15 Tips for Raising Teens Today
Parenting teens can be challenging. But it can also be a joy. The key is to know how to care for yourself, first and foremost. Before you have kids, you might think that parenting will come naturally. And, to some degree, it does. But there are days (and sometimes months and years) when all parents could use some extra support.
That’s where time-tested, evidence-based strategies for parenting teens can be helpful. When parents are raising teenagers, they benefit from having a toolkit for keeping calm, creating a harmonious household, and relating to their children in positive ways.
Here are 10 simple yet powerful approaches for parenting teens that build strong relationships for the long-run.
Tip #1: Keep Your Cool and Stay Centered
Living with kids can be stressful. That’s true for parenting teens girls and parenting teen boys, too. Tricky situations often arise. But if you’re able to regulate your own emotions, chances are your child will do better, too. Self-care plays a huge part in this.
Try these methods for keeping your cool during difficult interactions. Consequently, your relationship with your kids will improve.
Don’t take it personally.
Whether they’re six or 16, your child is always in the process of developing their identity and opinions. Thus, part of that is disagreeing with and pushing back against what they perceive as parental control. Remember, this is not about how good or bad of a parent you are.
Remind yourself that you are a role model.
The way parents conduct themselves shows their children what it looks like to be authentic and mature. Remind yourself how important it is for you to serve as a positive example. Furthermore, let this be an incentive to be patient, understanding, and compassionate—just like you want your child to be.
When talking with teens, if you sense that you or your child is getting frustrated in a discussion or interaction, take a timeout. Tell your teen you’re going to pause the conversation and revisit it later, when you both feel calmer.
Tip #2: Emphasize the Positive in Parenting Teens
Ever heard of the negativity bias? That’s how scientists describe the fact that our brain responds more strongly to negative information than it does to positive stimuli. Most likely, the negativity bias developed as an evolutionary survival mechanism—making us more sensitive to threats and danger. That’s why we remember bad news more easily than good news.
However, the negativity bias no longer serves us. In fact, it decreases our well-being. Therefore, we need to retrain our brains to focus on what’s good in our lives, instead of the bad stuff.
Try this positivity practice with your teen:
- Create a routine at dinner or before bed in which each person shares something that went well that day.
- Acknowledge and appreciate your teen’s positive experiences.
- Point out the strengths that your teen used in these positive interactions and events.
- Do this every day for at least 30 days to help your teen create a positive habit.
Tip #3: Set Expectations and House Rules
For teens, declaring independence is inevitable at some point. Accept that it will happen—your child will go through rebellious periods. This is normal teenage behavior. Therefore, it’s important for parents to create as much clarity as possible about what they expect of their kids. Moreover, parents need to create limits and consequences to compassionately enforce those expectations and boundaries.
Get clear on your values.
Focus on the important areas: how you expect your child (and everyone in the family) to treat each other and to conduct themselves outside the home. Your belief system and set of values will determine what boundaries you set for your teen, whether it’s around dating or household chores.
Make rules that support those values.
For example, to support a value of kindness and compassion toward each other, you might set a guideline that there will be no name-calling, yelling, or slamming doors in the house. To support how much you value ongoing communication among family members, you might decide that the whole family needs to eat dinner together at least three times a week.
Acknowledge how they feel and what they want.
It’s critical for children to feel understood and validated. When you make house rules, take into account your child’s desires and opinions. If you don’t agree with them, be sure to honor their feelings before you explain why this doesn’t work for the family as a whole.
Clarify how it’s going to play out.
Lay out the guidelines, and the consequences if they choose to ignore the limits. Remind them that they have the choice to respect or reject the rules, but rejection will lead to appropriate consequences. Furthermore, you might even consider drafting a written agreement so you’re both on the same page. And negotiation is acceptable if you feel there’s room for compromise. In addition, avoid power struggles at all costs.
Set age-appropriate consequences that will go into effect if the rules are broken.
For teens, consequences might be an early curfew, getting grounded, or losing the use of the family car. Make the consequences clear, make sure your teen understands them, and don’t make exceptions. As a result, when consequences are in place, the onus is on them: When they break a rule, they know that they’re choosing to accept the consequences.
Tip #4: Keep Communication Going
Because we’re often busy and distracted, we don’t always take the time to really focus on our kids when they’re trying to tell us something. Take advantage of the time you have together. Having dinner together as a family, using car time to talk, or chatting before bed are good ways to stay in daily touch with your teen. Prioritize quality time as well as quantity: Consider having breakfast out on the weekend as a special catch-up time to chat about the week. Or schedule monthly “family meetings” to discuss how things have been going and any conflicts that have arisen.
Tip #5: Be an Empathetic Listener
Listening with empathy and caring is one of the most important tips on parenting a teenager. Researchers have shown that people’s brain patterns synchronize when they listen closely to one another and watch each other’s expressions. As a result, the connection between them becomes stronger. Not feeling truly heard can lead to isolation and lack of self-esteem—root causes of anxiety, depression, and substance abuse. Therefore, take listening seriously. It’s not just a way of coping with teenagers; it has an enormous impact on their well-being.
Tip #6: Make Sure Teens Get Enough Sleep
Teenage parenting tips also include ensuring that kids practice self-care, including sleep hygiene. A good night’s sleep puts everyone in a better mood. Moreover, sleep and teen mental health are closely linked. Therefore, making sure kids are well rested during the teen years makes parenting teens easier. Here are five ways that parents can help the whole household get to bed earlier and sleep more deeply.
Set an electronic curfew.
Parenting teens today means making an effort to help them unplug as often as possible. Kids’ use of technology often interferes with getting enough sleep. Turning off their computers and cellphones at a fixed time each night will help their brains can wind down and get ready for sleep. In fact, parents should do this, too!
Create a bedtime routine.
The whole family can do relaxing activities before bed instead of using technology, such as reading, taking a shower, listening to quiet music, or meditating. Therefore, family members can have a shared routine, or create their own personal ritual for bedtime.
Get everyone up at the usual time on weekend mornings.
Sleeping till noon and then staying up late will throw off a teen’s schedule for the rest of the week. Moreover, getting everyone up on the early side leaves more time for fun family activities during the day.
Make sure your bedrooms are dark enough.
Light can interfere with the sleep cycle. Consequently, use blackout curtains to make sure daylight is not disturbing anyone’s sleep. All lights in bedrooms should be off when the family is sleeping.
Keep bedrooms cool.
The body prepares for sleep by lowering its internal temperature, and a cool room can encourage that process. Therefore, turn down the thermostat at night once everyone is ready for bed.
Tip #7: Be aware of what teens are looking at on their phones.
A robust body of evidence links overuse of social media and video gaming to a wide range of negative mental health impacts, including stress and anxiety, depression, poor well-being, body image issues, and disordered eating. Moreover, research shows that both games and social media triggers the same dopamine-related reactions in the brain as drug use, priming the nervous system for addictive behaviors. As much as teens may resist it, parents need to be aware of the content they are interacting with, and set limits around how much time they spend on their phones and apps.
Tip #8: Reach Out for Parenting Support
We all need to vent sometimes, and it’s helpful to share our experiences with others. However, it’s not okay for parents to vent to their children about their frustrations—it’s not their role to take care of their parents. Therefore, parents should find other adults to lean on. Parent support groups, a circle of good friends, or one close friend are all good options. Moreover, make sure you see these people on a regular basis. In addition, parenting books and trainings can provide wisdom for raising teenagers.
Tip #9: Practice Self-Care
Raising teenagers isn’t easy. Give yourself permission to practice self-care and have fun. We all need what positive psychologists describe as “happiness boosters.” Figure out what activities you enjoy, and that help you get reenergized. Choose activities that you can easily fit into your daily life. For example, your list might include going for a run, meeting a friend for tea, volunteering your time for a cause you care about, and cuddling with your dog. Then make sure you do one or more of those activities throughout your day and your week.
Tip #10: One of the Most Important Tips for Raising Teenagers—Practice Unconditional Love
Dealing with teenagers has its ups and downs. But loving and accepting our kids through good times and bad is essential. Our early relationships play a huge part in how we form attachments, both as kids and adults. Multiple studies have revealed the positive effects of unconditional love, as well as the negative results when children do not receive it. Here are some of the evidence-based benefits of loving attachment between parents and child.
- Better brain health: Children who receive unconditional love from their parents have better health and better brain development. A 2012 study found that children with affectionate mothers have a larger hippocampus, the part of the brain that controls memory and learning capabilities.
- Higher stress resilience: Loving parent-child relationships allow teens to build better stress resilience—the ability to bounce back from hard things. A study at UCLA found adults who experienced a lack of affection in childhood were more stressed and had greater disease risk. However, researchers also found that parental warmth and affection protect children against the harmful biological impact of childhood stress.
- Stronger bonds: Yet another study on parent-child relationships found that mothers who were less controlling when playing with their young children had stronger bonds with their kids. Consequently, researchers theorized that the children of less controlling mothers felt more accepted and loved—leading to better relationships.
Tip # 11: Do Regular Teen Mental Health Temperature Checks
Most every parent and caregiver knows how to test whether a child has a fever—but do you know how to do a mental health temperature check? Parenting teenagers involves doing regular check-ins to determine how your child is doing emotionally. While trauma, depression, and anxiety can’t be measured with a thermometer, there are ways to track how a teen is doing on an emotional level. Here’s how to do a teen mental health temperature check.
Tip #12: Build Their Self-Esteem
Research shows that low teen self-esteem is the strongest predictor of depression in adolescents. Poor self-esteem is an underlying issue in most mental health and co-occurring disorders, including PTSD, anxiety, substance abuse, and eating disorders. On the other hand, high self-esteem is a protective factor against mental health issues. In one study of adolescents, high self-esteem predicted fewer symptoms of anxiety and depression three years later. That’s why it’s so important to help teens build their appreciation and acceptance of themselves. Here are five ways to help teens build self-esteem.
Tip #13: Don’t Forget to Breathe!
Research shows that breath awareness is among the most effective and accessible tools for self-regulation and calming the nervous system. You can use the breath to activate the relaxation response, which creates a whole range of healthy benefits. And that’s a benefit when you’re parenting teens!
In fact, all you have to do is simply slow down your breathing and you’ll begin to feel the calming effects. Here’s an easy breath practice to reduce stress and enhance mindfulness. Try practicing it once daily—you might be surprised to notice your mood and focus improving right away. Also, if you are practicing self-care, you come from a place of strength.
Sit comfortably, with feet on the floor, eyes closed and hands relaxed and resting on your thighs.
Breathe in slowly through your nose. As your lungs fill, let your chest and belly expand.
You might try counting up to five, seven, or whatever feels comfortable. Or focus on a phrase, such as “Breathing in calm” or simply “Breathing in.”
Breathe out slowly through either nose or mouth, whichever feels more natural. You can count during the exhalation. Make sure the exhale is as long or longer than the inhale. Or use a phrase, such as “Breathing out calm” or simply “Breathing out.”
If you get distracted, bring your mind back to focusing on the breath.
Repeat for several minutes.
Notice how you feel. Is your body more relaxed than before you started? Is your mind calmer?
Tip #14: Be Present, But Don’t Be a Helicopter Parent
There’s an important difference between staying connected and being overprotective. Being a helicopter parent refers to hovering too close as teens attempt to establish their autonomy and identity. Being an over-controlling parent isn’t the right approach for how to raise a successful teenager. In fact, it limits teens’ opportunities to build the essential skills that help them flourish as young adults.
A study examining the link between college students’ well-being and their parents’ levels of control found that students who reported having over-controlling parents experienced significantly higher levels of anxiety and depression and less satisfaction with life. So parenting tweens and teens during middle school and high school requires finding the delicate balance between being present and involved vs. overstepping the appropriate boundaries.
Here are a few helicopter parenting examples that indicate a parent is being overprotective or over-involved with their teenager’s daily life:
- Not allowing teens to make age-appropriate choices
- Cleaning a teen’s room for them
- Stepping in to negotiate conflicts between a teen and their friends
- Overseeing a high school student’s homework and school projects
- Monitoring a teen’s diet and exercise
- Sending multiple texts each day to a child away at college
- Intervening in a teen’s life to prevent them from failing at a task or other effort.
Tip #15: Consider Seeking Support from a Mental Health Professional
Parenting teenagers requires a willingness to accept when you need additional support. Don’t hesitate to check in with a mental health professional when a teen is showing troubling behaviors, such as intense mood swings, crying all the time, or exhibiting anger and aggression. A therapist or a clinician at a treatment center help can identify the problem and recommend the right level of care.
In conclusion, figuring out how to raise teenagers today isn’t easy. However, parenting teens is perhaps the most important and challenging mission that we can undertake in our lifetime. And tools, strategies, and support are accessible.