20 powerful tips for parenting teenagers

Daniel Wong

(Photo by Getty Images)

Do you want your teenager to become a mature, responsible adult? I’m sure you do, but there will definitely be roadblocks along the way.

Teenagers are going through many changes, so you’ll need to adjust your parenting style too.

Parenthood is a hard job that gets even harder when your child reaches the teenage years. I know this for a fact, because I’ve spoken to and worked with more than 20,000 teenagers.

Through my work, I’ve come to realise that no two teenagers are the same. That may be stating the obvious. But, at the same time, there are proven tips that every parent can use to raise a happy, successful, and well-adjusted teenager.

Here are 20 powerful tips I recommend that every parent follow:

1. Pick your battles

Things like hairstyle and choice of clothes don’t matter much in the long-run. Focus on the things that do matter: responsibilities, values, and character.

It’s better to pick your battles than to turn every disagreement into a shouting match.

2. Decide on rules and boundaries in advance

I’ve worked with many teenagers who feel that they live under the thumb of their parents.

Teenagers who help to create rules and boundaries are more likely to follow them. So, whenever possible, involve your teenager in the process of creating rules and setting boundaries. Put these rules down in writing, along with any consequences in case your teenager breaks the rules.

3. Address one issue at a time

It’s important to focus when you’re trying to be productive. The same principle holds true when parenting your teenager.

Teenagers often exhibit more than one problematic behaviour at a time.

Address each issue separately, because if you try to tackle all the issues at once, you won’t get anywhere.

4. Use “I” statements instead of “you” statements

This is a subtle change that can have a major impact on your parent-child relationship.

Here’s an example: Saying “I feel disrespected when you speak to me like that” is far better than saying “You are so rude”.

“I” statements are less accusatory than “you” statements, so your teenager will likely respond better to the former rather than the latter.

5. Help them reflect on their choices

As far as possible, don’t nag or criticise your teenager. Instead, calmly discuss what he could do differently in the future and other options he could have considered.

When your teenager disobeys you, you might be tempted to say something like, “How dare you?! I told you that you weren’t allowed to do that.” But this parenting approach won’t work in the long term.

By helping your teenager reflect on their choices, they’ll grow and mature more quickly.

6. Keep the lines of communication open

Teenagers must know that they can come to you with their problems, without you jumping to conclusions or overreacting.

If they don’t have this assurance, they won’t share their problems with you.

Here are some ways to keep the lines of communication open:

  • Listen more
  • Speak less
  • Don’t lecture
  • If you do lecture, be brief
  • Ask for your teenager’s opinion
  • Don’t interrupt your teenager
  • Show basic courtesies to your teenager

7. Don’t lecture or discipline them when you’re angry

When you’re calm, it’s easier to converse in a civilised manner and to negotiate effectively with your teenager.

It can be difficult to take a step back in the heat of the moment, but as you do so consistently, you’ll find that your relationship with your teenager will improve.

8. Explain your values without preaching

Your values probably aren’t the same as your teenager’s, but this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t share what you believe.

Rather than preach to your teenager, tell stories from your own life and from the lives of inspiring people you know.

It’s more likely that you’ll get through to your teenager this way, because preaching and lecturing come across as condescending.

9. Respect their opinions and feelings

Teenagers have their own opinions and feelings. You don’t have to agree with them, but you must respect them.

For instance, your teenager might declare that extracurricular activities are a waste of time. Instead of telling them why they’re wrong, ask questions to understand their point of view.

You might just realise that they’ve thought about certain perspectives that you haven’t.

10. Educate yourself on teen development

Parents who educate themselves on teen development usually have a better relationship with their children.

As with anything worth doing, becoming a world-class parent takes effort. I encourage you to read books (like these), attend seminars and take courses.

The more you learn, the more you’ll be amazed at how much you didn’t know before.

(Photo by Getty Images)

11. Respect their privacy

Unless you suspect that your teenager is in physical danger, resist the urge to snoop around.

You have a right to know where she is, whom she’s hanging out with, and what time she’s expected to be home. But, in general, you don’t have the right to read their text messages or journal, or go through their personal belongings.

By showing your teenager respect, they’ll learn to show you respect too.

12. Give them responsibilities

Without responsibilities, your teenager will never learn to be responsible.

For example, teenagers today are busy, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t help out around the house. If you think a teenager’s time is too important to perform chores, it’s only a matter of time before they conclude that they are too important to perform chores.

Having this mindset is what leads to an unhealthy sense of entitlement in the future.

13. Apologise when you’ve made a mistake

No parent is perfect, so don’t be too proud to admit it when you’ve made a mistake.

By modelling humility for your teenager, he/she is more likely to follow your example. What’s more, their respect for you will grow, and you’ll develop a stronger relationship with them in the process.

14. Don’t bail them out

When teenagers makes a mistake, they must learn to take full responsibility for their actions.

If they habitually oversleep, don’t drive them to school each time.

If they forget to bring their homework to school time and time again, don’t bring it to school for them.

If they break school rules repeatedly, don’t intervene to prevent them from getting punished.

It’s important to show a teenager grace, but not at the expense of helping them understand that choices lead to consequences.

15. Whenever possible, give them choices

Nobody likes to feel as though they’re being forced into doing something, especially teenagers.

Teenagers crave a sense of autonomy and control. So, whenever possible, give them a choice, e.g., when they’d prefer to do their homework, what food they’d like to eat, what they’d like to do as a family. (Of course, I’m not suggesting that you bend over backwards to satisfy any ridiculous requests)

16. Acknowledge their good behaviour

Rather than point out a teenager’s flaws, make an intentional effort to acknowledge their good behaviour. After all, teenagers can’t be nagged into changing their behaviour.

The more effective approach is to make a remark like “I notice that you were focused today while doing your homework” or “Thank you for putting your dirty clothes in the laundry basket”.

In the long-run, the behaviour you focus on — whether good or bad — will multiply. So you might as well pay more attention to your teenager’s good behaviour.

17. Choose the right time to talk about challenging issues

Pick the right time to talk about serious issues related to grades, alcohol, sex, etc.

Schedule a time with your teenager in advance so that he/she doesn’t get caught off guard.

Do your best to catch them at a time when they aren’t tired or cranky. This will give you the best chance of having a productive conversation about the issue at hand.

18. Be vulnerable

Dare to open up to your teenager. Share with them the mistakes you’ve made and the setbacks you’ve experienced. Explain to them what you’ve learned through the process of overcoming those challenges.

Opening up to your teenager shows your personal side. It will also make them feel more comfortable about sharing their struggles with you.

19. Show an interest in the things they care about

You probably don’t share many of the same interests as a teenager, so make an effort to find out about their hobbies.

What type of music does he/she like? Which shows does he/she follow? Which YouTube channels is he/she subscribed to?

By showing interest in the things your teenager cares about, you’ll build a stronger connection with him/her.

20. Have regular family meals

Many studies have shown that having regular family meals is beneficial for the development of children and teenagers.

Eating together as a family has been linked to:

  • Lower incidence of substance abuse
  • Lower incidence of depression
  • Lower incidence of eating disorders
  • Improved academic performance
  • Higher self-esteem

It may not be possible to eat together every night, but try to do so at least three or four times a week.

Conclusion

I know what you’re thinking: This is a lot of advice to soak in.

At this point, you may feel overwhelmed. You may even feel like you’ll never be the perfect parent to your teenager. But remember, it’s about progress, not perfection.

I encourage you to revisit this article often. When doing so, ask yourself these questions:

  • How many of these tips have I implemented?
  • Which tips have worked?
  • Which tips haven’t worked?
  • What can I do differently in the coming week or month?

As you identify what’s working and what isn’t, you’ll find yourself growing into a parent who knows how to bring out the best in your teenager.

Parenting teenagers is hard work, but I know you have what it takes to do a great job!

Daniel Wong works with students 1-to-1 to help them become motivated, focused, and disciplined. Download his FREE e-book, “16 Keys to Motivating Your Teenager”.