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The POWER of a Story: Talk to teens and preteens through stories & images

Your fifteen year old daughter has just been invited to a party – her first party. You don’t want to say no. You know she could have a lot of fun and potentially learn a great deal, but you are also fearful. You know what can, and does, happen…

You want to assess how your daughter feels about drugs and what she would do if she was tempted to use them at the party.

You want to build the relationship with her because you haven’t connected with her lately and she is giving you ‘attitude’ about going.

You also want to close the gap between yourself and your partner because he doesn’t have the same fears about the party as you do.

You want to deliver a message to her about important safe sex practices because you know that things “can happen” at parties, especially if she drinks etc.

At the end of the day, all you want is for her to be safe and happy – to flourish.

So how do you achieve all this? How do you help your son’/daughter to learn, to keep them safe (without conflict), whilst at the same time helping yourself and others? You harness the power of stories. You use the most powerful tool we have to influence human behaviour. You tell them a story.

Talk to your daughter, through oral, written (including pictures and diagrams) or digital stories and images. The more emotion the story and image provokes, the more visual it is, generally the better.

Use whatever stories and images are available to you. As a parent of teens and preteens, you will need to develop a toolkit of resources (called Story Image Tools) that can help you. Your parenting methods need to change. Your daughter is no longer the little girl running around in a pink tutu thinking Mummy is the most important person in the world. Now you must accept that she is growing up … Now you must become a master storyteller.

Use magazine articles of girls who have had their drinks ‘spiked’, ask your friends’ daughters to tell your daughter their positive (as well as negative) experiences. That is, ask them to share their ‘’party stories”. Find a YouTube video clip to show your daughter the devastating consequences of drug use or underage sex, as well as the fun and social skills she can learn.

Don’t just tell or show her the story. Talk to your teen or preteen through the story. Read, tell or watch the story when they are calm and relaxed. Stop the story at regular intervals to reflect on it. Use the story to build an image in her mind – an image of herself at the party, behaving in a positive way. Ask her questions about the story. Ask, don’t tell. Ask her questions about the main characters, the plot, the consequence or the result. Most of all, ask her how it applies to her own life.

Talk through the story and your child will never forget the message contained in the story. When your teenage daughter is offered the drug, or the choice to be sexually active at the party, she will remember the story, she will remember the vivid images that go with the story, and she will remember the message it contains.

You can feel confident that you have helped her to flourish, to fully appreciate the positive and negative aspects of going to parties, armed with information and strategies, and with a minimum of conflict.

If you can harness the power of storytelling, to become a master storyteller, you possess the power to influence and change everyone’s behaviour.

There are 5 very powerful, very important Story Outcomes that can be achieved as a result of talking to teens or preteens through stories and images. The Five Story Outcomes are:

  1. Assess the Situation – find out what your teen or preteen is thinking, feeling or doing

  2. Build the Relationship – improve the relationship between the teen/preteen and their friends, family or other adults around them

  3. Close the Gap – build a bridge, through the story, to close gaps between individuals or groups

  4. Deliver a Message – explain important social, psychological, historical or cultural information and strategies

Enhance Flourishing – help your child to live happy, productive and ‘flourishing’ lives. Your teen or preteen will be learning, building the relationship with you and developing strategies and insight – without even realising it!

I urge anyone living or working with teens and preteens to become a master storyteller.


Toula Gordillo holds degrees in arts, education and psychology and a Masters in Clinical Psychology. She has extensive professional experience as a clinical psychologist, teacher and guidance officer.

Toula has worked in private practice and schools for twenty years, delivering important social, psychological, historical and cultural information to assist students with a range of short-term interventions and therapies. For more information visit Talk to Teens.

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