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What's Troubling Your Teenager? - Peeling Back the Onion Layers

By V. Michael Santoro, M. Ed.

Onion layers are a good analogy for problem solving. Like onions, problems can have multiple layers, and if you do not dig deeply enough, you may end up not solving the real problem.

A good way to indicate whether or not you have "peeled back" enough layers is to see how you "feel" during the problem solving process. At times it will seem like you have discovered the proper solution, but something just doesn't "feel right" about it. At that point, it is advisable to trust your instincts and discuss the problem with someone.

I have often said myself, "You know, everything seems right, but it just doesn't feel right." You may not even be able to articulate why at the time. Usually, as you discuss it, while reviewing the available information; and running through the questions you asked to get to that point; something will trigger a new idea or thought. Then bingo, the light comes on and you can "feel" that you have the right solution.

Discuss this concept with your teenager. The point is, even if the current information seems to point to a correct solution, if it doesn't feel right, continue seeking the right solution until it does feels right. This is a good time to observe your teen's body language.

What to do
Even if she cannot articulate that something is missing or not right, her body language will indicate it. They say, "The eyes are the window to the soul." Check your teenager's eyes, as they will be a strong indicator of where she is "emotionally" during your problem solving session. She may be saying the right things but her eyes may be communicating a totally different message.

A good way to handle this is to say something like, "You know, I hear what you are saying, but there seems to be something else on your mind. Why don't you tell me about it?" If she says she isn't sure, start asking her questions that will help her to visualize and evaluate her feelings. For example you can ask, "Okay, what are you feeling? Try to describe it. Or, "What comes to mind when you are feeling this way?" "Does a particular person come to mind?" "Is there anything giving you cause for concern?"

Ensure that the questions are open-ended. They should allow your teenager to think about issues that: 1. May not be at a conscious level or 2. Is something that she is not willing to face just yet.

"Peeling back the onion layers" will help you to get to the bottom of what is troubling your teenager. With your help, she will be able to talk about her thought process, visualize it, and then tie these pieces of information together so things become clear. This approach will help you focus on helping your teens to evaluate their feeling and become better problem solvers.

You can then begin discussing a better solution to her "real" problem.

About the author:
This article is an excerpt from the book "Realizing the Power of Love," How a father and teenage daughter became best friends...and how you can too! By V. Michael Santoro, M. Ed and Jennifer S. Santoro. For more information visit their Web site at