A guide to positive parenting your teenagers

If you are feeling disconnected from your teenager and they are regularly complaining that you don’t understand them, don’t trust them or are generally “ruining their lives” – fear not, you are not alone! 

In this article, we draw on advice from our team of SLT Academic Mentors to explore several ways that parents can help their son or daughter to flourish through the turbulent teenage years. 

Being a teenager is actually much harder than being an adult. Their bodies are undergoing a difficult combination of extensive hormonal changes at the same time as they are required to develop new relationship skills. We hope the following ideas are helpful:

1. Read between the lines   

Teenagers are not the best communicators so sometimes you will need to read between the lines. Even if you don’t agree with what they are saying, it is often best to empathise with them and show your understanding for their concern. What might seem like an irrelevant issue to you may be a significant issue to them. Don’t always try to solve their problems, but listen and discuss them together. Then empower them to find the solution.

2. Routine, routine, routine 

A clear structure and routine benefits everyone. Teenagers may claim that they want freedom and autonomy, but home comforts and rituals are often more important to fostering a feeling of security than they realise. So keep going with the Friday night takeaways, Saturday morning sports fixtures and the weekend shopping trips. These activities will keep you connected and make them feel as though they still matter to you.

It is also important to consider sleep routines. Most teenagers will have a completely different body clock to younger siblings and parents, and will need time at the weekend to catch up on sleep. However, it is still a good idea to establish a weekend wake-up time to keep their sleep hygiene in good order. For example, perhaps a Sunday morning park run at 11am, allowing time for a lie-in before doing some exercise. We have written more about the importance of sleep and maintaining a healthy school routine here.

3. Empathise with teenagers about their workload

Being a teenager also comes with the pressure of completing secondary school examinations, such as GCSE’s, A-Levels or the IB. When your teen comes home complaining about their workload the best thing you can do it to empathise with them, and offer support where you can. Can you proofread their essay, test them on their revision, or even bring them a cup of tea if they are up late working? Making them feel supported will work wonders for your relationship. If you feel problems are acute and they would benefit from additional external support you can also consider investing in an experienced private tutor or mentor. Read more about private tutors, here and academic mentors, here.

Achieving the academic results your child deserves is like baking a cake. You need to make sure they have all the right ingredients that make up the recipe for success. These ingredients include happiness, engagement, confidence and motivation. Once they have all of these in place, positive results will follow. If you feel your child isn’t entirely happy in their current school do not be afraid to consider a change – it is rarely too late.

4. Sex, drugs and relationships 

It is highly likely that your child, even if they are confined within the walls of a rural boarding school, will be exposed to some form of alcohol and drugs during their teenage years. The best thing you can do as a parent is to make sure they have been prepared for this time and that they understand the impacts that these substances can have on their mind and body. They need to know who to talk to if they have questions.  

When it comes to sex education, most parents, given the chance, would prefer never to think of their teenage child having sex, and your teenager does not want to think about you having sex either. Nevertheless, human sexuality is such that both are likely events. In an ideal world, you have already laid the groundwork for developing a healthy dialogue with them about sex, rather than thinking a solitary sex talk is sufficient. Even if you don’t feel comfortable talking about sex you can take opportunities to bring sex and relationships up in conversations and into the context of family values. If you can, it is best to remain open and approachable for your child so they feel they can talk to you if necessary, rather than keeping secrets that may lead to issues later down the line.

5. Work together  

Give out compliments rather than criticism whenever possible; teens can be very defensive, which often stems from underlying insecurities. For example, if you have gone to watch them play in a sports fixture, avoid giving them tips after the game, but rather congratulate them for getting out there and competing. Focus on the positives, so instead of nagging them for having a messy room thank them for putting their dirty dishes in the dishwasher. Avoiding conflict when you can and ‘picking your battles’ can often be the best option for the whole family. 

It is also important to manage your expectations. Sit down with your child and make sure that your aspirations and goals align. If you have one idea of the direction you want them to go and they are heading down a different path then conflict is inevitable. It really is helpful to get a deep understanding of what their ‘teenager identity’ involves, and how they will be pulled in all sorts of directions by teachers, friends and their own inner battles as well as their perceived expectations from you. Working together and guiding them on their path to growing up will ensure they stay on track, and ultimately get the results they need.

6. Manage their screen time

Smartphones play a fundamental role in our everyday lives and it is becoming more and more challenging to manage screen time. Teenagers have far less resistance than most of us. Not only does the time spent on social media and instant messaging platforms affect their positions in the social hierarchy, but an increasing number of school work tasks are facilitated by a mobile phone, tablet or computer. The best way to reduce ‘screen addiction’ is to tackle it as a family, with parents leading by example. Decide specific times of day where screens are not allowed, for example, during dinner time or an hour before bedtime. You can also discuss how to manage screen time together, such as using the functions offered by your smartphone, like turning off notifications, and using ‘sleep mode’. A team approach will ensure your teen doesn’t feel too hard done by.

7. Let them host their friends

Allowing your teens to build their friendships away from school is important. Letting them do this around the safety of the family home is even better. Seeing how your teen interacts with their friends will help you get to know them better. So let them host a small dinner party, or bring a friend along to the family outing at the weekend. Not only will your teen get more enjoyment from the occasion, they will also feel a greater degree of trust from you which will help build your relationship.

8. Instill trust and freedom

Unless you have a specific reason, there is no need to helicopter-parent your teen. It might seem daunting seeing your child all dressed up and leaving the house, but remember that was you not so long ago. Making mistakes is a huge part of growing up and allowing your teen to learn from their mistakes is key to their development as healthy, resilient people. It is of course necessary to ask them for a little reassurance and clarity about their plans before they set off, if they feel trusted sharing what they are up to will come a lot more naturally to them.

If you, and your child, would like any help and guidance at any point during your child’s education then please do not hesitate to get in touch with one of our education consultants.