The Power of Relationships, by Jennifer Elledge (Barber), MPH, CHES

Parents want their children to group up healthy, safe, successful, and to be happy in life. What is the key to this? What can parents do to keep their children from high-risk activities like using alcohol or drugs, having risky sex, self-harming behaviors, or developing other addictions?


The answer - close relationships. According to the Search Institute’s newest research, The Power of Relationships, having multiple close, meaningful relationships is a key protective factor in keeping kids healthy and safe. It is what makes kids more successful in school, have better mental health outcomes, avoid risky activities, and feel happier. A close parent-child relationship is integral, along with meaningful mentors, teachers, coaches, and close friendships in a young person’s life.

Unfortunately the middle school transition is when most families begin to lose their close ties, communicate less because of busy schedules, and experience a disconnect due to teens' desire for more privacy and autonomy. While a teen's need for independence is natural, this is also when families need to be closest. Growing up is getting harder and harder these days, and it’s happening a lot sooner than it once did. Parents want and need to talk to their kids about life topics like self-esteem and confidence, friendship, safety, peer pressure, sex, alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs, and healthy relationships. We need to be sure to have meaningful conversations like these often and spend quality time together. As parents know, this is easier said than done. Below are some specific evidence-based reasons to try to establish a positive connection and meaningful communication with your teen, and strategies that will help you succeed. 

But there is more to it. The Search Institute defines “5 Keys to Strong Parent-Child Relationships” as:

The Keys

  1.  Express care: Show your children that you enjoy being with them. You care about things that are important to them.
  2.  Challenge growth: Help your children to see possibilities for their own futures. Encourage them to work hard to be their best.
  3. Provide support: Guide and encourage your children as they work to complete tasks and achieve their goals.
  4. Share power: Take your children’s ideas seriously. Work together to solve problems and reach goals.
  5. Expand possibilities: Help your children connect with people, ideas, and opportunities that help them learn and grow.

When kids experience these five qualities in their relationships, they are more likely to grow up well. They do better in school. They are more caring. And they develop attitudes and skills that will help them throughout their lives. They also become more resilient, which helps them overcome challenges they face in life. In fact, the research suggests that strengthening these five areas of our relationships is one of the most important things we can do as parents for our kids.

How close do you feel with your children? How strong are the other relationships in your children’s lives? This is worth taking a look at with the goal of helping your children develop meaningful relationships in their lives.

Action Steps

Try this, take a moment now to think back to the people who mattered for you when you were growing up and answer the following questions.

  • How did what they did fit with one or more of these 5 keys?

  • What qualities does someone have that makes them easy to talk to,

    supportive, or challenge you to be your best?

  • How can you empower your children? Listen more? Ask what they

    think? Mentor them on solving their own problems and develop

    meaningful goals?

  • Which of the 5 keys do you do really well? Which could you improve

    on? In the next week, I will _______________ to strengthen my

    relationship with my child or children in this area.

  • What are 3 ways you can be a more askable or approachable parent?

It is important to pay attention to how our kids are experiencing our relationships with them, not just how we view our relationship. Here are some tips to help.

  • Remind them and prove to them that they can come to you about anything, as well as ask questions. Especially about tough things like violence, alcohol, drugs, and sex.

  • Encourage open communication– Be an askable parent. If you don’t know the answer, tell them you don’t know and go find the answer together.

  • Don’t overreact. The number one complaint from young people is that when they do ask questions, their parents automatically jump to the conclusion that they are engaging in that activity. Don’t make assumptions. Your goal should be to keep the dialogue going.

  • Be a good listener. Sometimes the best thing you can do is listen as your child shares. It is a great way to learn what is going on in his/her mind.

  • Give simple answers. State the facts, be honest and keep it simple and

    age appropriate.

  • Share your expectations and values. Whether it is sex, drugs, alcohol or

    something else, don’t just assume your children know what you expect. Tell them.


Jennifer Elledge (Barber), MPH, CHES Founder & Director of The Talk Institute, LLC

Screen Shot 2018-05-31 at 2.35.18 PM.png

An adolescent health expert and popular speaker, Jennifer has taught thousands of South Bay parents and young people how to navigate the puberty years. Her formal education background includes a bachelor's degree in psychology and a master's degree in public health. She studied sex education internationally in the Netherlands, Germany, and France.

Jennifer founded The Talk Institute in 2007, with a mission to build and support open communication between parents and their children, create bonds so that children see their parents as approachable, and teach families the knowledge and skills necessary to be sexually healthy today.

Her small group courses are not just informational, but a learning experience, one of bonding and connecting with your children while sharing your values and beliefs along the way. Through light humor, fun activities, and story, she creates an open and honest conversation about some of the toughest subjects parents must broach. Families benefit from her courses for years to come and rave about them years later.

To learn more visit or call 760-846-6555