Parenting through the Teen Years

In the short span of just a few years, teens have to contend with a lot! With the pressures of school and figuring out what career they want to pursue, grappling with peer influences and social media, striving to meet parental expectations, all while trying to figure out who they are and where they fit in, no wonder they have strong emotions! During this phase of their cognitive and social-emotional development, teens strive for independence, they are eager to explore the world on their own and they are (seemingly) confident that they know best. They thrive on acceptance and approval. Just like when raising our younger children, how we approach our teenage children will affect not only our relationship with them, but also how they feel about themselves.

A word on resiliency.

“There are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children.  One of these is roots, the other wings.”  – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Though interpreted in different ways over the years,  this quote speaks to a critical life skill called Resilience. It is defined as the capacity to overcome difficult situations and goes beyond merely coping.  Resilience involves drawing upon personal strengths and learning new ways to think about the problems we face. It’s what helps us to get back on our feet when life runs us down.  It gives us the courage to keep going and try again.  It’s what some people call “grit”.  

Experts who study resiliency in youth state that resiliency is a combination of individual factors and environmental factors.  Individual factors refer to traits that lie within the person, such as their temperament and their perception of life events or more simply, a person being ‘born’ with it.    

So, does this mean that you cannot improve or shape a child’s ability to cope with life’s challenges?  

Fortunately, the other half of the equation, environmental factors, play an important role in supporting and protecting an individual’s capacity for resilience.  Specifically, strong interpersonal relationships are critical to building resilience.  Having a parent, teacher, friend or mentor who provides love and guidance will strengthen a young person’s ‘roots and wings’, ie. their sense of belonging, ability to relate to others, self-confidence, perception of events, independence, courage, and flexible thinking skills.

 

10 Tips for building the social and emotional well-being of your teen

1. The quieter you become, the more you can hear.  

Sometimes, in our busy lives, we forget to listen and to observe.  We make assumptions, we expect the worst , we feel we must tell our children how to behave and we miss the subtle messages that our children are sending us.  At a time when kids often feel different, judged, less than … it is more important than ever to let them know that you are always there to support them and that you understand them.  They need to feel heard.  

2. Let go and let them fall. 

Do you remember how excited but also worried you were when your baby began to walk on their own? How about the first day of school? Or their first sleep-over?  As parents, we naturally want to protect our children and rush to the rescue.  Rather than paving the way for them or monitoring their every move, the best way to protect our children in the long run is to let go, let them fall and get back up.  You can support them by giving them the tools to make good decisions for themselves on the road to adulthood.  We can’t control what life throws their way, but we can decide how we respond to our teens when they fall.  

3. Teach them how to reframe. 

Instead of fretting about how anxious your children are feeling, you can help them reframe their belief about anxiety. That is, anxiety can be helpful as it alerts us to threats (e.g., a test) and motivates us to actively develop healthy coping behaviours (e.g., good study habits).  Remember, it’s ok to have those negative, uncomfortable feelings.  

4. Validate their feelings and experiences

Avoid rushing towards immediately providing advice and recommendations.  Teens need to know that their feelings are heard, understood and respected.  They may even require some time to just ‘sit’ with their feelings before being able to move on towards finding solutions.  Their feelings are a response to the situation that they are in and their perspective on that situation. They need to know that their feelings are normal and natural.  

5. Set realistic boundaries. 

Teens need guidance, gentle but firm limits, and consistent and predictable expectations for behaviour, just as much as they did when they were younger.  It’s ok to have rules and consequences for breaking those rules as long as they are developmentally appropriate and it is balanced with emotional warmth and empathy.  For example, when a child is caught lying to their parents, it’s often very concerning to that parent. With a much younger child, it’s easiest to communicate that you recognize the lie and reinforce the rules in the family about being truthful and the impact it has on trust.  When a teenager lies, the parent needs to consider all the factors that may be affecting the youth’s decision to lie (e.g., need to establish autonomy, social media influences, etc) so you would allow more room for discussion about how to resolve the problem. 

An overly permissive or lenient parenting style is just as harmful to emotional development as an overly restrictive one.  It’s also important to recognize here that the individual needs of a child and their specific situation will play a role in determining what kind of approach you take. 

6. Practice mindfulness

When we worry or are feeling stressed, we are thinking about something that has happened in the past or is upcoming in the future.  Mindfulness is a technique whereby we learn to focus our thoughts on the present moment, and has a positive effect on mental health.  There are a variety of apps for this, such as Headspace.com and Calm.com, but it can also be very helpful to work with a professional, such as a psychologist, to learn how to develop this skill.  

7. Model resilience. 

It’s okay to let your teens know that you too have challenging days, as long as you also show them that you can recover and that setbacks are temporary.  

8. Get curious and build connection

Be open to hearing and learning about what interests your teen and consider joining them, whether in playing a video game or a sport or a craft activity or reading the same novel.  Continue to show an interest in spending time together while allowing them their privacy.  If your teen is upset, but doesn’t want to talk about it, you can build connection simply by being present and offering them comfort.  

9. Delay, limit and talk about social media. 

Technology certainly has its benefits.  During the Covid-19 pandemic just a couple of years ago, teens relied on technology to stay in touch with each other during periods of social isolation.  These days, teens continue to use technology to socialize and access learning platforms.  However, unmonitored and limitless use of social media platforms can have an adverse effect on teen mental health.  Talk with your teen about the images they see, the messages they hear and help them to think critically about what it all means. Experts advise that if your tween has their own phone, consider limiting their access to social media apps until they are a little older and better able to self-monitor their social interactions.  

10. Promote healthy self-care routines

Good self-care provides the basis for good mental health.  Ever notice how your teen’s mood and behaviour shifts when they haven’t had enough sleep or when they are hungry?  A full night’s sleep, a balanced diet, fresh air, exercise and limits on screen time are essential to their well-being and ability to tolerate life’s stressors.  

11. Build a sense of optimism. BONUS

Teens tend to focus on the ‘here and now’ and may get stuck in negative thinking patterns based on their current situation.  Encourage them to dream, problem-solve and think ahead to the possibilities for the future.

When teens are stuck in a negative thinking pattern, it can be helpful to access the services of a mental health professional, such as a Registered Psychologist, to help them to develop a more realistic or even positive mindset.  

We all remember the confusion, the angst and the joy of our teenage years. Use the recommendations above to support them through this confusing period in their lives and make sure to let them know you trust their capacity to cope


Understanding your child’s cognitive style and capabilities, coupled with their stage of social and emotional development, is helpful towards identifying their unique needs.  

If you need help identifying issues and supports that are specific to your teen, contact our office for a parent consultation meeting.  We’d love to help!

About Dr. Anita Burhanpurkar

Registered with the College of Psychologists of Ontario (CPO) since 2003, Dr. Anita Burhanpurkar is licensed by the College of Psychologists of Ontario to work with children, adolescents and families. She sees families for psychological assessment, counselling and parenting consultations in her private practice, Hummingbird Psychology, in Milton Ontario, and has over 20 years of experience working with educators and school support staff at the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board.