Tips for Guiding Your Teenager

Tips for Guiding Your Teenager

It is easy to get lost in the day to day grind of living with a teenager. They can be moody, irrational and messy. This article is a gentle reminder that they need guidance during these years, even if it feels like they have told you in so many ways that they do not need you anymore. Your role as a guide in their life is important and the way you show up for them during these years will empower them and equip them as they launch into more independence and adulthood. We’ll encourage you to approach it with love, understanding, and a focus on teaching rather than controlling. 

Maintaining open communication is one of the foundational tasks at hand. You can create regular opportunities for conversation during meal times, car rides or routine exercise together. This may begin with some boundaries for yourself and your teen during those regular times so that their attention and your attention is available. Create an environment where your teenager feels comfortable expressing themselves without fear of judgment by being quick to listen, curious and open minded. Listen actively, without interrupting, and try to understand their perspective even if you don't agree. If you feel like you’ve really lost touch with your teen, set up an intentional time once a week to be available to them if they would like to connect. Your goal is to be available to them. They get to decide whether or not to engage. 

During this season, continue to set clear expectations. Behaviors that you are encouraging are different from when they were a kid, but make sure you verbalize early and often what your expectations are regarding grades, curfew, relationships, and activities. You can engage them about their goals and action plans rather than just telling them what not to do. Their priorities may not always be in line with yours and it helps to allow time between conversations. You do not have to “correct” them in the same conversation. If you are trying to reconnect with them, especially, aim to help them feel fully understood by using reflective listening and repeating back to them what you hear them saying without providing any criticism or questioning. As your relationship becomes closer and they mature, you will have opportunities to provide advice and direction. Choose your battles. 

Teach values by living them out; you can be sure that your teens are watching your choices. Teenagers often see values and beliefs in black and white. They do not often allow for much grey or opposing beliefs. This can be difficult, as they will often challenge your rules, opinions and values by pointing out your behavior and the hypocrisy they find. These are excellent opportunities to explore the difficulty of maintaining integrity and the choices that people make when prioritizing one value over another. They may value freedom and you value safety. These are going to cause conflict when they prioritize freedom over safety. Discussing the conflict in these terms help difuse the “i’m right/you’re wrong” argument and instead opens up a concept that when we have different values we will experience conflict. Share your values and beliefs with them, explaining why they are important to you and then be a role model by living out these values in your own life.

To discipline means to teaching. Discipline is especially important when children are young. As they move through their teen years, into adulthood, the teaching continues, but is less of a dictatorship and more of a democracy. Continue to approach discipline as an opportunity for learning rather than punishment. When there are issues that present themselves, recognize that your teenager may need support in order to learn the life skill you are addressing. Teens can develop different skills at different rates and your specific child may need to approach it or have rules set up for them in a way that is different from their peers. Be open to what your child needs and try not to compare their progress with others. 

While allowing independence, it's crucial to maintain certain boundaries for their safety and well-being. Clearly communicate the consequences of crossing these boundaries. Explain the consequences of their actions and help them understand the reasons behind the rules. Don’t forget to enforce the consequences once they are set. Allowing natural consequences to take place is also more and more important as your teen gets closer to adulthood. Forgot their lunch? Forgot their homework? These have natural consequences. The world is relatively safe right now while you are there to catch them if they fall. Now is the time for them to learn how to make good choices. 

Allowing your teen to make decisions and learn from their mistakes encourages independence. This fosters a sense of responsibility. They may need support here. Provide guidance rather than imposing control, helping them develop critical thinking skills. You could ask them to think through the series of events that ended in the natural consequence and set up reminders for themselves at different points. You may suggest they reward themselves as they go or when they complete the desired behavior so many times. You might engage with a counselor or outside helper that can break down the desired goal into action steps and coach your teen along as they develop in this area. 

You are their home team cheering section. You know when you play sports and you play at home you have the advantage because of the fans? You are those fans for your teen. When they are around the family, do they feel like they have unwavering support? Like you have their back and are cheering for them to win? This is the only place they will have that unlimited love. Acknowledge and praise their achievements, no matter how small. Positive reinforcement can be a powerful motivator for continued positive behavior.

Be sure you are doing your best to provide a space for them to rest. Beyond being the cheering section and providing unlimited support, you want to ensure your teen feels safe discussing any issues or concerns with you. Be non-judgmental and offer support when they are going through difficult times. If they cannot come home with their struggles and feel seen and heard, they’ll likely go to peers or outside influences to feel accepted which can be dangerous for their development.

Trying to keep up with the ever changing technology and culture that our teens are bombarded with can feel like a losing battle, but stay in the game. Stay informed about their friends, school, and interests. Studying the things that your teen enjoys is a way to show them that you care. This helps you connect with them on a deeper level. Understanding their world allows you to offer more relevant guidance. There comes a point when you just cannot relate and that is okay! It is better to be genuine to your own self and communicate that you do not understand than to pretend to understand. Teenagers can see through that pretty quickly!

They are figuring out their identity and exploring their individuality; your individuality and identity is going to look different from theirs! This may cause conflict some of the time, but differences make for interesting conversations and lives. Help them explore their interests and passions to discover who they are. Embrace their uniqueness and avoid imposing unrealistic expectations. Remember that building a strong, trusting relationship with your teenager takes time. Be patient, show empathy, and continue fostering a connection with them as they navigate through this crucial stage of their lives. This may take a team effort! When you wonder if you are expecting something from them that may not be realistic, it is good to ask for help from others and get fresh perspectives as you guide your teenager. 

  1. Membride H. Mental health: early intervention and prevention in children and young people. Br J Nurs. 2016;25(10):552-4, 556-7. doi:10.12968/bjon.2016.25.10.552

  2. World Health Organization. Adolescent mental health.

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Adolescent health.

  4. Giedd JN. The amazing teen brain. Sci Am. 2015;312(6):32-7. doi:10.1038/scientificamerican0615-32