Unlock Your Parenting Potential: Essential Guide to Parenting Teens

It’s incredible that your child was once a kid and is now almost an adult, isn’t it? Parenting teens today is not easy. Take a deep breath and relax those shoulders—this guide to parenting teenagers shares practical advice and a few secret tips that professional therapists use when counseling teens.  

It is no secret that adolescence can be tricky for parents and teenagers to navigate. For starters, teens are going through a lot of mental and physical changes from hormones and puberty. In addition, teens experience a range of stressors driven by factors like social media, screen time, and even the pandemic adding challenges to their development. Teens need their parents’ support now more than ever.  

Dad raising teens successfully after using family counseling in Denver CO

How Can You Improve Your Parenting Approach for Teens?

  1. Be Aware of Your Expectations
  2.  Put Yourself In Their Shoes
  3. Positive Reinforcement Over Negative Punishment
  4. Create A Contract (Make A Deal)
  5. Express Interest In Them

1. Be aware of your expectations

Brené Brown once said, “Disappointment is unmet expectations, and the more significant the expectations, the more significant the disappointment.” When raising teens, it is easy to feel frustrated when reality doesn’t match what you pictured for them. It can be worth reflecting on your expectations for your teen to consider if you may be putting too much pressure on them. This is especially true if you can be hard on yourself too. 

2. Put yourself in their shoes

Connect with your teenage self! Think about the stuff you went through and how those experiences felt to you at that time. Your teen’s struggles are nothing to discount; they’re as real to them as your struggles are to you. Remember that they never want to fail or disappoint you; making mistakes is a core part of learning and growth! Be patient and have empathy. They’re much more likely to open up if they feel like they’re in an emotionally safe, non-judgmental space.  

3. Use positive reinforcement rather than negative punishment

In moments of frustration, it can be easy to be overly focused on and reactive to your teen’s mistakes. You’re trying to show them how to be a functional adult, so providing corrective feedback is part of your role as a parent. However, research on reinforcement and punishment shows that positive reinforcement is a more effective and relationship-enhancing behavioral approach. When raising teens, positive reinforcement will involve giving something enjoyable to your teenager when they demonstrate a desired behavior (e.g., they may get a new gadget they’ve wanted, later curfew time, or even a simple compliment).    

4. Use positive reinforcement rather than negative punishment

In the spirit of positive reinforcement, when raising teens, consider making some kind of deal with your teenager so that you both can get what you want! It also encourages teens to hold themselves more accountable since their behavior determines the reward. Here are two sample contacts:   

  • This teen responsibility contract from the Center for Parent and Teen Communication provides a structure for outlining the privileges your teen wants and the steps they need to take to earn those privileges.  
  • This child/parent responsibility contract from Insights Intervention is like the one above, though it also incorporates the parents’ responsibilities. When the parent has some rules to abide by as well, the teen may feel more motivated to do their part.  

5. Express interest in them

Kids know that their parents love them, but they may not feel as confident that their parents like them. Their self-esteem can be negatively affected, especially if they’re being corrected frequently. Even when times are tough, try to show them you enjoy spending time with them.     

How Can You Apply Motivational Interviewing for Teens?

I’m going to let you in on the secret method that therapists use: Motivational Interviewing for Teenagers. Clinicians use this technique to inspire change in clients without telling them what to do. This is especially useful with teenagers because they often crave more freedom to make choices for themselves. A big component of motivational interviewing is allowing the recipient to express their opinions and desires.  

Here are four steps to Motivational Interviewing for Teenagers:

1. Listen to them first

If you want your teen to listen to you, you need to listen to them first. For them to feel heard, it is important to validate their experience. To be clear, validation is not agreement. Rather, it is understanding their perspective and acknowledging their stress. For example, you could tell them, “I’m sure this is really hard on you” or “If I were you, I’d feel pretty upset too.”

2. Avoid jumping in with advice too quickly

When raising teens, it’s not time for a solution if your teenager is feeling highly emotional. This is the time for your teen to vent, cry, take a hot shower, or do whatever they need to do to help them process their emotions. The best thing you can do for them is simply hold space for their expression. Sometimes they just need to let it out!  

3. Make sure they are ready to hear your advice

Once your teen has given you an indicator that they’re searching for a solution, then they’ll be more receptive to your guidance. You could say, “I had a similar experience when I was younger, do you want to know what worked for me?” or “Would you be open to hearing a few ideas I have that could help?” This phrasing respects that they may not want solutions at that moment, and that’s ok. If they’re not ready to hear feedback, you can let them know that you’re there for them if they’d like to talk about it later.  

4. Collaborate and brainstorm on solutions with them

When you do brainstorm solutions with them, it can be helpful to lay out all the options and ask their thoughts about each idea. This allows the conversation to feel collaborative, strengthening their decision-making skills and your relationship with them.  

Here are additional communication tips that you can use.

Remember: You can’t control your teen, nor can you protect them from all of the dangers of the world. But, in raising teens, you can control how you show up for them.

Be aware if your teen is dealing with more serious issues or if you hear about more troubling concerns from their teachers or peers. If your teenager shows signs of depression, anxiety, self-harm, or substance use disorder, and you’ve tried addressing it, you should check for signs that therapy is required.

Mindfully can help your family communicate more effectively, overcome obstacles, and strengthen connections with one another. Learn more about our family counseling services and connect with a licensed therapist today.  

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