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You’ve Got Questions, We’ve Got Answers

April 26th, 2017     By Kristen Hallstrom, Manager of Boys Town National Hotline

Family, Parent-Child Relationships

Each year, the Boys Town National Hotline receives hundreds of thousands of calls and online inquiries regarding a host of issues affecting children, teenagers and parents. We recently talked to Kristen Hallstrom, manager of the Boys Town National Hotline, and she provided some insight about common calls, preventive measures parents can take right now and more. We hope this information will help answer some of your questions and assure you that the hotline is here any time of day for both you and your teen should you ever need it.


Q: What is the one piece of advice you find yourself telling parents repeatedly?

Be as generous with your praise as you are with your criticism. Try to “catch them being good.”

Q: What preventive measures should parents be taking right now that can help their home environment?

We recommend the following:

  • Regardless of whether your child is young or a teenager, don’t forget, as a parent, you are their teacher.
  • Unless you tell them clearly what you want them to do, kids will typically react based solely on their emotions.
  • Preteaching your expectations prior to a situation sets your child up for success.
  • When your children need to talk, take the time to listen. As they get older, listen with the intent of understanding what they are going through rather than simply telling how they should feel or react. If they want your help to solve a problem, discuss several options and let them process the possible outcomes.

Q: Do you get a lot of non-crisis calls from parents? Where would you tell parents to go for this type of information?

Yes, many times parents call just to vent about their frustrations. The call may initially start out focusing on the child but may evolve into the parent reflecting on the many other stressors in their life. Sometimes people need to release pent-up emotions to someone who won’t judge them or their situation.

Q: What is the call you remember the most from a parent or family in need?

I spoke to a mother of a 15-year-old boy. The call began with her telling me about all her accomplishments, after which she listed all the things she felt were wrong with her son. I listened and empathized with her frustrations and then asked her about any strengths she felt her son possessed.

The call began to take a more positive turn when she realized how relentlessly negative she had been toward her son. We talked about how as a parent it is easy to focus on the negative and discussed the negative cycle that was being created between the two of them at home.

My goal was not to tell her what she needed to do, but to help her self-reflect on what she was willing and able to do to make changes. By the end of the call, she had resolved to focus more on praising her son and giving him positive messages, and we had identified ways for her to build a more positive relationship with him.

Q: What’s the best way to give my teen the information about the hotline to make sure they have multiple support systems if needed?

Giving teens the website address gives them several ways to reach out for support. They can also learn how other teens have been helped by the hotline.

Q: Your newest campaign for the hotline focuses on being a good friend and offering a support system. Are teens and pre-teens more likely to go to a friend than a parent for support?

Research shows that teens believe their peers are a more credible and immediate source for help and information. As a result, the promotion of in the school setting leverages the strength of peer-to-peer relationships so more teens will know that they have access to crisis counseling and support.

Q: When should families call the hotline?

People contact the hotline for a variety of issues. Some call for support and reassurance; others contact us when they are in the middle of a crisis.  We will help with any situation, but we recommend that people reach out for help before a problem becomes a crisis.

Q: How have your calls changed over the years?

Teens are more connected to the world through social media than they were years ago. On one hand, this means they have more information available to them and seem to be more open to sharing their thoughts and feelings. On the other, they may also have trouble navigating hazards, such as oversharing and victimization, as well as the challenge of learning how to unplug and connect with the real world.

For adults, the internet has provided many more options for education about parenting issues, as well as for mental health information. In some respects, it has provided hotline counselors with additional resources to empower and promote self-help options after a conversation with a caller has ended.

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