How to enjoy parenting teens and help your kids thrive

I had a major Aha! moment, one summer when my almost 14 year old daughter had some friends over for a sleepover. Now, this was the second night in a row of sleepovers, which is not something we normally do. I agreed reluctantly, after extracting several promises from my daughter, including her reassurance that the girls would have the lights off and actually try to go to sleep at 11pm. Not only did they have to get up for summer camp at 7:30am, but I personally wanted to be in bed at 11pm.

I knew one of the girls likes to stay up late at her own house, so I made a big deal about this, pointing out that if they wanted to stay up late, I would recommend they sleep at their own houses.

The next day, my daughter shared with me that the other two girls had wanted to wait until I went to bed and then get up and sneak outside. My daughter nixed it, pointing out that she had an agreement with me. One of the other girls — and by the way, these girls spend a lot of time at my house, and I had made the agreement clear to them as well — argued:

“You won’t do it just because your Mom said No? Who cares what she wants? Why would you just do what your parents want?”

My daughter answered:
“Because I want to!”

And that was the Aha Moment. Plenty of kids DON’T want to do what their parents want them to, particularly by the time they’re 14. And of course Alice has plenty of times when she wants something different than I do, which can lead to long discussions about why she should be allowed to do something I’m reluctant to permit. This sleepover, in fact, is a good example of a time when I decided to allow it — but only after we agreed on certain terms.

Of course Alice wanted to fulfill those terms. She knows our whole relationship is based on trust, and our relationship is one of the most important things in her life. If she had broken our agreement, and I had found out, I would have been terribly wounded, and she knew that. At core, Alice keeps her agreements with me for the same reason I keep mine with her — we would never intentionally hurt each other.

We tend our relationship, we nurture it and make repairs when it frays, and we would no more betray each other than we’d set fire to our house.

Before you assume that my daughter is just a cooperative, compliant kid, I need to explain that she’s extremely strong-willed. When she was a toddler, people used to say things to me like “I pity you when she’s a teenager.” Every step of the way, I have worked to stay connected to her, because I found that more fulfilling, but also because it was the only way to keep her cooperating. She and I joke that if she hadn’t had such an understanding mother, she would have ended up as a criminal. Given her innate rebelliousness, this is only partly a joke, to both of us. So insuring that a kid like this would talk to me right through the teen years was a high priority to me starting in the toddler years!

The interesting thing to me is that the friend in question has told Alice she and her mother have a terrible relationship. Clearly, she wouldn’t think twice about violating an agreement with her mom. And yet she says that Alice is so lucky to have “the best Mom in the world.” She clearly can’t even imagine the kind of relationship Alice has with me, and the fact that it isn’t about having a great mom, but about working together to have a great relationship.

I have to admit, it brings tears to my eyes to think about this girl’s disconnection from her parents, a disconnection she is clearly now making worse with her behavior. I know her parents love her. I know she longs for their love. I wish I knew her parents well enough to have this conversation. But even more, I wish I could tell every parent of a six year old to start now to build a close relationship with their child. You’ll be so grateful you did, when they’re 14.

This whole website is designed to help you build that relationship. But here are the basics. The earlier you start, the better.

1. Stop raising your voice, and start listening. Especially when tempers flare and you get upset. If you fly off the handle, you erode the connection with your child. If you listen and try to see things from your child’s point of view, you create a bridge of understanding that will last the rest of your life. Notice that to do this, you need to regulate your own emotions. Kids lose respect for parents who indulge in their own tantrums.

2. Foster emotional intelligence. Kids with high EQ make better choices, because they aren’t driven by the need to prove themselves with their peers, or by their own upsets that they can’t manage. To raise an emotionally intelligent child, start by offering emotional safety, soothing, and empathy. Then, model how kids can express their needs and feelings without attacking others. Finally, allow all emotions, even while you limit behavior.

3. Stop punishing. You never need to punish to teach your child a lesson. Just set whatever limits are necessary, with empathy (which means acknowledging your child’s perspective). Punishment erodes the parent-child relationship so your child loses the desire to cooperate and follow your lead. It also makes your child more likely to lie to you.

4. Prioritize the relationship. Kids can’t articulate it, but they want to know that we adore them, believe in them, and find such value in them that caring for them makes us happy. When we constantly give them the message that other things — our phones, our work, their siblings, keeping the house picked up — are more important, they don’t develop the unshakable inner happiness that allows them to make good choices in life. When kids feel disconnected, they act out, so strengthening and sweetening your interactions with your child is the recipe for more cooperation, as well as a better relationship. Maybe the most important thing you can do to help your child thrive is simply to enjoy your child and take pleasure in who he or she is.

This respectful parenting raises a child who tends their relationship with you. And that makes for a trustworthy teen.

In many ways, American teens have never had it tougher. Perhaps a surprising statement, given the United States’ obvious affluence compared to the rest of the world. If you’re a parent today, you know what I mean. Social pressures are more pervasive and destructive than ever before in American history. Parents often feel helpless to equip their teens with the tools to navigate – and steer clear – of harmful relationships, attitudes and behaviors.

Ideally, the process of equipping our kids to live and thrive in an often Christian-hostile world begins as soon as they are born. In fact, parents are the single most important developmental influence in a child’s life, apart from the Holy Spirit himself. But even if time has slipped away, and your teenager seems out of reach, you can begin to lay building blocks to help your teen grow to maturity in Christ and make a positive impact on his or her world. Love, commitment, self-discipline, perseverance and a lot of prayer are required, but you can do it.

Assisting your teen in forging a strong, positive identity is one way to help her form convictions based on truth, and then stand firm in them regardless of what everyone else does.

As parents, we can build our teen’s identity by using a brick mason’s approach. Masonry is an art that requires intense study of the project’s design before setting the first brick in place. The job is messy, and it requires hands-on application and commitment.

Parental brick-layers labor alongside our teens as they experience the joy of discovering their significance in Christ and their identity. Teens today are overscheduled and often lack the skills to communicate or set boundaries. They need our help to decide which bricks fit and which ones don’t.

The challenge? To encourage them to be who God made them to be, rather than who we want them to be.

Brick-by-brick, we can make a difference for our teens and in their world.

Brick #1: Encourage Self Discovery

My husband Derek shared a devotion about integrity with our 14-year-old son Justin and his friend Tim* (name changed). Derek asked them, “How committed are you to integrity?”

“I’m not that committed. But I want to be,” Tim answered.

Derek said, “Telling the truth is integrity. Thanks for being honest.”

“I get in trouble with certain friends,” Tim said. “The pressure to be liked affects me.”

“Until you decide who you are,” Derek told Tim, “you will be like a chameleon, blending in to whatever situation or whoever you are with.”

Derek mentioned a former game show and said, “Will the real Tim please stand up? Until you figure out who the God-designed Tim is, you will struggle with your friends.”

Brick #2: Acknowledge Natural Abilities

Teens yearn for our support and relationship. It’s important to affirm their natural abilities. Be their cheerleader. Attend activities even if they say, “It’s no biggie.”

Encourage athletes to stay involved in sports throughout high school. Challenge the artsy to try a new instrument, audition for a play, take a watercolor class or voice lessons. If they love to argue, consider the debate team. Talk about career choices that use their talents. For example, math skills are priceless for computer software engineers.

Brick #3: Create a Family Motto

When my friend Beth’s three teens were growing up, their family motto was “We aren’t quitters.” Anytime her son or daughters wanted to stop short of a commitment, they heard this phrase. Eventually Beth’s children believed, “I belong to a non-quitting family.”

By creating a tagline, our family identity is established. Then when difficulties arise, our motto serves as a stake in the ground declaring who we are as individuals — and as family.

Brick #4: Value Uniqueness

Physically and emotionally, teens’ lives constantly change. They can feel overscheduled, unknown, abandoned, or even betrayed. Adolescents still want a unique place in our home. They need to know they belong and that they matter.

Encourage busy teens to enjoy down time, which strengthens their creativity and problem-solving skills. Inform your son his sense of humor is missed when he’s gone. Tell your daughter you notice her thankful heart.

Brick #5: Highlight Spiritual Gifts

Ever since our son Justin was little, he has shown kindness to kids that are different. As a high school freshman, he continues to tap the heart of the lonely.

Justin’s gym teacher asked the students to share who their best friend was and why. Both a popular and unpopular guy picked Justin. Their reasons: “He shows interest in me. He makes me laugh. He sits by me. He sticks up for me.”

We affirmed Justin for using his gift of mercy with his friends.

Study verses about spiritual gifts with your teens: Romans 12:3-8; 1 Corinthians 12:1-31; 1 Corinthians 14:1-40; Ephesians 4:7-16; and 1 Peter 4:7-11.

Brick #6: Reinforce Spiritual Identity

No brick is more foundational than this one. When teens understand their worth in Christ, they can reject negative thinking that peers, insecurities and problems hurl on them. Just because teens fail — which they will — doesn’t mean they are a failure.

Teens develop confidence when they believe they are loved by God — no matter what. This inner strength will carry them through trials and peer pressure. As they search for significance, our teens can influence their peers to do the same.

Google “Who I am in Christ.” Print and review with your son or daughter. If someone tries to embarrass them about a mistake, say, “There is no condemnation for those in Christ” (Romans 8:1). Don’t criticize them when they are knocked down. Instead extend your hand and your heart.

Construct A Strong Identity Wall

Building our teens’ identity is a long process. The Great Wall of China took years of extensive labor before it fended off enemies. Our teens live in a hostile culture too. They need a wall of protection. As parental masons, we can help them stand up under fire.

The challenge is to be like Beth’s family — and not quit.

Amy Morin, LCSW, is the Editor-in-Chief of Verywell Mind. She’s also a psychotherapist, international bestselling author and host of the The Verywell Mind Podcast.

Cara Lustik is a fact checker and copywriter.

How to enjoy parenting teens and help your kids thrive

It can be difficult to find ways to give teens positive attention. Now that they’ve outgrown a lot of childhood activities, it may be more difficult to find family activities they’re interested in.

The teen years are also the time when young people begin to spend more time with friends than family.   And without a concerted effort to create quality family time, many teens begin to drift apart from their parents.

Although it’s developmentally normal for teens to become increasingly independent, it is essential to invest your energy into maintaining a good relationship—even when you have trouble communicating.

Rather than emphasize the quantity of time you spend together, focus on creating quality time together. Here are 10 ways to create quality time to spend with your teen, even if it’s just a few minutes each day.

1. Turn off the Electronics

If you’re like most families these days, electronics are likely to get in the way of face-to-face communication.   Set limits on screen time for the entire family. And establish a household rule that says electronics need to be shut off at certain times.

Set aside a “no electronics” time at least once a week. Even if it’s just for an hour, shut off all TVs, computers and cell phones and see what happens. It’s likely you’ll have a much better chance of getting your teen to talk to you.

2. Eat Dinner Together

Eating dinner—or at least one meal per day together—can create an opportunity to talk to your teen. During meal times, shut off the electronics and focus on the conversation. It can be the best way to find out about your teen’s day.

3. Step Into Your Teen’s World

It’s likely that your teen enjoys things you know nothing about. Be willing to step into your teen’s world, even when it’s not something you particularly enjoy.

For example, if your teen enjoys video games, try playing a game together. Let your teen teach you about it or show you something new.

4. Do Something Active

Sometimes teens aren’t much for just sitting and talking. But, if you get them to play catch or do something that gets you moving, it can lead to more natural conversations.

5. Do Something Nice for Others Together

There’s something about doing a good deed that really helps improve a relationship. Whether you make a meal for a neighbor or volunteer for a community service project, it can do wonders for your relationship. It can give you time to talk and can also help your teen see the value of helping others.

6. Go for a Drive Together

Car rides can be an excellent way to strike up a conversation. One of the good things about riding in a car is that you don’t have to make eye contact. This can help many teens feel more comfortable bringing up uncomfortable subjects.

7. Go for a Walk

Not only does going for a walk give you an added health benefit, but it can also be a good way to spend quality time with your teen. A stroll around the neighborhood gets you away from all the distractions at home and it can give you a chance to talk privately.

8. Do a Project Together

Although many teens might complain about having to get involved in a project, they often enjoy it once they get started. Whether you’re washing your car or painting a room, invite your teen to get involved.

9. Teach Your Teen Something New

Show your child how to do something new. Whether you can pass on your cooking skills or you can help your teen learn Chinese, offer to help your teen learning something new.

Don’t force it if your teen isn’t interested. However, you will often find they’re very interested in understanding how you do the things you do.

10. Schedule a Family Night

Set aside time for the entire family to spend time together. Whether you choose to play board games once a month or watch a movie once a week, make it a tradition. This can be important in building a quality relationship with your teen.

Emotional Teens

Full of energy, Rebecca headed to the kitchen for breakfast. Her 17-year-old daughter was already there. As Rebecca sat to eat, her teen accidentally knocked over the milk.

Rebecca told her, “The kitchen towel is behind the flour.”

Her daughter quickly scooted back her chair and stood. “You’re always bossing me around.” By the time she returned to the table, tears were smearing her mascara. Just then Rebecca’s son walked into the room and burped loudly. Immediately her daughter’s fury turned on him.

Not a great way to start a morning, is it? Daily, parents of teens witness the incredible highs (“I aced my biology test!”) and the inconsolable lows (“No one will ever ask me to homecoming!”) that come during the adolescent years.

Teenagers are emotional. Their sudden mood shifts may cause parents to question their overall well-being, as well as set everyone else on edge. So how do parents nurture a strong emotional health in their teenagers?

Offer Affirming Words

During the teen years, affirmation and approval are crucial. Your young man wants to know, Do I have what it takes? Are you proud of me? Am I becoming a man in your eyes? Your young woman wants to know, Am I pretty? Am I of value? Am I becoming a woman in your eyes?

While your teen seeks approval from peers and others, you are actually your child’s most important cheerleader. He or she needs your “way to go” and “I’m so proud of you” more than you know.

Not long ago while shopping, I saw a tall, gangly teenage boy walking behind his mom. I overheard her say, “When you grow up, you’ll make a fantastic husband for some lucky young woman. I’m so proud of who you’re becoming.”

As she continued walking and talking, her son followed behind, wearing an embarrassed but pleased smile. His mom had given him an incredible gift of affirmation. It’s amazing what a sentence or a few words from us can mean in a teen’s life. Try these statements and watch how your teen responds:

  • Have I told you lately how glad I am that you’re my son/daughter?
  • I thanked God for you this morning.
  • You’re doing a great job!

(When you can’t say these things in person, use technology. You can text your teens to affirm them.)

Show Unconditional Love

Love is the most basic of all emotional needs. When teens know that God and their parents love them, they feel they have value and significance. Be careful, however. All love is not equal. Parents can choose between two kinds of love: conditional and unconditional.

Conditional love requires a certain behavior or performance. If you express your love only after your son catches a touchdown pass or your daughter gets a leading role in the school musical, he or she will quickly pick up what pushes your “love” button. Or if you express your love only if your son wears his hair a certain length and if your daughter is thin, your teens will pick up that they are only worthy of your love because of something they are or aren’t. Conditional love is either “love if” or “love because of” — and it is highly unhealthy.

The healthy alternative is unconditional love, which means you love your teen “in spite of” — even when he drops the game-winning pass in the end zone, even when she finds herself on the stage crew and not in the cast. It’s putting an arm around a shoulder and saying, “You did your best. I’m proud of the way you tried.” Unconditional love says to your child, There is nothing you can do to make me love you more. You will never lose my love.

Stay Connected

Another way to show your love and connect is through touch — a friendly pat on the shoulder or a warm hug. Some parents think teens outgrow touch, but in fact, physical contact is important to their emotional health. Touch sends the message: You are important to me and worthy of my interest and my time.

You can also draw closer together through discovering and supporting your teen’s uniqueness — especially when he or she has different gifts and passions from yours. What is your teen good at? Tennis? Basketball? Piano? Scottish dancing? Drama? Study your teens and take an involved interest in what they feel called to do or are gifted at. And if they haven’t yet discovered that special talent, point out the godly character traits you observe.

Parents and teens who spend time together regularly and communicate openly with one another enjoy a closer emotional connection. Barb and I stayed connected with our son and daughter by eating breakfast and supper as a family, as often as our schedules allowed. It was our time to find out what everyone was going to do, or had done, that day, as well as a time for Barb and me to share our values with our teens. Our kids knew they had Mom’s and Dad’s full attention to discuss whatever they wanted.

The goal is to make yourself a “safe place” to engage in discussing ideas, doubts or questions — about any topic, including drugs, sex, tattoos, social media, bullying, body changes, success, money, painful relationships, messy worldviews, politics, God and faith. You don’t need to have all the answers, but by providing a safe haven for your teen, you’ll be building a strong emotional connection.

Despite what shows like TheBrady Bunch and Modern Family would have us believe, stepparenting is hard. “Blending a family is like a dish that takes a long time to cook,” says Molly Barrow, PhD, author of How To Survive Step Parenting. “You can’t force it before it’s ready.”

But if you’re patient and take the following tips to heart, the rewards are well worth the effort. These nine tips can help.

1. DON’T come on too strong.

“Many stepparents try too hard to create an instant bond,” says Christina Steinorth, MFT, author of Cue Cards for Life: Gentle Reminders for Better Relationships. “Though they have good intentions, many stepparents try to buy their stepchild’s love through lots of gifts or by being the really cool parent. Kids can see right through that.” Be realistic — and be yourself. You’ll have a better chance of developing that close relationship you long for.

2. Do get on the same parenting page with your new spouse — and their ex.

“All the parents need to discuss their methods — rewards, punishments, chores, allowances, bedtimes, homework — and come to an agreement about the rules,” says Tina B. Tessina, PhD, author of Money, Sex and Kids: Stop Fighting about the Three Things That Can Ruin Your Marriage. “The transition is much easier if the parents are in accord. If something happens you haven’t discussed, just defer to one parent, and work it out later.”

3. DO encourage your stepchild to have one-on-one time with both of their biological parents.

“Some stepparents are threatened by their stepchildren spending time alone with their biological parent — especially their spouse’s ex — but they shouldn’t be,” Steinorth says. “When you’re supportive of it, you’re sending the message that this isn’t a competition for affection and that you truly want to see your stepchildren happy.”

4. DO have family meetings weekly.

Give everyone, including the kids, a chance to share how they feel, what they like and don’t like, and ask them to share both positive and negative opinions,” Tessina says. “Ask for suggestions about how to make things better.”

Continued

5. DON’T set your expectations too high.

“This is especially important for stepparents that already have children of their own,” Steinorth says. “You may feel that you’ll be able to step into a new family and have the same interactions, feelings, and bonds you share with your biological children. What new stepparents seem to forget is that they have a shared history with their biological children that they don’t have with their stepchildren. Give your ‘new family’ time to develop its own unique dynamic, without any pressure of how you think it should be.”

6. DON’T overstep your bounds.

“A big mistake many stepparents make is over-disciplining a child in an attempt to gain respect,” Barrow says. “This often backfires and causes the kid to despise them. I recommend stepping back and allowing the primary parent to discipline their own children for at least the first year. After you’ve spent time earning their affection and respect, then you have a much better chance of being listened to.”

7. Be ready to hear, “You’re not my real mom/dad.”

“This is a stepchild’s way of trying to take power away from your role,” Steinorth says.

Be ready with an appropriate response.

“When it happens, the key is to not deny what your stepchild is telling you. Keep it factual and avoid the power struggle.” Your best bet? “You’re right, I’m not your biological parent, I’m your stepparent. But that doesn’t mean I love or care about you less.”

8. DO plan activities with your stepchild.

Bike together, go bowling, take an art class together, or even go grocery shopping and cook dinner together once or twice a week. “Shared experiences are a great way to bond with stepchildren,” Steinorth says. “Try to carve out one-on-one time together at least once a month.”

9. DON’T take it personally.

“Just remember that your stepchildren are dealing with their own feelings about the end of their biological parents’ marriage,” Steinorth says.

“When parents divorce, many children still hold out hope that their parents will work things out and get back together. But when a stepparent comes into the picture, the new stepparent is, in essence, putting an end to that dream. Kids mourn the loss of what they had hoped could be, and those feelings take time to work through.”

Sources

Molly Barrow, PhD, author, How To Survive Step-Parenting.

Christina Steinorth, MA, MFT, author, Cue Cards for Life: Gentle Reminders for Better Relationships.

Tina B. Tessina, PhD, author, Money, Sex and Kids: Stop Fighting about the Three Things That Can Ruin Your Marriage.

How to enjoy parenting teens and help your kids thrive

Much has been written about the attributes of high-achieving adults, and what makes them different from everyone else. But if you’re a parent, a more compelling question may be: “What can I do to make sure my kids succeed in life?” Here’s what researchers say.

1. Don’t tell them they can be anything they want.

According a survey of 400 teenagers, conducted by market research agency C+R Research, young Americans aren’t interested in doing the work that will need to be done in the years to come. Instead, they aspire to be musicians, athletes, or video game designers, even though these kinds of jobs only comprise 1 percent of American occupations. In reality, jobs in health care or in construction trades will be golden in future decades. Why not steer them into well-paying professions in which there will be a huge shortage of workers?

2. Eat dinner as a family.

According to a nonprofit organization operating out of Harvard University, kids who eat with their families roughly five days a week exhibit lower levels of substance abuse, teen pregnancy, obesity, and depression. They also have higher grade-point averages, better vocabularies, and more self-esteem.

3. Enforce no-screen time.

Researchers have found that the brains of little kids can be permanently altered when they spend too much time using tablets and smartphones. Specifically, the development of certain abilities is impeded, including focus and attention, vocabulary, and social skills. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says children younger than 18 months should have no screen time at all, other than video-chatting. For kids ages two to five, it recommends limiting screen time to one hour a day. For older kids, it’s a matter of making sure media doesn’t take the place of adequate sleep, exercise, and social interaction. The AAP also says parents should make the dinner table, the car, and bedrooms media-free zones.

4. Work outside the home.

There are certainly familial benefits to having a stay-at-home mother, but researchers at Harvard Business School have found that when moms work outside the home, their daughters are more likely to be employed themselves, hold supervisory roles, and make more money than peers whose mothers did not have careers.

5. Make them work.

In a 2015 TED Talk, Julie Lythcott-Haims, author of How to Raise an Adult and the former dean of freshman at Stanford University, cites the Harvard Grant Study, which found that the participants who achieved the greatest professional success did chores as a child.

6. Delay gratification.

The classic Marshmallow Experiment of 1972 involved placing a marshmallow in front of a young child, with the promise of a second marshmallow if he or she could refrain from eating the squishy blob while a researcher stepped out of the room for 15 minutes. Follow-up studies over the next 40 years found that the children who were able to resist the temptation to eat the marshmallow grew up to be people with better social skills, higher test scores, and a lower incidence of substance abuse. They also turned out to be less obese and better able to deal with stress. To help kids build this skill, train them to have habits that must be accomplished every day–even when they don’t feel like doing them.

“Top performers in every field–athletes, musicians, CEOs, artists–are all more consistent than their peers,” writes James Clear, an author and speaker who studies the habits of successful people. “They show up and deliver day after day while everyone else gets bogged down with the urgencies of daily life and fights a constant battle between procrastination and motivation.”

7. Read to them.

Researchers at the New York University School of Medicine have found that babies whose parents read to them have better language, literacy, and early reading skills four years later before starting elementary school. And kids who like books when they’re little grow into people who read for fun later on, which has its own set of benefits. That’s according to Dr. Alice Sullivan, who uses the British Cohort Study to track various aspects of 17,000 people in the U.K. “We compared children from the same social backgrounds who achieved similar tested abilities at ages five and 10, and discovered that those who frequently read books at age 10 and more than once a week when they were 16 had higher test results than those who read less,” she writes for The Guardian. “In other words, reading for pleasure was linked to greater intellectual progress, in vocabulary, spelling, and mathematics.”

8. Encourage them to travel.

The Student and Youth Travel Association (SYTA) surveyed 1,432 U.S. teachers who credit international travel, in particular, with affecting students in a myriad of good ways:

  • Desire to travel more (76%)
  • Increased tolerance of other cultures and ethnicities (74%)
  • Increased willingness to know/learn/explore (73%)
  • Increased willingness to try different foods (70%)
  • Increased independence, self-esteem, and confidence (69%)
  • More intellectual curiosity (69%)
  • Increased tolerance and respectfulness (66%)
  • Better adaptability and sensitivity (66%)
  • Being more outgoing (51%)
  • Better self-expression (51%)
  • Increased attractiveness to college admissions (42%)

If sending your son or daughter abroad or bringing them with you overseas isn’t feasible, take heart. The survey also asked teachers about domestic travel and found similar benefits for students.

9. Let them fail.

While it may seem counterintuitive, it’s one of the best things a parent can do. According to Dr. Stephanie O’Leary, a clinical psychologist specializing in neuropsychology and author of Parenting in the Real World: The Rules Have Changed, failure is good for kids on several levels. First, experiencing failure helps your child learn to cope, a skill that’s certainly needed in the real world. It also provides him or her with the life experience needed to relate to peers in a genuine way. Being challenged also instills the need for hard work and sustained efforts, and also demonstrates that these traits are valuable even without the blue ribbon, gold star, or top score. Over time, children who have experienced defeat will build resilience and be more willing to attempt difficult tasks and activities because they are not afraid to fail. And, she says, rescuing your child sends the message that you don’t trust him or her. “Your willingness to see your child struggle communicates that you believe they are capable and that they can handle any outcome, even a negative one,” she says.

Parent Support Groups, Workshops & Virtual Classes
How to enjoy parenting teens and help your kids thrive

Support Groups

Parents frequently ask about parent support groups. As a national organization it’s impossible for us to know about local parent support groups around the country.

Support groups can be a great place to speak with other parents that are going through the same frustrations and stress you are going through with your teenager.

It is comforting to know you are not alone in this journey.

If your therapist is unaware of support groups, sometimes your library or local colleges will have a listing of them. You may also want to check with your community center. In some areas the local sheriff’s department will have this information.

Another place is the Internet. If you have an adopted child, Adopted Families has different online support groups (scroll to the bottom of the page).

Organizations such as NAMI (National Alliance for Mental Illness) offers discussion groups if you feel this is something that could be beneficial to you.

Parenting Workshops and Virtual Classes

Online cost-effective classes

How to enjoy parenting teens and help your kids thrive

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If you are considering a therapeutic boarding school, residential treatment center or any type of residential therapy, it’s a major decision — both financially and emotionally. It’s good to have opinions from others that have been there before you.

Keep in mind if you have already started your search for residential therapy, speaking to parents that have had their teen in that school or program is also beneficial.

As we offer in our parent tips, always try to ask for parent references from your geographical area. You never know when you will be able to meet with a family in person that has recently attended a program you are considering.

We have been in your shoes. Contact us for more information, resources and tips on researching residential therapy if you are undecided. It’s important to feel confident in your decision.

Be an educated parent. Learn from my mistakes – gain from my knowledge.

P arents’ love for their children can make them do peculiar things. Like staying up until 1 a.m. gluing glitter on a second-grade class project. Or driving 40 miles to deliver a single soccer cleat. Or, perhaps, bribing their teenagers’ way into a fancy college. But one of the weirdest things parents do is love their children more than their partners.

Before you call child services, let me be clear: Of course you have to love your kids. Of course you have to put their needs first. But doing so is also a no-brainer. Children, with their urgent and often tricky-to-ascertain needs, easily attract devotion. Spouses don’t need to be fed and dressed or have their tears dried and are nowhere near as cute. Loving your kids is like going to school–you don’t really have a choice. Loving your spouse is like going to college–it’s up to you to show up and participate.

So why do the harder work for the less adorable, more capable being in your life?

How to enjoy parenting teens and help your kids thrive

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One reason, actually, is for the kids. Research strongly suggests that children whose parents love each other are much happier and more secure than those raised in a loveless environment. They have a model of not just what a relationship looks like but also of how people should treat each other.

Diary studies, in which parents log their day’s activities each evening, have shown that mishandled tensions between a couple tend to spill over into parents’ interactions with their kids, especially for fathers. Children whose parents are often hostile to each other blame themselves for the fighting and do worse at school, other research has found. In fact, a 2014 survey of 40,000 U.K. households revealed that adolescents were happiest overall when their mothers were happy with their relationships with their male partners. And this is for parents who stay together; the outcomes for kids of divorce–even in the days of conscious uncoupling–are, generally, darker. One of the best things you can do for your kids is love the heck out of your spouse.

If we ever knew this, we have forgotten. When Pew Research asked young people in 2010 whether kids or a good marriage was more important for a happy life, kids won by a margin three times as big as when researchers asked the previous generation in 1997. But betting all your joy on offspring is a treacherously short-term strategy. Cuddly toddlers turn into teenagers, who greet any public display of warmth with revulsion, suspicion or sullenness. Then they leave. Grown children do not want to be the object of all your affection or the main repository for all your dreams, just as you never really wanted to hear their full toddler recaps of PAW Patrol. If you’ve done your job as parents, one day your home is mostly going to hold you, your partner and devices for sending your kids messages that they then ignore.

Parents can get so invested in the enterprise of child rearing, especially in these anxious helicoptery times, that it moves from a task they’re undertaking as a team to the sole point of the team’s existence. Some therapists say this is what’s behind the doubling of the divorce rate among folks over 50 and tripling among those over 65 in the past 25 years: it’s an empty-nest split.

Gerontologist Karl Pillemer of Cornell University, who interviewed 700 couples for his 2015 book 30 Lessons for Loving, says one of his biggest discoveries was how dangerous “the middle-aged blur” of kids and activities and work was to people’s relationships. “It was amazing how few of them could remember a time they had spent alone with their partner–it was what they’d given up,” he told me. “Over and over again people come back to consciousness at 50 or 55 and can’t go to a restaurant and have a conversation.”

The only way to prevent this sad metamorphosis is to remember that the kids are not the reason you got together; they’re a very absorbing project you have undertaken with each other, like a three-dimensional, moving jigsaw puzzle that talks back and leaves its underwear in the bathroom. You don’t want to focus on it so much that you can no longer figure out each other.

This appears in the May 20, 2019 issue of TIME.

Teenagers are faced with countless pressures – on top of academics, sports, and extracurriculars, kids today are growing up with technology, social media and increased stress and anxiety. Navigating these years with your kids can prove overwhelming for any family; giving them the tools to make good decisions despite the pressure and stress they may face is crucial.

On Responsibility is a video series featuring unique leaders in parenting and beyond. Our experts offer thoughtful and practical advice to parents as they navigate the teenage years with their kids, sharing skills and tips they’ve learned to help raise responsible teenagers.

“You want to start to lay the foundation of healthy living and making good decisions…teach them about healthy diet, exercise, a good night’s sleep, when to say no, how to stick up for themselves. These are all skills that they will utilize as they become adolescents and as they grow on to be adults.” – Dr. Katie Friedman, Board Certified Pediatrician

“I feel that far too often, we underestimate our children’s ability to pick up on the world around them. They are always watching and seeing and processing. So then if they’re seeing it, it’s time to have that conversation.” – Brian Coleman, Counseling Department Chair, Jones College Prep High School


“Great parenting is asking great questions. You help them find out really what is it they want, because in doing that they begin to take ownership—and ultimately responsibility—for the path they’re going to choose.” – Patrick Kilcarr, Director, Center for Personal Development, Georgetown University

“Students need to have some built-in resiliency, some built-in time management skills so that they can learn their best ways of coping with life on life’s terms.” – Tiffany Jones, Substance Abuse Prevention Specialist


“The adolescent brain is such a vulnerable organ, because it is actively being programmed, and things that interfere with that programming have a long-lasting consequence. […] I think working on the idea that allowing kids to know more about their brains is a quite positive avenue for protecting them.” – Dr. Ruben Baler, Health Scientist at The National Institute on Drug Abuse

“Parents have a responsibility to provide their kids with a safe space where they can be themselves, a place where they can get tips for feeling better, and where they can know that they are loved for who they are.” – Phyllis Fagell, School Counselor and Private Practice Therapist


“What we’ve found through over a decade of working with teenage girls through our leadership academy, is that if you put a young girl in the position to have the confidence to make a good decision, she’ll make that good decision.” – Julie Foudy, Founder of the Julie Foudy Sports Leadership Academy

“Mindfulness can help with avoiding risky behaviors because it allows you to be in the present moment, to perhaps recognize that you need to make a different decision, one that will lead to more positive outcomes.” – Missy Price, Sports Psychologist

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