Daniel Patterson is on a mission to empower and support teenagers as they identify and foster their authentic, healthy, and vibrant selves. In a world increasingly filled with societal perfection-based pressures, the true talents and aspirations of children are often eroded. Daniel hopes to change the conversation regarding parenting teenagers and create new pathways for parents to better support their children.
Daniel Patterson’s life in high school was dark; a period he attributes to extrinsic, old-school bullies and intrinsic, far more complicated depression and anxiety. Largely isolated and lonely, he turned to write and art to interpret his inexplicable pain. Mental health was not a household or systemic topic; therapy was not an option or even known outlet. Lacking tools and a proper understanding of the raging current working against him from the inside out, Daniel did what he could to merely survive, hoping to ride out the season of his life, a strategy he hopes no teenager ever solely utilizes again.
As a college student and young adult, Daniel worked diligently yet ineffectively to bury and forget these formidable demons, employing what he called an overcompensated humor-based confidence and an unquenchable thirst for alcohol. At a far enough vantage point, his life looked on-point, complete with friends, a career, and family. He worked tirelessly to create the optics of a fully-functional, autonomous adult. This couldn’t have been further from the truth. His polished exterior harbored a depressed, anxious, alcoholic soul, locked in a battle for his future. It’s a place that Daniel hopes no young adult ever experiences, and certainly not alone.
At the urging of his wife, Daniel hesitantly booked his first appointment with a therapist named Jessica, a clinician that he would see weekly for over ten years and still sees today. Together, they slowly, methodically and painfully unpacked his life. He credits her with changing his mindset and giving him permission to course correct and reimagine his life. In the latter stages of their work, Daniel had an awakening, making the horrifying decision to part ways with his best, most loyal companion: alcohol.
Sobriety and the prioritization of his mental health were catalysts for Daniel. They became the foundation upon which his consulting firm Patterson Perspective Inc. and his book The Assertive Parent were built. The former English teacher and high school administrator of fourteen years now fill his days meeting with teenagers and parents, coaching them as they strive toward educationally-centered goals. Functioning as a concierge, Daniel serves as a conduit between these teens’ unique needs and the myriad of services and resources available to them, including school placement, mental health and substance abuse treatment options.
I met Daniel shortly after he walked off the stage at the Imagine Conference, having delivered his philosophy on connecting with and supporting teenagers as they walk the road of life at an ever-increasing pace. Face-to-face, he is cautious, yet warm, a noticeable juxtaposition from the energy, passion, and humor that radiates from the stage as he speaks. In his speech, he shared his personal recipe for working with teenagers and agreed to have them passed along.
Be pragmatic: embark on a fact-finding mission to discover, question and explore the layers of your teen’s life. Education. Friendships. Habits. Mistake. Successes. Goals. Regrets. Dreams. Information is power and the by going slow to go far, a pragmatic approach free of judgment yields a treasure trove of useful information and data points from which to proceed.
Be present: position yourself as an advocate and co-pilot as opposed to the authoritative role so many adults obtain in the lives of teenagers. Listen. Absorb. Question doesn’t solve. Show up. Put down the phone. Cancel plans. Use consistent proximity to build trust and break down invisible communication barriers.
Be pliable: maintain flexible and nimble footing when approaching and addressing teenagers. Forget what’s worked or not for older siblings or neighbors. Parent your children as their own unique being. When strategies or interventions fail, resist frustration-fueled fits and keep looking for a solution. One is out there, and you will find it!
Be proactive: the best defense is a good offense, which means parents must abandon the “not my kid” philosophy. More specifically, mental health visits should be similar to trips to the dentist. Simply waiting to see a dentist when your child has a cavity is as ineffective as waiting to take them in for a wellness visit until they have fallen into an abyss of significant mental health symptoms.
Be patient: children, and more specifically teenagers, develop and find their strengths and strides at different times. Grant them the gift of patience to figure it all out. Support doesn’t solve. Remember that strengths and talents are not always packaged as a 4.0 GPA or making a Varsity sports team. Some of the greatest gifts teenagers present to the world will never be in-step with the expectations of others.
At the tail end of our conversation, Daniel handed me a copy of his book The Assertive Parent with the inscription: we’re in this together. I must say, it is a must-read for any and all parents. I found it refreshingly realistic, slightly salty, and approachable. When not meeting with families, Daniel carves out time to deliver his optimistic message through speaking engagements and on his Instagram feed @pattersonperspective. Impressively, Daniel has contributed his voice to many platforms, big and small, including NBC News, Fox News, The HuffPost and the Los Angeles Times. To get a deeper sense of Daniel, his work, and voice, visit www.pattersonperspective.com.