {question presented} How do I stay involved in my teenager's life when all she wants to do is hang out with her friends and fight about curfew?

Kaela_Austin Look back into your relationship with your teenage daughter. Go back to what the two of you liked to do together that was special between the two of you. I'll give you an example, in my life with my daughter, we loved going to the movies. So, even when she was an adolescent and wanted to go to the movies with her adolescent friends, there were certain movies I knew she still loved and would only see with me. They weren't cool enough to see them with her teenage friends, so I knew she would see them with me. So you have to look back at your relationship and see what was there and subtly expand on that, do more of that if you can. As an example, if when she was a little girl she liked playing card games, go to a game store, come up with a great card game, see if she'll buy into that. If not, try another way. And, do stop fighting about the curfew. Here is the way you stop fighting. You sit down with her and say, "I respect that you are a young adolescent now and that you have your own ideas about how you would like to be treated and respected by me. I would like to hear what you think would be appropriate in terms of curfew for you during the week and during the weekend. I want to hear from you. In the same vein, I would like it if you would like to hear from me what my response is to that. The intention of this communication is for us to come to some kind of an agreement that we can both live with. And I mean that, so that we can both live with it. Then, let's live with it for a couple of weeks or a month, come back together and talk about how it was working for you and how it was working for me. If we like it, WE, if WE like it, we'll keep it in." And this is what you say to your daughter. "If WE don't like it, we need to modify it to come up with something that is mutually satisfying." And then you say to her, do you like talking like this? What do YOU think? I want to hear what YOU have to say. And listen. One of the ways she'll know you're listening is if you say, ah huh, ah huh, I see, I'd like to hear more about that.

Quick GuidePhysical Symptoms of Depression in Pictures

Physical Symptoms of Depression in Pictures

Al_Pavy_WebMD {question presented} I can see that my daughter is having problems at school but she gets extremely defensive when I approach her. How can I find out what's going on?

Kaela_Austin Now you've given me a tough one. I like being handed a difficult question because it puts me in the shoes of the person who is asking the question. You've asked a difficult question, but you've asked a question that a lot of parents are struggling with. So, I'm going to answer this question sort of rambling in a way to try to figure out what MY thoughts and feelings are on it, and let's see if I can help you get some place with this. You want to respect your child's independence. You want to honor your child's privacy. You know that your child is going through some difficulty. And, yet, you feel helpless in a way about what to do about it. She clearly doesn't want your help, but you're scared for her. Hmmmmmm. Here's what comes to me. I am a great believer in telling the truth about how YOU feel. You, the parent. If you feel frightened for her and scared for yourself, if you feel concerned about her and nervous about communicating, you can either write to her a letter so she can read it in the confidence and privacy of her own time or room, or you can communicate with her directly as I am doing with you, by sharing your feelings, by saying something that sounds something like this. When I see my daughter not happy with what is going on in school, I feel frightened because the lines of communication are down and it makes me feel sad. That is a technique known as an "I message". An "I message" is a responsible way of describing behavior you see, your feelings about the behavior and the effects it has on you. First you describe the behavior and then you identify the feeling and then you offer a consequence for yourself and her. I hope that assists you and other parents.

Event_Moderator {question presented} What do you think about the common parent philosophy of, "What my teenager isn't telling me, I don't want to know?"

Kaela_Austin Here's the answer LOUD and CLEAR! Pick up the December 20, 1999 issue of Time Magazine which says, EXCLUSIVE: THE COLUMBINE TAPES. Turn to page 49 under the headline of "The Parents" and let me quote from it right of the children's parents say, "they try to recall every interaction they had with the son. They now realize THEY NEVER KNEW...."

Event_Moderator {question presented} What common misperceptions do parents have about their children?

Kaela_Austin Children talk in coded messages. The myth is that you think you understand your children because you treat your children as you wish you had been treated. But they are not you. We send our children to the schools and ballet classes and drum lessons because we weren't given them. So, the only way you can possibly understand your children really is by REALLY walking in their moccasins. Really looking in their faces and really listening to what they're talking about. Listening to the music, the poets, the minstrels of days gone by. They're saying what's going on. Let me repeat. The basic misperception parents have about their children is that you are not your children. Your children are a little bit of the mother and a little bit of the father. They are not you. Their behaviors may be somewhat like yours, but they are not you. They are individuated spirits put on this Earth with your help. And your job is to assist them in being individuals and not carbon copies of yourselves.

Event_Moderator {question presented} What common misperceptions do children have about their parents?

Kaela_Austin Well, I think that children think that their parents are godlike at a certain age. And then they begin to realize, and maybe this is not a misperception actually, maybe this is the truth, that their parents are just regular human beings. That parents are people too. Here is one of the problems that happens in adolescence. This is one of the big problems that happens in the parent-child relationship that leads into difficulty with the adolescents. Children only realize that parents are human beings once they enter the age of 10, 11 or 12 years of age. Here is what happens, and please dear users, don't take this lightly. Listen to the whole thing. When parents of small children teach children about lying, children learn that very black and very white. I'll give you an example. If you say to your five year old, I'll pick you up at three and grandma picks the child up at three, the child feels lied to. The child feels lied to because YOU didn't pick them up at three. The children do not see colors. They only see "I will pick you up" and I did not pick you up. When you say to a child, I'm on the telephone, I'll be off in a second, and you're not off in a second, you're off in 25 minutes, they feel lied to. When you tell a child "I'll be right there" and you're not right there in a timely manner, they feel lied to. Now, all of that goes into a small child and they don't know how to perceive that or what to do with it UNTIL ADOLESCENCE. One of the reasons parents have problems with their children in adolescence is because they have been lying to them all of their lives. And, suddenly, when a youngster becomes aware of what's going on, they remember all the lies and all the mistrusts and all the things that parents said they were going to do and didn't and adolescents get angry. And then they say, you can't tell me anything. I'm not going to listen to you. Don't tell me what to think or feel. Where did you go? Out. What did you do? Nothing. That is why parents get that behavior. What parents need to do to dispel this is to come clean, tell the truth, say, "oh my god, I did that, stop doing it right here and now." If you say to your child "I'll be with you in five minutes," in five minutes you hang up the phone or say goodbye to your friend, you walk into the room and point to your watch and say, I told you I'd be here in five minutes and here it is.

Lucca_3_WebMD {question presented} How should I talk about sex with my 16-year old daughter?

Kaela_Austin First of all, I want to tell you that I'm smiling. I'm even giggling and chuckling a little bit on this one. If only you had listened to my radio show Sunday night on KIEV, 870AM, 7:00 PM (pst), you would have heard me talk to a mother of a 9-year-old who asked the same question. The mother of the 9-year-old thought that 9 years of age was too early to talk to a child about sex. So, here is what I'm saying to you, mother of a 16-year-old, IT'S TOO LATE. What your child doesn't know about sex now, you probably never knew to begin with. To answer your question, however, I'm going to have to assume that she's asked you questions about sex. If she has asked you about sex, I hope you're sitting down. Tell her everything you know. Use every slang, use every body part, use every orifice, use every word that you know that you have ever heard in a bar or in a hospital or in a house of God, but use them all. My suggestion is, also, that while you are talking to her, you say to her, "because this might be embarrassing for you to hear from me, your parent, what I'm going to do is I'm going to look at the floor or I'm going to turn my chair so that you don't have to feel embarrassed listening to me." And do so, turn your chair or look at the floor. Do not look into her face. I wish I could have you respond to me if you choose to do this. But I am told that I can tell you that I do have a way to get you to do that. So, there are two things that I ask you to do and I really would love to hear if you do this what the response is because I'd love to talk to you. You can call me toll-free on Sunday nights from 7:00-8:00 PM (pst) at: 1-877-870-5438. That's 1-877-870-KIEV That's station KIEV 870AM in Los Angeles, California. Or you can log on to to listen to the show live. And that would be 10:00-11:00 PM (EST) You can also email us questions to: Or fax us at (310) 390-4229 The web site is In closing, let me thank all of you out there who are interested in learning more about parenting. Please continue asking questions of anybody. Talk to your friends, talk to your families. We need and we should have to qualify for a license to parent.

Event_Moderator Thank you for joining us, Kaela. Join us again at 7 p.m. EST in The Spa Auditorium, when we discuss "Corporate Spas, and What You Need to Know Before You Go," with Anthony Carroccio, editor-in-chief of Healing Retreats and Spas Magazine.

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Reviewed on 10/23/2003 1:24:12 AM

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