The Best Time to Plant a Tree and Other Ideas to Build a Lifetime of Connection by Susannah Burt

POSTED BY on August 18, 2021

This past weekend I visited with a friend who asked “How do I prepare myself for parenting a teenager? What can I do to make it the best outcome possible?” She was asking me because I have two adult children and a current teenager. I looked at her and said “Start now.”

Regardless of the age of your children, you as a caregiver have the great opportunity to support your kids. In fact, now, more than ever, our kids need us.

It is imperative that we as caregivers find ways to bond with our kids. Why? Because knowing they have supportive and present caregivers will help them weather whatever comes next in their life. And if they know they have someone on their side, advocating for them, even setting boundaries, the kids feel the love and can become more resilient when struggles arise.

Successful relationships don’t just appear out of nothing. - Susannah Burt

So what exactly can you do? Plenty. Know that spending time with your child or teen doesn’t have to be big or extravagant. Sure, trips to amusement parks, traveling to new exotic places are fun, but not every budget can manage this. Play games. Learn a card game that you played when you were younger. One of the best things I did was giving my youngest a deck of cards and teaching them how to play Rummy. You could even make a meal together. This gives them a skill and you can have a conversation!

Stay close. Ask them questions. Not just “How was your day?” but things that get them thinking. There are great resources out there, such as chit chat cards or websites that have loads of questions to spark conversations. The conversations can be about ANYTHING. Want them to talk? Ask them to review their favorite show, game, or musical group. You don’t have to agree with it, just listen to them. If a kid talks and you listen now, they will know they can come to you for more serious things.


It’s safe to say that caregivers and parents have more on their plates now than ever before. By setting boundaries now, staying close to the kids, and finding ways to connect, you will increase the chance your children will make healthy, safe decisions no matter what is going on in the world or your neighborhood. The cornerstone to healthy development in your kids is a good, close relationship with YOU.

My friend is worried about the teenage years for her daughter. But successful relationships don’t just appear out of nothing. Like trees, they need to be planted and nourished over time. Start wherever you are. Plant the seeds now. Even if you already have teenagers, start making connections and bonding with them now. The results can be amazing.


Susannah Burt Headshot

Susannah Burt has been working in Substance Abuse and Mental Illness Prevention since 2001.  With her position, it has been part of her responsibility to work with the evaluators and review data for state and local communities. She has helped to develop Utah’s Needs Assessment for Opioids.  She has worked to develop an evaluation plan for environmental strategies, including policies and campaigns. In addition, she has managed the Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grant for Utah as well as four discretionary grants totaling over $30 million for prevention. 

Ms. Burt has chaired the Utah State Epidemiological Outcomes Workgroup (SEOW), Utah’s Evidence Based Workgroup, and participates on Utah’s Underage Drinking workgroup, Opioid Community Collaborative and Utah’s Coalition for Opioid Overdose Prevention (UCOOP). Susannah currently sits on her local Communities that Care coalition in Utah.  Susannah is the co-parent of four children. She received her Bachelor’s Degree from Weber State University and works for the State of Utah Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health.


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