Positively Parenting your Teenager
So, you are the proud parent of a teenager. Congratulations! The endless nights of crying, feedings and diaper changes are long gone. The nightmares of potty training and coloring on the walls are now only a fleeting memory. Parenting can only be smooth sailing from here, right? Hmm… Any parent of a teenager will attest to the inaccuracy of that statement!
This is because parenting teenagers is challenging. You are deep in the trenches, and sometimes it feels like you are fighting a losing battle. However, parenting your child through the teenage years does not need to feel like war. It can actually be a positive experience! So today, learn how to positively parent your teenager with good parenting advice, tips, and the resources we share below.
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What Makes Teenagers Difficult to Parent?
Before we can learn how to parent teenagers positively, we need to understand how the teenage brain works. In his book The Teenage Brain, Dr. Frances E. Jensen points out that “the teen brain is only about 80 percent of the way to maturity.” He explains that this might be why teenagers behave in unpredictable ways. For example, they might have dramatic mood swings, problems focusing, and impulsive behavior.
Given that this is typical developmental for teens, and that as parents, we ourselves have been there, wouldn’t it make sense that we understand them? Unfortunately, it’s still a challenge and one we have to be patient with them and ourselves with.
Five Tips to Positively Parent your Teenager
But how can we positively parent our teenagers when they start in with the sassy remarks and the eyerolls? How can we keep our cool when our teenager yells or disrespects us or our rules? When teenagers behave in this manner, the parent’s knee-jerk reaction is to behave poorly. Cue the lecturing, yelling, and soon it is an all-out brawl.
In her book Positive Discipline for Teenagers, Jane Nelson suggests that you can “learn effective parenting skills to replace the old patterns… You will need to forgive yourself, learn from your mistakes, and then choose to ‘act’ by practicing your new skills.” Positive parenting can be learned.
So with that said, study these five parenting tips to help you and your teenager have a positive parenting experience.
1. Understand their Love Language
Teenagers are in a constant state of transition. What they enjoyed yesterday might be radically different than what they like today. While this can be frustrating, understanding that their “Love Language” may change can help you love them the way they need.
As a young child, your teenager’s primary “Love language” may have been “Acts of Service,” however, now their primary “Love Language” is “Quality Time.” Take time to learn your teenager’s primary “Love Language” and adjust accordingly.
How to Apply this in Real Life: If you find your teenager’s primary “Love Language” is “Quality Time,” block out time in your schedule to spend one-on-one with your teenager. Make sure this time is distraction-free. Make a point to set aside your smartphone and be in the moment with your teenager. Show them you are actively putting them above all your other responsibilities.
What if their “Love Language” is “Words of Affirmation?” Make sure to give them positive, affirming love and praise daily. Be specific to your teenager. For example, if your teen excels at basketball, you might say, “I’ve noticed your dribbling skills are really improving. I can see you have been practicing.” Also, don’t forget that a simple “I love you” goes a long way.
2. Show Love First
When our teenagers break a rule or make a mistake, it is so easy to lose our tempers. We begin lecturing, raising our voices, and the issue escalates. This can be even more difficult in a household where the parents are not unified in dealing with their children.
Many therapists agree that a good parenting tip is for parents to show their teenagers love first. When we try to use force with our teenagers, we lose perspective and, in turn, we lose control. On the other hand, we tell them we are on their side when we show love first. This especially rings true when a couple is unified in their responses to their teenagers.
How to Apply this in Real Life: Let’s look at an example. Imagine your teenager broke her midnight curfew and finally comes home at 2 a.m. As she walks in the door, instead of starting in on lecturing and yelling, you hug her. Then, you say something along the lines of “I love you. I am happy you are home, but I was really worried when you missed your curfew. I am on your side, and I would like to understand why this happened and how we can avoid this issue in the future.”
Can you imagine how differently this scenario could have played out? Of course, this is always easier said than done, but we believe in you! Consider reading up on some other wonderful ideas and resources on how you can show love to your teenager!
3. Spend Quality Time with them
This one is huge! Quality time might not be your teenager’s primary “Love Language,” however it is so important to establish regular time spent together. This time spent together creates connections and bonds between you and your teenager.
Also, it is often during these times your teenager will be more likely to open up and talk with you about what is happening in their lives. Quality time spent together will strengthen the trust in the parent-teenager relationship, which will make your teen more likely to confide in you in times of need.
How to Apply this in Real Life: This is the fun part! Quality time looks different for every family simply because each teenager and family is different. It could be as simple as going out to get ice cream together, family game nights, or talking together around the dinner table. We know this can be tricky especially when you have a reluctant child. If you are stuck wondering how to spend quality time with your teenager, try out our Quality Time Kit which has some great games and activities perfect for teens and parents to bond over.
Want more parenting advice for spending quality time with your teen? Don’t be afraid to do activities your teenager enjoys. It might not be your idea of a good time to play video games or ride dirt bikes. However, we encourage you to get out of your comfort zone, and show interest in your teenager’s hobbies. They will see and appreciate that you are taking the time to do what they enjoy.
4. Listen to them
But how can I listen to them if they won’t talk to me, right? Many teenagers are known for bottling up their feelings and giving their parents the silent treatment. They might feel like there is no way we can understand what they are going through, or they fear we might lecture or dismiss their feelings.
In the book How to Talk so Teens will Listen, and How to Listen so Teens will talk, the authors recommend techniques on listening and speaking to your child in an understanding and respectful manner. When we acknowledge how our teenagers feel and alter how we respond to them in different situations, it can open the lines of communication between teenagers and parents. Teenagers want respect and to know that they have been heard. And isn’t that just what we want as parents?
How to Apply this in Real Life: Imagine a scenario where your teenager just realized they have a three-page essay due in class the next day. Your teenager begins to complain about the class and their teacher. As a parent, it would be easy to dismiss this and say, “You got yourself into this mess by procrastinating, so stop complaining and write your essay.” But, now your teenager is probably complaining about you, too!
Now, imagine that you listen to them instead of lecturing your teenager. Instead of scolding your teen, you say something like, “Oh, I’m sorry you forgot about this paper. It seems like it is a really important assignment.” Now your teenager feels listened to and validated in their feelings. Your teen will most likely affirm that it is an important assignment and get to work on it. There was no shaming, no lecturing, and your teenager took responsibility for their actions. Win-Win!
5. Take Care of yourself
Listen. When our self-care tanks run on empty, how can we possibly give our best efforts to good parenting? Many parents days are often filled with housework, homework, work-work, chauffeuring our kids from place to place, cooking, bills, errands… the list never ends. Not to mention, sleep and exercise are put on the back burner.
Now picture your teenager, phone in hand and rolling their eyes. Are you physically and emotionally in a good spot to react positively in this situation? Most likely you are not. Take time to fill up your bucket, so you can positively parent your teenager.
How to Apply this in Real Life: Taking care of yourself as a person will help you give 100% of yourself as a parent. You will be a healthier and happier person as a parent and in your marriage. Take care of yourself by getting more sleep, eating healthier, exercising, and making time for fun in your life.
You are preparing your teenager to be an adult someday. Don’t you want them to see that being an adult can be fun too? So alongside taking care of yourself, bust out those dance moves in the kitchen, and belt out those tunes in the car. Could it be embarrassing for your teenager? Possibly, but they must see you as an actual person, not only a parent.
Start Positively Parenting your Teenager today!
One of the most important parenting tips to remember is that the teenage years don’t last forever, even if it truly feels that way some days. We have all been there, and we will all have days when it feels like a war with our teenagers.
The good news is that tomorrow is always a new day to try again. We can learn to transform our so-so parenting skills into good parenting– even GREAT parenting! So, hang in there! You and your child might someday look back on this teenage experience and think, “Wow, what a great ride!”
Ahmann, E. (2002). Promoting positive parenting: An annotated bibliography. Pediatric nursing, 28(4), 382
CE positive parenting strategies – onlineceucredit.
Faber, A., Mazlish, E., & Coe, K. A. (2016). How to talk so teens will listen & listen so teens will talk. William Morrow.
Jensen, F. (2016). The Teenage brain. Harpercollins Canada.
The love language™ quiz. Discover Your Love Language – The 5 Love Languages®.
Nelsen, J., & Lott, L. (2012). Positive discipline for teenagers: Empowering your teens and yourself through kind and firm parenting. Three Rivers Press.
Moore, K. A., Guzman, L., Hair, E., Lippman, L., & Garrett, S. (2004). Parent-teen relationships and interactions: Far more positive than not. Child trends, 25(1), 1-8.