Success with Teens

By Maria Fontaine and Derek and Michelle Brookes

21 ways to win your teen's love and admiration

There's no question about it. Raising teenagers is one of life's special challenges. The teen years are difficult, and often teens will "share" those difficulties with those living around them.

Their sometimes crusty, disrespectful, or rebellious exteriors can be intimidating and leave parents in a state of shocked confusion, wondering where they went wrong. This is when many parents, not knowing how to try to help their teens, pull back. That's a tragic mistake, because all the while, inside, their teens are desperate for direction, encouragement, love‚ support, understanding, and guidance. Teens have an intense need to feel secure and loved unconditionally. They need to know someone notices their problems and is concerned enough to help them at any cost. It's not an easy ride by any means‚ but parents who hang on and keep loving and reaching out to their teens are far more likely to see them through to victory than those who take a less active role.

Here are 21 tried and true ways to improve your relationship with your teen.

  1. Accept your changing role. The transition from childhood to young adulthood is so gradual that many parents don't see the need to stop treating their teens like children until it's long overdue. Teens are in the process of discovering their own personalities, abilities, and goals, and separating themselves to a greater extent from their parents is part of that process. Teens want to be treated as emerging adults and respected for the individuals they are. In their quest for independence, teens put up their guard against their parents' "parenting." If you can learn to treat your teens as friends when appropriate, they'll be much more likely to drop their guard.
  2. Put yourself in your teen's place. Feelings of insecurity are normal during the teen years. Teens are no longer children, but neither are they fully adults. Their bodies are going through huge changes, and their emotions and hormones are running wild. They are learning to handle more independence and the responsibility that comes with it, and they face decisions and pressures they've never faced before. Remembering these things should help you to not take their emotional and verbal outbursts personally. If you sincerely try to empathize, you'll gain a better understanding of them and their problems and they will feel they have an ally in you.
  3. Keep your cool. Don't allow yourself to be offended by some of the outlandish things they say or do. Sometimes teens say and do odd things just to see what kind of reaction they'll get. Sometimes they're trying to express what's going on inside, but don't know how or don't understand themselves. Other times they're simply being self-centered, as teens tend to be. Your getting upset or expressing shock or horror will only make matters worse. Learn to roll with the punches. If your teens know you will try to understand and sympathize when they vent themselves, they will feel safe around you.
  4. Respect your teen. Respect is a sign of faith. When teens are having a hard time having faith in themselves, a little respect can boost their confidence, spur them on, and help them succeed. Conversely, if they think you don't have faith in them, they'll be much more likely to give up before reaching their potential.
  5. Don't tease or belittle. When your teen is feeling vulnerable--which is most of the time--he or she is likely to take things said in jest personally and consider it ridicule rather than innocent fun.
  6. Be positive and supportive. Most teens feel inferior in some way or another, and their negative view of themselves often spills over into their actions. Try to remain consistently positive and supportive in your reactions. You can't gloss over serious problems or wrongdoing, of course, but you can put a positive spin on almost any situation by talking mostly in terms of solutions and lessons behind them, rather than expressing anger or disappointment. Dwelling on the positive is a sign of unconditional love, which counteracts low self-esteem. Praise your teen every chance you get.
  7. Avoid unnecessary rules. Too many rules and restrictions can cause almost any teen to rebel. At the same time, some rules are needed because it's unwise to give your teen complete free rein. When you feel a new rule is necessary, try to discuss and decide together, rather than dictate. Explain your reasoning, hear your teen out, and get his or her agreement on the terms and consequences for breaking the rule, as much as possible.
  8. Give your teen responsibility. Teens need guidelines, but they also want to be independent and feel trusted. Trust your teen with adult responsibilities, and he or she will try harder to act like an adult. A wise person once said, "Treat people as though they were what they ought to be, and you help them become what they are capable of being." Your teens will make mistakes, as everyone does, but when they see that doesn't diminish your love and faith in them, they will keep trying and eventually succeed.
  9. Earn their confidence by being confidential. Teenagers are sensitive about the things they are going through. No one likes to be the subject of gossip or careless conversation--especially teens. When teens confide in you, they like to know that what they say will be kept as confidential as possible. It may seem like a small matter to you, but it may be a very big matter to them. Betray their confidence, and it will probably be a long time before they confide in you again.
  10. Pray. Whenever you aren't sure what to say or how to react when your teen is having a problem, pray. Send up a silent prayer for wisdom, asking the Lord to give you His understanding and solutions.
  11. Spend time together. Many parents spend a lot less time with their teens than they did when their children were younger. That seems natural since teens need less supervision than children and teens want to assert their independence, but it's often a mistake. Teens need lots of support, guidance, and fresh challenges. They need someone to coach, mentor, and teach them, and no one is in a better position to meet that need than their parents. No other investment will form stronger bonds between parent and teen or pay higher dividends.
  12. Admit your own shortcomings. Teens hate double standards. It takes humility to admit your shortcomings and to apologize when you've made a mistake or you've hurt your teens, but being honest about your own faults and failures will help your teens be honest and open with you about theirs. It will help you and them put their problems in perspective.
  13. Have a sense of humor. There's a time to be serious and focus on long-term goals, but there's also a time to lighten up. Teens admire adults who know how to have fun and enjoy life. Just make sure your humor is in good taste and not at someone else's expense, because teens emulate adults whom they admire.
  14. Express your love. Teens may not like to be kissed and cuddled the way they did when they were younger, but we never outgrow our need to feel loved. Try not to let a day go by without you putting your love for your teen into words and backing up those words with actions.
  15. Listen. Every teen needs a confidant--a true friend they know they can trust with their innermost secrets. Teens have so many things going on inside that it can be quite confusing, yet often they're afraid to talk about it for fear of being misunderstood, ridiculed, or considered naive. Take time to hear them out. They need to feel that someone understands (but avoid "when I was your age" responses, which most teens hate to hear). A common mistake parents make is not listening long enough and therefore jumping to the wrong conclusions. Rather than "showing them the light," gently guide them to come to the right conclusions themselves as they articulate how they feel.
  16. Befriend your teen's friends. Show a sincere interest in your teen's friends. Look for the best in them, and they will probably consider you the coolest parent they know. Then don't be surprised if your house becomes the main hangout for your teen and his or her circle of friends. The noise level and food bill may go up, but the trade-off in knowing where they are and what they're doing will be worth it.
  17. Forgive and forget. Face it--your teens will make mistakes for which they will need to ask and receive forgiveness. Like the rest of us, teens often feel they can't confess their mistakes or wrongdoing because they will forever be labeled by their mistakes. They need to be convinced of your love and readiness to forgive and forget and start anew.
  18. Have conviction. If you're not careful, parental pride, emotional attachments, and the instinctive desire to protect your child can cause you to give in‚ go easy, pull back, or run to the rescue at the wrong time. You may even feel their anger, frustration, and rebellion as your own. That's when it's important to remember that your teen is learning to exercise good judgment, and that whether or not they act like it, they will take their cues from you. If you don't have the conviction to do what is right, despite some unpleasant consequences, chances are they won't either. Sometimes "tough love" is the best love. Teens are very idealistic and will respect you more if you stand up for your convictions, even when it's hard on them or they don't agree, than if you're too lenient.
  19. Be genuine. Teenagers can smell a fake a mile away! Even if you're sincerely trying to relate to them, if you're trying too hard and laying it on too thick, they won't take you seriously. The secret is to be natural. Teens don't want to be patronized or cajoled, but they do want friends--people they know they can count on and feel comfortable with. If you accept them the way they are, they will feel comfortable around you and accept you the way you are.
  20. Be willing to change. You may need to work on changing a few habits or the way you react to things. Why not let this be the motivation you need to get out of the rut you've been in, or to make changes in areas you've known for a while that you need to? It's often easier to change for someone else's sake than solely our own. What better reason could you have to strive to be a better person in every way? Seize it!
  21. Point them to Jesus. The teen years are turbulent times. It's like being lost at sea in a small boat during a storm. Be a lighthouse, pointing your teens to the safe harbor--Jesus. No matter how much you love your teens, Jesus alone can answer their deepest questions and meet the deepest needs of their spirit. You're not their Savior; Jesus is. You can't be with them every second or rescue them from everything, but you can point them to the One who can.