Grace hugging Shawni under a pink sunset sky

Relationships with teenagers matter!

Let me begin by saying that it’s hard to remember a time my heart has ached more than when it does with worry for my teenagers. The responsibility as a parent becomes so tangible as their decisions and friends and actions start to mean so much more and have bigger consequences. They are so much more accountable and it is so difficult to find the balance between nagging and praising. Yet it’s difficult to help with anything at all if you don’t have a good relationship. So, Here I am with 3 tips for making teenagers like you.

I think having teenagers is like being on a roller coaster. There are definite highs and lows, but boy, the ride is a thrill. I never knew how much fun teenagers could be. I adore them with my whole heart spilling over. For what it’s worth, here are some things I have noticed that make a difference with raising teenagers:

3 Tips for Making Teenagers Like you

These tips work wonders for making your unruly, eye-rolly teenagers like you.
…until they don’t.
Because sometimes, you know what? They won’t. And that’s ok.

1) TALK and COMMUNICATE as much as possible.

Open any avenues for discussion. This takes some work with surly, eye-rolling teenagers. Figure out the right times to talk (I have found that our avenues tend to open most late at night or right after school…right when I’m either super-duper tired or with rings of commotion circling around me). I found with Max that he opened up the most when we were driving in the car together, and Claire is much more apt to open up when we are snuggled up together on the couch. Each teenager is so different but we need to do our homework and figure out the best way to connect.

I think about my book, How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk that sits battered and torn because I read over and over again when my kids were young and apply it all to teenagers. So important to give teenagers space to express themselves and give their opinions and thoughts value, and this book outlines how to do that in such a great way.

I am learning about something called “Serve and Return” in my online mother/child attachment theory class. It’s all about how important it is to show interest in the same things your baby does, sharing what they are focusing on. For example, a baby points to a picture of a cow in a book (serve), and a parent pays attention to that cow, labeling it (return), give that baby a chance to respond, interact, etc. In doing so, we can help babies learn, build curiosity, model taking turns in creating interest, help support connections in the brain…all that good stuff!

As I researched this, I thought about how important the practice of Serve and Return is for teenagers as well. Sure, their brains are not quite as “plastic” but gosh, how they need their own kind of Serve and Return interactions. They need to know that what they think matters. And they need to know that we are interested in the same things they are (and if we’re not, we better get interested!).

2) Follow through with “consequences” you set up clearly together.

This seems like a weird way to “get teenagers to like you,” but the more teenagers I have, the more I realize that teenagers feel safe with boundaries. Sure, they may not hoist you on their shoulders and cheer when you set a curfew, and they may not like it when you take their phone away if they take it into their bedroom again. But I believe that deep down, there is something about knowing the rules and understanding consequences that helps to make them feel like part of something bigger themselves. Teenagers need someone to be firm and not let them get away with dumb stuff they really do know better about. (Dave is an expert at this BTW and I’m so grateful because sometimes I’m a pushover.)

Note that I stressed the word “together” up there. If those teenagers of yours help come up with consequences for getting out of line that means they have helped discuss that there should even be a “line” and they will know when they have crossed it. That way you become a “team” in helping with the boundaries and there’s something beautiful about that.

3) Love them with all your heart.

Look for the good things they do rather than harping on the bad ones. And TELL THEM what those good things are! Every now and then I still write the first initials of the things my towering teenagers do well on the end of their fingertips. Sure, they may wipe those things off lickety-split, but they can’t help but smile as I write them.

Claire with her "talents" written in ballpoint pen on her fingertips

If you ever get a chance to share those good things aloud with other members of the family (preferably in the presence of those you are praising), do that too! I also love to add gratitude for particular things my teenagers do when I am offering our family prayers.

We all need a little praise here and there, right? Sometimes it’s so much more powerful to dwell on the good things they do rather than the dumb things.

If you are so far down a path with a particularly surly, troubled teenager that it’s difficult to find the good stuff, pray your heart out to find it. To notice it. And you will. Dave and my favorite quote applies to this as well: “you’ll find what you’re looking for.” True for so many things in life!

And amidst this “loving them with all your heart,” don’t forget physical touch. Big kids still need it. Hug those tall/angular bodies that sometimes repel affection whenever you can. Even if they stiffen up at first, gradually they will melt into those hugs. That really is a true fact. I’ve seen it over and over again.

Sending so much love and encouragement and good-teenage-vibes out as we all seek to make those teenagers know that they matter!

More posts about teenagers:

Shawni and Claire sitting together smiling

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  1. The clear consistent rules/consequences/rewards system is SO key!! I didn’t have clear and consistent parenting and you’re absolutely right about the impact it has on feeling secure and safe. That was probably the biggest thing I plan to do differently when I have kids and I’m so happy to see you’re valuing it so highly and giving your kids such a healthy childhood.

  2. Love this! It feels like validation of some things I’m doing, along with good new suggestions. Keep em coming, mothering teenagers truly is a rollercoaster!

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